Linguistic minorities launch European roadmap for diversity

Welsh is a language with minority status in the EU, despite having around half a million speakers. [National Assembly for Wales/Flickr]

The European Union’s minority languages, such as Welsh, Frisian or Basque, should be accorded equal status with the official languages, according to a linguistic diversity road map presented in Brussels last week. EURACTIV Spain reports

Patxi Baztarrika, the Basque government’s Vice-Councillor for linguistic policy, presented his European Roadmap for Linguistic Diversity in Brussels on 5 February.

He hopes to put up a protective ring-fence around the languages spoken by millions of people across the EU, but which have still only achieved “minority” status.

In his proposal to the European Parliament, the Basque politician said “European citizens have linguistic rights that must be protected”.

“It is the duty of the European Institutions to protect and apply these rights. This roadmap will give concrete substance to article 22 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which states that the EU must respect cultural, religious and linguistic diversity,” he explained.

Inalienable right

“This is an inalienable right for all member states,” Patxi Baztarrika added. He stressed that languages “mistakenly” assigned minority status “are the native languages of millions of Europeans”. Baztarrika urged the EU to “reaffirm and update” its commitment to preserve linguistic diversity, which “should not end with state languages”.

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“In a European context, where the states have autonomous regions, establishing a hierarchy between official languages is not a very inclusive approach,” he said.

The Basque Vice-Councillor also urged the European Commission, a pioneer in multiculturalism and linguistic policy, to help strengthen the position of minority languages “like Catalan, Galician, Welsh, Frisian or Basque”.

Important role for all languages

The European partners that helped compile the Roadmap were also present on 5 February: the Executive Director of the NPLD (Network to Promote Linguistic Diversity), Welshman Meirion Jones, the President of the NPLD, Jannewietske de Vries, from the autonomous province of Frisia (the Netherlands), and Joe McHugh, the Irish Minister for Gaeltacht (the region where the Irish language is spoken).

The Roadmap for Linguistic Diversity suggests various measures the European Institutions could take to promote multilingualism, recognise the role played by all languages in social cohesion and personal and economic development, and encourage peaceful coexistence between all European languages. Following this presentation a consultation process was opened to allow the European partners and institutions to contribute to the debate. 

The European Union is committed to promoting multilingualism and aims to have every EU citizen speak at least two foreign languages. However, in practice the websites of many EU institutions and agencies limit themselves to one or two working languages.

The question of language-use is sometimes a contentious one. For instance, attempts to create a European patent using only the English, French and German languages have been opposed by Italy and Spain as discriminatory.

The predominance of English has been criticised in particular by French-speaking groups such as the Francophonie and the Association pour la Défense de la Langue Française (DLF).

The latter has often granted a satirical prize to EU officials – including Romano Prodi and Jean-Claude Trichet – for "overuse" of English.

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