A linguistically diverse day in the European Parliament: Bernat Joan MEP uses Catalan, Bertie Ahern uses Irish
Dépêche de Eurolang

Publié le 23/07/04 8:57 -- mis à jour le 00/00/00 00:00

by Alexia Bos Solé and Davyth Hicks

The recently elected Catalan independentist MEP Bernat Joan used Catalan in the plenary session of the European Parliament held yesterday in Strasbourg in order to request official status for the language. In addition, Irish leader Bertie Ahern launched his speech in Irish.

Mr. Joan addressed some words in Catalan to Mr. Durao Barroso, the new President of the European Commission.

In his short but powerful speech, Bernat Joan addressed the new President of the Commission, Durao Barroso, speaking each sentence first in Catalan and then translating each one into English.

He said: "Please give the Catalans a chance to vote 'yes' to the European Constitution. The Catalan people have not been recognised by Spain. Our language is not official in the Spanish state, and that state does not recognise our right to self-determination. We are European autonomists: we want the same degree of autonomy for the Catalan countries as Portugal has within Europe.

"While we wait for our rights to be recognised, however, we would be able to vote in favour of the European Constitution if the Catalan language were to be officially recognised. If it is not, how can we vote in favour of a text that does not recognise the stateless nations - the Catalan countries, in our case - nor gives official status to a language such as Catalan, which is spoken by 10 million people? We would like to see a Europe made up of all its real peoples, a Europe which is equal as regards rights, including national rights for stateless nations, a Europe which is fully democratic..."

However, Mr. Joan’s speech was countered by the recently elected Catalan socialist President of the European Parliament, Josep Borrell. Mr. Borrell, who had declared in his investiture speech on Tuesday that he felt “European, Spanish and Catalan”, said that the words in Catalan “would not be registered in the minutes of the session, since they could neither be understood nor translated”, while the English version is official.

In the morning session, some hours before Mr. Joan's speech, the Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern used Irish, which is not yet an EU working language.

He said : “Ba mhaith liom an deis seo a ghlacadh le comhghairdeas a dhéanamh le gach comhalta nua ó na fiche cúig Ballstát den Aontas Eorpach ar a dtoghadh an mhí seo caite i bhfeidhmiú an ghnímh daonlathais osnáisiúnta is mó riamh sa domhan. Is maith an rud daoine a bhí anseo cheana a fheiceáil in aontas le daoine nua a bheith i láthair’. (I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all Members, from across the twenty-five Member States of the European Union, on their election last month in the greatest supranational exercise in democracy that the world has ever known. It is good to see familiar faces and new faces alike.)

Then in English he called for full working status saying: “Mr President, I see that some Members are having difficulty receiving their Irish language interpretation. Perhaps when Irish is fully recognised in Europe we will have one difficulty less.”

Interestingly, there were no complaints against the Irish leader for using his first national language (around one million speakers) as opposed to Catalan (nearly 10 million speakers), which was not recognised at all.

The EP plenary session did not end with this flurry of linguistic diversity. MEP Bernat Joan found unexpected support of the French far right MEP Bruno Gollnisch (Front National), who said that last year he had addressed a communication in Latin in the EP and it was included in the minutes of the session.

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