Forwarded from [EDLING:948] Agency for Linguistic Diversity and Language Learning

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Aug 30 13:24:39 UTC 2005

New report strongly in favour of Agency for Linguistic Diversity and Language Learning

Brussel - Bruxelles, Tuesday, 19 July 2005 by Davyth Hicks

A new Report published last week has come out strongly in favour of establishing an
autonomous Agency for Linguistic Diversity and Language Learning. The feasibility study
follows the almost unanimous backing from the European Parliament in 2003 for an Agency
following an initiative made by EBLUL.

The study, based on 85 interviews with different NGOs, experts, state-run language
organisations and civil servants, found that a total 74% of those consulted favoured an
Agency. The next most favoured strategy was for a network of European linguistic diversity
centres, but with only 16% of support. While both options would build on exisiting
structures to avoid duplication of effort, most stakeholders felt that an Agency would be
in a better position to deliver. The network solution was seen as a possible disadvantage
for smaller language communities because it would rely on the more well established and
powerful language groups.

Nearly all respondents agreed that the scenario for no action is not an option. Those most
against an Agency were civil servants working for ministries in the EU 15 member states.

The main conclusions of the study found that the case for having an agency is strong
noting the growing importance of language diversity across Europe. The study anticipates
the cost of an Agency to be around 11 million euro per year.

The study highlighted the positive function of EBLUL, the European Commission, the Council
of Europe and the ECML in the field of European regional or minority languages. However,
it pointed out how there has been little or no interaction between state-run language
organisations, such as the British Council or Cervantes, with either regional and minority
language organisations or the immigrant language sector.

The study showed some in favour of working for all languages in Europe, including
immigrant languages, in contrast to those who favoured working for indigenous languages
only.  A smaller number wanted the Agency to cover state languages only, even though some
of these last could be included as lesser-used and endangered languages (for example,
Estonian and Maltese). Asking whether all  languages should be covered, immigrant
languages had the least support, with regional or minority languages gaining the most.

Respondents felt that the Agency should have a clear mandate as a centre of expertise and
that it should work closely with the language communities.

The study pointed out the added value of an Agency; it would put language issues and
conflicts into a European context and take them out of member state politics, giving the
Agency, and the language issue, a neutrality. This may be useful in conflict prevention,
would lead to better cross-border cooperations and the easier integration of new member
states. Overall it would underline the importance of linguistic diversity at the heart of
European governance.

Some 21% of respondents identified a need for the Agency to be able to enforce linguistic
human rights, such a function would be welcomed by speakers of threatened languages facing
hostile member states.

The report concludes by pointing out that there are clear needs and gaps that an Agency
would fulfil, and that while the Commission "may have realised important achievements in
the field," it "is not in a position to provide solutions to all of these needs and gaps.
Neither can it ensure the required continuous efforts in all policy domains to implement
the Treaty provisions, due to the way it is structured."

It warns against previous achievements being lost if current structures working for
linguistic diversity are dismantled or if the continuity of finance for organisations in
the field are not guaranteed.

The study adds that : "While dedicated EU funded programmes such as Lingua are going to
disappear in 2007, following the ‘mainstreaming’ approach chosen by the Commission, there
are no adequate structures in place to monitor this ‘mainstreaming’."

According to the study further justifications for an Agency are because : "There are signs
of incoherence between the stated EU policy in favour of linguistic diversity and
multilingualism and the de facto running of the work and funding of related operations."

It adds that : "There are signs of incoherence between EU supra-national policy and
individual member states’ policies and/or practices."

The study stresses the importance of continuity in language policies and planning in the
face of short term decisions being made for political reasons. It underlines the need for
an Agency to ensure continuity, a pre- requisite in any reversing language shift effort.
In this respect the proposed Agency would complement the continuity of the Commission’s
work to date.

The Commission hopes to respond to the study during September according to a spokesperson.
Ongoing reaction to the study from  language communities across Europe will be published
by Eurolang over the summer. (Eurolang © 2005)


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