France: deputies vote for ‘regional’ langu age recognition amidst strong UN criticism

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue May 27 17:16:54 UTC 2008

France: deputies vote for 'regional' language recognition amidst
strong UN criticism

Bruxelles - Brussel, Tuesday, 27 May 2008 by Davyth Hicks

The French National Assembly proposed an amendment last Thursday that
the clause "Les langues régionales appartiennent à son patrimoine"
(regional languages are part of (France's) heritage) be added to
Article One of the Constitution. However, the UN's Committee on
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, has lambasted France stating
that the lack of linguistic rights is leading to regional language
decline. Commentators suggest that moves by France in support of
regional languages may be made during their forthcoming Presidency of
the EU so as to ward off any criticism of their domestic language
policy. The amendment will now be examined by the Senate then senators
and deputies vote on the matter at Congress in Versailles in July.

The clause, proposed by the Breton deputy Marc le Fur (UMP), may be a
small step towards some recognition for regional languages if it is
successful. But it is a weak statement and any mention of "heritage
language" often reflects the idea of a language in a museum rather
than a living language that should be nurtured. Speaking to Eurolang,
the editor of the Breton Ar Men magazine Yann Rivallain, said:
"Basically I think that it is an important development, and that yes,
it would make any opposition to a language law look even more absurd
than before. There is a high chance that a law will be drafted by the
same people who put that amendment and this will be of great help to
justify that proposal. It does not make those languages "languages of
the Republic", which means that it doesn't necessarily make it easier
to ratify the Charter - which is why I think they chose to mention
languages in Article 1.

"However, given the state of matter in France, it is an achievement
for those fighting for recognition. It shows too that the question is
still second to most other issues for MP's who would have fought this
very hard just a few months ago and accept it this time because it is
needed to pass another change in the constitution. We're lucky that
the general constitutional reform was not supported by many, otherwise
regional languages would barely have been mentioned.

"As far as I know the law still has to go through the Senate, which
can amend and ask things to be redrafted until there is a
consensus…There's a high chance it will get through."

Language campaigner Pierrick le Feuvre added:  "Whatever happens, the
amendment adopted is a positive development." But that, "It is also
probably an opportunistic choice by the Government a few weeks before
the French Presidency of the European Union. A breakthrough, yes. But
it will take a 6th Republic before things are really changing in

The language issue had some coverage in the press with the
conservative newspaper Le Figaro running an opinion poll, it showed a
majority in favour of reform.

UN: France must revise its Constitution

Meanwhile, in Geneva on May 16th members from EBLUL France heard the
UN expert Committee on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights once again
deplore "the lack of official recognition of minorities within the

According to the Committee "the right to use a minority language,
which can only be exercised in common with other members of the
minority group" are not respected in France.

The Committee regretted that "the absence of official recognition of
regional and minority languages has contributed to the decline in the
number of speakers of these languages. "

The Committee recalls in France that "equality before the law and the
prohibition of discrimination does not always ensure equal and
effective enjoyment of human rights, particularly economic, social and
cultural rights by persons belonging to minority groups. "

The UN Committee called on France to revise its Constitution to
"officially recognize the need to protect cultural diversity and all
minority groups under the jurisdiction of the State party".

The Committee reiterated its requests to France to lift its
reservations on articles 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights and Article 30 of the Convention on the Rights of the
Child (right persons Part of minority groups), and that it ratifies
the Framework Convention for Protection of National Minorities, as
well as the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, and
Protocol No. 12 of the European Convention human rights against all
forms of discrimination.

The Committee said that France must "increase its efforts to preserve
and promote regional languages and cultures, particularly in public
education, television and radio and calls for official recognition of
these languages in the Constitution."

EBLUL France, who have worked with the UN on the issue, welcomed the
French National Assembly's amendment on the recognition of regional
languages in the Constitution. But "we also find that many more steps
are needed, France is still  catching up in comparison to other
European countries and in relation to the principles it has ratified
in the Treaty of Lisbon in particular." (Eurolang 2008)

The National Assembly debate

Ya d'ar Brezhoneg, Breton activist site, various articles

Committee on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights State reports, see France

Tangi Louarn, EBLUL, interview at the UN


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone: (215) 898-7475
Fax: (215) 573-2138

Email: haroldfs at


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