Does the EU have a language policy?

P. Kerim Friedman kerim.list at
Mon Mar 29 18:47:02 UTC 2004


Madrid 6/03/04 17:03 par Eurolang

  Does the EU have a language policy?

Mercator Legislation conference, Tarragona

  by Davyth Hicks

  Mercator Legislation held a successful, ground-breaking conference at
the weekend in Tarragona, Catalonia, bringing experts in language
legislation from across Europe to discuss ‘a new framework for all
languages’. However, there was strong criticism of the EU institutions
from some of the speakers over the lack of language policies designed
to help minoritised languages.

  Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, a well known academic and language activist,
launched the conference with a stinging indictment of States and the
lack of rights for mother tongue medium education, in what she
described as the 'hot potato' of human rights. She strongly criticised
the EU Draft Constitution where "market values are being used to judge
language usage" and said that: "The Convention ... does even less than
the Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities,
which so far was thought to be a low point, about which Patrick
Thornberry [a UK law expert] uttered the following memorable words:
"there is just enough substance in the formulation to prevent it
becoming completely worthless"."

  Legal academic, Niamh nic Shuibhne, in an incisive talk asked the
question: "Is there a language policy in the draft constitution?" Her
answer was a blunt and resounding "No". She found five main problems:
the lack of any guiding principle to underpin policy; concerning
linguistic diversity, which languages are included and does this
include language rights; nothing legally binding for action against
language discrimination; no legal basis as the EU can only act if a
treaty gives it the power to; and that only bigger languages will
benefit. She described the Draft as an "utterly missed opportunity" and
that while it has "principled statements it does not create any
substantive duties or obligations."

  Begona Antxustegi and Amaia Agirre from the Basque Government
Department for Language Policy also criticised the European
Commission's Action Plan for Linguistic Diversity questioning its
usefulness when minoritised language agencies will have to compete with
those of the dominant languages. They also discussed the lack of
accurate information about minoritised languages in Europe and the need
for a legal framework which would make language rights enforceable.

  On a different note European Bureau of Lesser Used Language's (EBLUL)
President, Bojan Brezigar, outlined the slow but steady progress being
made with language rights at the European level. While describing the
de facto situation for European linguistic diversity as 'still awful'
he concentrated on the Draft Constitution and outlined EBLUL's
recommendations on the wording of the Draft.

  Mr Brezigar went on to discuss three recommendations for the Draft
made by EBLUL. These are to support qualified majority voting on
Council of Minister's votes relating to culture rather than unanimity.
This would mark a significant breakthrough as rogue states that
continuously block minoritised language development could be overruled.
EBLUL also propose to keep the Italian Presidency's amendment including
minority rights at Article 1(2), and to ensure the inclusion of a
language clause in Articles II (21), III (3) and III (8).
  The conference also hosted the Linguapax Awards given for services to
languages and linguistic diversity. The winners were Tove
Skutnabb-Kangas and Catalan academic and writer, Aina Moll.

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