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The Language Question: Spain’s Effort to Make Catalan, Galician, and Basque Official EU Language

by Rahil M
0 comment

The European Union’s General Affairs Council is poised to make a historic decision on Spain’s proposal to grant official EU language status to Catalan, Galician and Basque.

The European Union’s General Affairs Council is poised to make a historic decision on Spain’s proposal to grant official EU language status to Catalan, Galician and Basque. This pivotal vote underscores the linguistic diversity within the EU and may herald a significant shift in language recognition at the European level.

EU citizens currently have the right to communicate with EU institutions in any of the bloc’s 24 official languages and receive responses in their chosen language. Furthermore, all EU laws, proposals, and decisions, whether past, present, or future, must be translated into officially recognized languages.

However, securing recognition for a new language requires unanimous support from all 27 EU member states, a complex process fraught with diplomatic intricacies.

In the lead-up to this crucial vote, Spain’s Foreign Service has been actively engaging with counterparts across Europe. Notably, Spanish diplomats have been cooperating with their Catalan counterparts, despite historically tense relations between Madrid and Barcelona’s foreign representatives.

Over the past decade, Catalonia has endeavoured to establish “embassies” worldwide to expand its global presence. These efforts reflect Catalonia’s aspiration to increase its “area of geographic influence.”

In a recent development, Spanish Members of Parliament were allowed to address Congress in Basque, Catalan, and Galician. This policy shift, designed to promote linguistic diversity in parliamentary proceedings, emerged from negotiations between the caretaker government, led by the Socialist Party, and smaller political groups. These negotiations gained significance following the inconclusive results of the general election in July, which resulted in a hung parliament.

While this move has garnered support from some political parties, it has also faced criticism from the conservative People’s Party (PP) and the far-right Vox party. MPs from Vox symbolically expressed their displeasure by leaving their newly issued earpieces on the seat of acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, who was attending UN meetings in New York, before exiting the chamber.

This linguistic evolution in Spain aligns with official data, which indicates that 9.1 million people speak Catalan, 2.6 million speak Galician, and 1.1 million speak Basque.

However, this shift is not solely a linguistic matter, it is also intricately linked to the broader political landscape. Hardline Catalan separatists, led by the self-exiled former regional president Carles Puigdemont, are leveraging their support to shape Spain’s political direction.

Puigdemont, who fled Spain six years ago to evade arrest in connection with the failed unilateral bid for regional independence in October 2017, has made his support for Sánchez’s new government – conditional on the granting of amnesty to all individuals facing legal action related to the secessionist movement.

These political manoeuvres also extend to the European stage, as Puigdemont advocates for the recognition of Catalan as an official EU language. Spain, during its EU presidency, has championed the inclusion of Catalan, Basque, and Galician as official languages within the EU. However, this initiative faced a lukewarm reception during a recent European ministers’ meeting in Brussels.

The EU currently has 24 official languages, yet there are approximately 60 minority and regional languages spoken throughout the 27-nation bloc. Some EU officials are concerned that granting official language status to Catalan, Galician, and Basque could set a precedent, prompting other regions to seek similar recognition.

Consequently, EU ministers have requested additional time to study Spain’s proposal. Swedish EU Affairs Minister Jessika Roswall remarked, “It’s too early to say.” She pointed out that numerous minority languages within the EU are not officially recognized languages, implying that other regions might follow suit with similar demands.

Laurence Boone, France’s Minister in charge of European Affairs, noted, “We will request a legal study to see how we can accommodate Spain on this subject.” This approach reflects the cautious stance of several EU member states on this matter.

Spain has indicated its willingness to cover the costs associated with simultaneous translation if these languages are granted official status. However, detailed financial figures have not yet been provided. As the EU’s General Affairs Council convenes to deliberate on this momentous decision, it carries the weight of linguistic diversity and political complexity. The outcome will not only affect the status of Catalan, Galician, and Basque within the EU but may also influence future linguistic recognition processes in the bloc, opening the door for other regions to assert their linguistic identities on the European stage.

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