European Parliament rejects Bernat Joans Report proposals

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon Nov 20 20:58:38 UTC 2006

Unity in Diversity? European Parliament rejects Bernat Joans Report

Strassburg, Alsace, Wednesday, 15 November 2006 by Davyth Hicks

In what is a setback for all European endangered and lesser used
languages, the European Parliament voted with a large majority against
nearly all the substantive measures on Bernat Joans Report today (15th
November). The proposals for a EU language plan and legislation for
collective language rights, the EU Ombudsman to resolve language disputes,
to modify the EU Treaty to allow for a legal base for linguistic
diversity, for the fundamental rights agency to take care of language
rights, and continuing support for EBLUL and the Mercator Centres, were
all rejected outright.  The only proposals to survive were the
recommendations that the 2003 Ebner Report be implemented and that EU
citizens be able to communicate with the EU in their own national langage,
regardless of whether it has official status.

Catalan MEP Bernat Joan abstained in the final vote because the Parliament
had, by then, rendered the Report toothless. He said: "We cannot support a
report where, after the vote in committee and in the plenary, almost all
the relevant points have been removed. This includes the recognition of
equality amongst all European languages, regardless of their official
status, the extension of the mandate of the Agency of Fundamental Rights
and of the European Ombudsman to deal with matters of linguistic
discrimination, or the guarantee of a fair funding allocation for those
agencies responsible for lesser used languages."

Bernat Joan pointed out that "today we have been able to see that the true
supporters of Europe's linguistic diversity still remain a minority in
this parliament, albeit a significant one". The MEP regretted that, "for
the majority of members, the slogan "unity in diversity" is nothing more
than a mere formality taken absolutely out of context". He added, "for
this parliament, multilingualism only refers to the official languages of
the member states, neglecting a much richer and complex reality. Europe is
not just a mere conglomeration of states and linguistic diversity is not
only related to those languages with strong legal status."

In the previous nights debate, Bernat Joan spoke up for the Reports
original proposals, and called on the EU to go beyond slogans and words
and take clear steps with concrete policies to support existing diversity.
The MEP, speaking in English because his Catalan mother tongue cannot yet
be used, emphasised that "one of the fundamental values of the EU is the
defence of our linguistic diversity, and if this is true, we need to see
an overhaul of the linguistic policies at EU and state level.  Referring
to the monolingual mindset of many states he said : "The Jacobinist model
is obsolete, it is far too out-dated for 21st century Europe. We must
launch realistic policies to promote genuine European diversity".

Referring to one of the primary aims of the report to protect Europes
endangered languages he said, Each language is good for humanity and if
lost it is lost to all humanityit is necessary to devote special care to
all the endangered languages with the necessary budget to achieve this".
He concluded by pointing out that the 2003 Ebner Report is still to be
implemented. The outgoing Commissioner for Multilingualism, Jan Figel,
welcomed the inspiring Report which had been written in the spirit of
Unity in Diversity and highlighted the Commissions recent intiatives to
set up networks to promote multilingualism and linguistic diversity and
that EU projects were now open to all languages.

Maria Badia i Cutchet (PSOE) said that we need to ensure that all EU
citizens can communicate with the EU in their mother tongue, referring to
the 10% of EU citizens who cannot at present because they speak a
regional, stateless or minority language (RML).  A Liberal MEP added that
we need legal protection for all of the EUs languages, and, if we support
Unity in Diversity, we need to support the Report.  Bairbre de Brun (Sinn
Fein- GUE), speaking in Irish then English, strongly supported all of the
EFA- Green amendments, and referred to the important work of EBLUL and its
projects over the years and their conference in Dublin next week.

In contrast, Mr. Vidal Quadras (Spanish PP - EPP) reacted with scorn,
calling the Report an opportunistic attempt by the rapporteur to come up
with nationalist, separatist rhetoric, and that Mr Joan was using
languages to promote the disintegration of member states. An Irish MEP
said that lesser used languages are as important, if not more, than the
bigger languages, its important that we carry on supporting lesser used
languages to show unity in diversity.

Concluding the debate, Jan Figel described language as our cultural legacy
and that the Commission, as part of its action for lesser used languages,
has been supporting EBLUL and the Mercator Centres. However, EU support
for EBLUL and the Mercator Centres ceases at the end of 2006, while
spending overall on RMLs by the EU has seen huge cutbacks with an overall
retreat from the previous position of ring-fenced funding for lesser used
language projects.  Moreover, with all EU project funding only big
language projects are able to apply as the thresholds for application are
often far too high for small, often impoverished, language communities.

In addition, the clause in Bernat Joans Report calling for the continued
support for EBLUL and the Mercators - NGOs dedicated to promoting
inclusive linguistic diversity -was rejected. The current situation
indicates that EU support for its own European lesser used languages, both
financially and politically, it at its lowest.

It comes at a time when several European languages are facing endangerment
and in need of help more than ever. Sadly, todays events in the European
Parliament suggest that language activists need not look to the EU anymore
for help. Unity in Diversity is an empty slogan - the EU is failing to
communicate to the 10% of its population who speak a lesser used language
despite calls to bring the EU closer to its citizens. The mood from the
grass roots indicates that a new wave of direct action may be needed to
achieve the kind of linguistic equality that continues to be reserved for
member state languages. (Eurolang 2006)


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