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The new President of the European Parliament will allow MEPs to address the plenary in Catalan

Despite being the 13th most widely spoken language in the European Union, Catalan is not an official EU language. Special agreements have been signed with all EU bodies to allow for the minimum use of Catalan; however, the European Parliament, representing EU citizens, is the only one where Catalan has been completely banned. The new Parliament’s President, the German Social-Democrat, Martin Schulz, is committed to allowing Catalan MEPs address the plenary in their native language. The measure will not represent any extra cost as many of the Spanish interpreters are Catalan, and can do both jobs.


17 January 2012 01:42 PM


ACN / Gaspar Pericay Coll

Strasbourg (ACN).- The new President of the European Parliament, the German Social-Democrat, Martin Schulz, will allow MEPs to address the plenary in Catalan for the first time. Schulz, who has been elected President this Tuesday morning, said he was committed in a meeting with the 85 Liberal MEPS and the 58 MEPs from the Greens held a few days ago. The Catalan MEPs Ramon Tremosa (from the Liberals) and Raül Romeva (from the Greens), together with the Basque Izaskun Bilbao (from the Liberals) have confirmed Schulz\u2019s commitment to allow Catalan and also Basque. In fact, Catalan is not an official EU language, despite being the 13th most widely spoken language within the European Union, with more than 10 million speakers and being an official language in an area with some 13 million inhabitants. Many Catalan citizens and their representatives have been complaining for many years about the lack of recognition and what they consider to be a language discrimination, and they have even taken to the streets to protest in Brussels. However, the Spanish Government has refused to ask for Catalan\u2019s official status, and the European Union, as a union of states, does not include this language among the 23 official EU languages. However, due to the insistence of Catalan citizens and their representatives, special agreements have been signed with most of the EU bodies to allow for the use of Catalan to a minimum extent. However, Catalan remains prohibited within the European Parliament and it does not allow MEPs to speak it. The only room for Catalan within the Euro-Parliament is in Barcelona, in the office the Parliament has in the Catalan capital, which issues publications in the local official language.

The German Social-Democrat Martin Schulz, who has become this Tuesday the new President of the European Parliament following an agreement between his group and the People\u2019s Party group, will make a symbolic but important step for regional languages within the European Union. Schulz said, in front of the 85 MEPs from the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) and the 58 MEPS from the Greens and the European Free Alliance (Greens-EFA), that MEPs from Catalonia will be permitted to address the Parliament\u2019s plenary in Catalan. He will also allow Basque language. Schulz, who in the past was a bookseller, is a confessed reader of Catalan literature. Schulz has read Catalan modern classics such as Josep Pla, Màrius Torres, and Jaume Cabré.

Translation from Catalan at no extra cost

Allowing Catalan MEPs use their native language in the European Parliament\u2019s plenary will not represent any extra cost since many of the Spanish language interpreters\u2019 come from Catalan speaking parts of Spain and perfectly understand the language. Therefore, instead of translating from Spanish, they would use the time to translate from Catalan. In the plenary sessions, MEPs are allowed to speak in any of the 23 official languages of the EU. Interpretation to English, French and German is offered for free at all the Parliament\u2019s meetings, although in the last years in some secondary meetings there are no longer interpretation services or German is left aside. For the other languages, each state has to pay for them and some Member States, such as Spain, Italy or the Netherlands, very often pay to have their official languages translated. In the plenary sessions, it is the European Parliament that pays for the interpretation of all the 23 languages.

Catalan, the 13th most spoken language in the EU

Catalan is the 13th most widely spoken language within the EU, with more speakers than Bulgarian, Danish, Irish, Finnish, Slovakian, Lithuanian, Slovenian, Latvian, Estonian, and Maltese. All these 10 languages, some with less than half a million speakers can be spoken in all European institutions. Furthermore, citizens can address the institutions in these languages. Catalan can not be spoken, and many Catalan citizens feel their linguistic rights and identity are not being respected by a European Union whose motto is \u201CUnited in Diversity\u201D and by EU bodies Catalan citizens pay for, as Catalonia is a net contributor to the European Union\u2019s budget. Therefore, Catalan citizens contribute to pay for the translations of the 23 EU official languages but are not allowed to use their official language in the EU institutions, a language that is also for many of them their mother tongue.

Catalan is symbolically allowed in almost all EU bodies

The use of Catalan has been a difficult and complex matter, which very often is not really understood within the so-called Brussels bubble. However, over the last seven years, the use of Catalan has become more accepted and some institutions have signed special agreements that allow for its use. However, the European Parliament has been the only body refusing to sign any agreement to recognise Catalan and allow its use. The European Commission, the European Council, the Committee of the Regions, the Social and Economic Committee, the European Ombudsman, and the Court of Justice of the European Union have signed such agreements. For instance, in 2006 the European Commission allowed Catalan citizens to address letters or e-mails in their native language and the European Commission took the commitment to answer back in Catalan, with the costs paid for by Spain. However, the Catalan association \u2018Horitzó Europa\u2019 has blamed the Spanish Government and Commission for not answering back in Catalan. Nonetheless, the European Commission\u2019s offices in Barcelona, as well as the European Parliament\u2019s offices in the Catalan capital, regularly issue publications in Catalan, as well as information campaigns and press releases. Furthermore they have their official websites in Catalan. In the European Council, Ministers from the Catalan Government are allowed to participate in ministerial meetings (in some areas, the Catalan Government has full powers) and they are allowed to speak in Catalan if it is informed seven weeks before. However, this only happens once every two years, as the Catalan ministers share a chair with the other 16 Autonomous Communities of Spain.

Buzek and Pöttering, against the recognition of Catalan

Schulz will take the position the Polish Conservative Jerzy Buzek has been holding in the last two years and a half. Buzek had not allowed Catalan MEPs to speak in one of Catalonia\u2019s two official languages. The Catalan MEP from the People\u2019s Party Alejo Vidal-Quadras, who is also Vice President of the European Parliament and will very likely be re-elected this afternoon, is famous for his anti-Catalan stance. Vidal-Quadras has lobbied against the recognition of Catalan with his party colleagues and Presidents of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek and Hans-Gert Pöttering. In a previous interview with ACN, answering the question about Catalan being allowed in the European Parliament, Buzek asked: \u201CWe are very open to multilingualism but how can you ask us to be allowed to use in Brussels a language that is not even allowed in the Spanish Parliament?\u201D

The Spanish Government has not made the petition to have Catalan as an official EU language

In fact, Catalan is barely allowed in the Spanish Parliament, and was controversial when it was allowed in the Spanish Senate just a few months ago. Furthermore, it is the Spanish Government that has to make the formal petition to include Catalan as an official EU language, something it has never done.

Catalan language claims backed

Catalan is not an official EU language despite its extensive social use and having official status in three Spanish Autonomous Communities (Catalonia, the Balearic Islands and the Valencian Community), parts of Aragon, parts of southern France, Italy\u2019s Alghero, and Andorra. Furthermore, the Catalan language is backed by a rich literature, which is very much alive and has an old history, and by current scientific articles being written in that language. In addition, it has been oppressed by dictatorships and authoritarian regimes over the last three centuries, and has resisted because it is deeply rooted and widely used by many European citizens.


  • Martin Schulz is welcomed by the European Parliament's plenary meeting in Strasbourg (by Jean-Marc Loos / Reuters)

  • The new President of the European Parliament, the German Martin Schulz (by ACN)

  • Martin Schulz is welcomed by the European Parliament's plenary meeting in Strasbourg (by Jean-Marc Loos / Reuters)
  • The new President of the European Parliament, the German Martin Schulz (by ACN)