Linguistic diversity in Europe: lose some, win some

A few days ago, the European Commission presented the platform for citizen participation that should serve to promote the debate on the future of Europe among a citizenry that often feels distanced from the European project. The aim is for civil society to be able to contribute, through this platform, to the  , which officially begins on 9 May. Unlike the 2002 European Convention, this Conference is intended to be more participatory and more open to the public.

But the European Union is stubbornly making the same mistakes as ever when it comes to languages. And instead of making a platform that integrates the linguistic wealth and variety that really exists in Europe, it is only available in the 24 official languages of the EU. In other words, European leaders want the Conference on the Future of Europe to be a space for debate open to all citizens, but they do not allow Catalans, Basques and Bretons—to name but a few—to access the participation tools in their mother tongues.

To denounce this, I have forwarded a letter co-signed by some thirty MEPs  to the leaders of the European institutions requesting that this citizen participation website include all the languages that, although not official in the EU, enjoy some form of official status in certain Member States. For now however, the app is now up and running, and Catalan is neither there nor is it expected to be.

However, it is not all bad news for linguistic diversity in Europe. A few days ago, the French National Assembly passed a historic law to protect and promote the so-called “regional languages” of France, such as Catalan, Corsican, Breton and Occitan. It is known as the Molac Law, after Breton Paul Molac, the member of the Liberties and Territories group in the French Assembly who penned the bill. The law will, among other aspects, recognize for the first time that Basque, Breton, Alsatian and other languages are part of the French linguistic heritage. It provides for the generalization of regional language learning from kindergarten to high school, it facilitates finance and includes the possibility of full immersion, as well as authorizing bilingual signposting in public buildings and thoroughfares.

The bill went through despite the opposition of the government headed by Emmanuel Macron; the majority of Assembly members from his own parliamentary group supported it, against the messaging from the government. However, a group of Macronist members could not avoid the temptation to act “Spanish-style” and bring one article of the new law before the Constitutional Council. If this hurdle is overcome—hopefully it will be—the Republic’s inertia and the power of its centralist establishment, which is huge, will still have to be overcome. However, this will make the passage of the law on regional languages no less relevant in a country that has eroded their status as far as it has managed for many decades.

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