European Union: MEPs attack EU policy ahead of languages day

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Thu Sep 25 16:09:31 UTC 2008

 MEPs attack EU policy ahead of languages
]  Published: Thursday 25 September 2008

The EU executive was not "courageous" enough to set out concrete initiatives
to promote minority languages in its new multilingualism strategy, according
to parliamentarians from the European Free Alliance, who called for
"specific measures than go beyond generics" ahead of the European Day of
Languages on 26 September.

26 September was designated European Day[image: external]
<>of Languages by the Council of Europe
and the European Commission after the Year of Languages in 2001.

It celebrates "the cultural heritage that forms an integral part of the
languages of Europe" and aims to "alert the public to the importance of
language learning and diversifying the range of languages learnt" to
"increase intercultural understanding".

To mark the day, Multilingualism Commissioner Leonard Orban will speak at a
French EU Presidency conference[image: external]
over 1,000 stakeholders entitled '*États Généraux du Multilinguisme*' in
Paris, where he will present the EU executive's new multilingualism
Pdf] [image: external]
unveiled last week (18 September; EurActiv

At the same time, Brussels will host a conference organised by the
Commission's translation directorate-general entitled 'Languages mean
business', while language festivals will take place in Brussels and
elsewhere in the EU, featuring games, food tasting and films aimed primarily
at young people.
More on this topic: [image: List]LinksDossier:   Language use in the
[image: List]News:   No extra EU cash for languages 'until
Other related news:

   - Commission's 2009 programme gets cool reception in
   - Commission looks at language skills to boost EU
   - France to offer free English
   - EU funding fraud on the
   - EU OKs contested Slovak nuclear project amid new

 The Commission failed to increase funding for languages or propose specific
new programmes, lamented Basque MEP Mikel Irujo (Spain), speaking alongside
EFA colleagues Jill Evans of Welsh party Plaid Cymru (UK) and Transylvanian
independent László Tőkés (Romania) at a press conference on 23 September.

The MEPs also complained that the Commission was not doing "more to promote
minority languages at EU level" as well as "those languages that do not yet
have official status," with Evans in particular repeating previous demands
for Welsh to become a fully-fledged EU language (EurActiv

"Given that regional and minority languages are at least referred to in this
document, we would expect any measures proposed to extend to these languages
too," they said, calling on Multilingualism Commissioner Leonard Orban to
commit himself to this. "My main criticism is that the report does not
recognise the right of all EU citizens to address public authorities in
their mother tongue," said Irujo, referring to languages like Catalan.

Meanwhile Tőkés, a member of Romania's Hungarian minority, went even
further, complaining that Orban's communication does not seek to protect
endangered languages, for which the recognition of minority rights "would
just be a first step".

Irujo also lamented the fact that "too much responsibility [for implementing
the strategy] is left with member states" because "some are not the best
pupils when it comes to multilingualism". "We expected the Commission to do
more than this," he said, notably to promote the use of new language
learning technologies like the Internet.

But the EU executive pointed out that it had long supported the development
of modern technologies, notably speech recognition applications and
computer-assisted translation. The technology assists the 2,350 staff in its
translation directorate-general (1,750 translators and 600 support staff)
with their vast workload (1.7m pages translated in 2007). Some of these were
developed within the DG itself, it added.

Despite their disappointment, the EFA parliamentarians were quick to praise
the EU executive for publishing the document, hailing it for triggering
renewed debate and providing "a good basis on which to build future work".

Commissioner Orban will be in Parliament on 6 October to discuss the new
multilingualism strategy with MEPs.

A joint statement from MEPs in the *European Free Alliance* read: "We
welcome [the communication] as a positive step forward and congratulate the
commissioner on his work in promoting multilingualism. We believe the door
is now open for more far-reaching and ambitious developments and we strongly
encourage the Commission to take the opportunity to build on this

It continued: "We would welcome specific commitments to the promotion of
minority languages and languages that are not yet official at EU level:
commitments that have not yet been sufficiently forthcoming. This is a good
start but we have a long way to go."

Basque *MEP Mikel Irujo* praised the 'mother tongue plus two other
languages' principle enshrined in the communication, saying "it should help
bolster education in the member states". "The Basque and Catalan regions
have already adopted this principle," he added.

Transylvanian *MEP László Tőkés* said the communication "focuses on
euphemism," expressing dissatisfaction over the detail. "Commissioner Orban
is a good European thinker, but does not act concretely on a practical
level," he claimed.

Calling for "equality for all languages," Welsh *MEP Jill Evans* (Plaid
Cymru, UK) said the rights issue, which is most important in Wales, was
missing from the communication. But its recognition of the cultural side of
languages was "very positive".

Regarding its languages regime, the *European Commission* argues that
translation represents "a tiny part" (€280m) of the EU executive's total
budget of €129bn, corresponding to "a cost to each citizen of around €0.60
per year".
Next steps:

   - *26 Sept.*: European Day of Languages
   - *6 Oct.*: Commissioner Orban to discuss Multilingualism Communication
   with MEPs.

Links EU official documents

   - European Commission: Communication: 'Multilingualism: an asset for
   Europe and a shared commitment'[image: Pdf] [image: external]
   [FR][image: Pdf] [image: external]
   [DE][image: Pdf] [image: external]
   - European Commission: Communication: Citizen's summary[image: Pdf] [image:
   [FR][image: Pdf] [image: external]
   [DE][image: Pdf] [image: external]
   - European Commission: An inventory of Community actions in the field of
   multilingualism and results of online consultation[image: Pdf] [image:

European Union

   - European Commission: Polyglots start the European Day of Languages
   celebrations[image: external]
   [FR][image: external]
   [DE][image: external]
   - European Commission: The Commission aims to tap the full potential of
   languages[image: external]
   [FR][image: external]
   [DE][image: external]
   - Europa: European Day of Languages 2008[image: external]
   <>[FR][image: external]
   <>[DE][image: external]
   - European Commission: On 26 September 2008, the European Day of
   Languages will be celebrated in St Josse[image: external]
   external] <>
   - European Commission: Multilingualism[image: external]
   <>(Portal) [FR][image:
   external] <>
   - French EU Presidency: Conference: États Généraux du Multilinguisme[image:
   [FR][image: external]
   [DE][image: external]
   - French EU Presidency: Paris flies the flag of European languages![image:
   September 2008) [FR][image: external]
   [DE][image: external]
   - DG Translation: (Homepage)[image: external]
   <>[FR][image: external]
   <>[DE][image: external]
   - DG Interpretation: (Homepage)[image: external]
   <>[FR][image: external]
   <>[DE][image: external]
   - Europa: Languages in the EU[image: external]
   [FR][image: external]

International Organisations

   - Council of Europe: European Day of Languages[image: external]
   <>(Portal) [FR][image:
   external] <>List of
   external] <>[FR][image: external]

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