The attempt of the Spanish Government to include Catalan, Basque and Galician as official languages in the institutions of the European Union, a proposal that it has launched as part of its negotiation with the Catalan and Basque independence parties for the investiture of Pedro Sánchez, it will not be easy. The EU is already a tower of Babel with 24 official languages of 27 Member States, languages into which each legal text must be translated before it can enter into force, just as interpreters for each language are required in sessions such as those of the European Parliament. . A huge political and economic effort that increases with each new language that is incorporated, at a time when the EU tries to control its expenses and even, as far as the language section is concerned, reduce them.
All this, when in the queue to join the European club there are still eight candidate countries (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, Turkey and Ukraine), several of them with a different official language than the already institutionalized in Brussels —and that, therefore, it is foreseeable that they also want to incorporate them into the EU—, as well as two other “potential candidates”: Georgia and Kosovo.
Brussels is limited to responding these days that it will be the Council of the EU who decides – it has to do so unanimously – on the request of the Government of Pedro Sánchez, which will begin to be debated in September. It is a “sensitive” issue, various sources acknowledge and, above all, a matter of “political will.” Everything depends, they say, on whether Spain manages to “convince” its 26 partners.
The language issue, in a Europe where there are some 60 regional languages and many local internal conflicts and sensitivities, is a very delicate issue —a kind of Pandora’s box, warn experts and European political sources consulted— that many countries, such as centralist France They are reluctant to open. On the other hand, the 24 languages that are now recognized as official in the EU institutions are all official in all their respective States, unlike Catalan, Basque and Galician, which are only official in certain autonomous communities. Spanish, not in the whole of the State.
“Although multilingualism is a fundamental principle of the EU’s constitutional order, there are clear limits both in policy and practice that discourage the recognition of more languages,” says Alberto Alemanno, Professor of European Union Law and Politics at HEC Paris. , for whom the Spanish Government has made a promise “that it cannot keep”. Alemanno stresses that there is a “lack of precedent” regarding the recognition of an official language of the EU “without said language being previously recognized as an official national language” throughout its territory.
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The Spanish Foreign Minister himself, who is the one who has now processed the request, assumed that limit in Congress in September 2021, recalling what happened in 2005, during the Government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, when the first Spanish attempt was made that there would be a European recognition of the co-official languages. “The Council of the Union already pointed out then that the treaties currently in force do not allow it and that the co-official languages of the Spanish State cannot, therefore, at this time be official languages of the European Union, because achieving their official status would entail a reform of said treaties”, Albares replied to a question from the ERC deputy Marta Rosique.
In 2005, the 27 did give their approval to the incorporation of Irish or Gaelic as an official language of the EU (although in Brussels it is considered that it was above all a “political” decision, it is also true that in its Constitution it is fixed as the “first official language”, ahead of English, and was a treaty language since joining the bloc in 1973). In the Spanish case, however, it ended up being agreed that Spain could, as it has done since then, among others with the Commission, the Council, the European Ombudsman or the European Court of Justice, close administrative agreements for the use of a of the co-official languages, with costs that Spain would assume. During a visit to Brussels in November last year, Albares also urged the president of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, to “decisively move forward” in the use of Catalan, Galician and Basque in the European Parliament, which has so far rejected it. There hasn’t been an answer yet.
“The possibility of using regional languages is already quite included in the 2005 agreement”, so the new maneuver “is nonsense that all it does is divide us more as a country and society”, laments the MEP of Ciudadanos Adrián vazquez. His formation is circulating an “informative” letter among the permanent representations of the Twenty-seven in Brussels, in which he considers “prudent that the Council refrain from becoming a platform for deliberating on issues intrinsic to Spanish internal politics” .
From @CS_Europa We want to denounce the political and partisan use of the European institutions and our languages in exchange for votes for an investiture.
Sánchez opens a door to a more unsustainable and inefficient Union.
Here our reasons: https://t.co/CgarQEiDQw
— Adrián Vázquez Lázara 🇪🇦🇪🇺 (@AdrianVL1982) August 18, 2023
In his letter, Cs also refers to the heavy expenses involved in translation (more than 2.5 million pages each year) and interpretation in 24 languages. He cites figures from the European Commission that already estimated in 2013 – the year in which the last official language, Croatian, was incorporated – the total cost at “around 1,000 million a year”. Of course, that report indicated at the same time, that is “less than 1% of the EU budget or only 2 euros per European citizen”.
In any case, adds Vázquez, it is not just a question of money, but of time. “Many times, legislative packages, which are sometimes urgent, take time because you cannot start a negotiation until you have everything translated into the 24 official languages. We are always complaining that the European institutions are slow, and most of the time it is because of the translations”, he affirms.
For the analyst at the Center for European Reform (CRE) in Brussels, Camino Mortera, it is, above all, a question of priorities. “We have a lot of discussions to get into now, existential issues for the EU project for which a lot will have to be negotiated, about enlargement, China, fiscal rules, immigration… And we are at a moment in which the EU balances are changing”, he recalls. At this juncture, and especially now that Spain is holding the rotating presidency of the EU, which allows it to prioritize some issues, he wonders, “is this issue (of the co-official languages) really so important for Spain to insist on on an issue that requires unanimity and, perhaps, having to negotiate —because there is always a quid pro quo— for it on other strategically more important issues?
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