EU elections Wales : parties support Welsh but only Plaid Cymru mention other minoritised languages
Dépêche de Eurolang

Publié le 10/06/04 6:59 -- mis à jour le 00/00/00 00:00

by Huw Morgan

Three of the four main political parties in Wales mentions the Welsh language in their European Union election manifestos. The Labour Party does not mention the language, but as the ruling party in the Welsh Assembly they have started to implement Iaith Pawb (Language for All), their policy for increasing the number of Welsh-speakers. It is the Labour Party that is likely to have the most European seats after the election, with Plaid Cymru second.

But only the nationalist party Plaid Cymru refers to other minority European languages. “The European Union's strength is seen in the patchwork of diversity that it incorporates. Although there are 20 working languages in the EU by now, there are over a 100 languages in every day use and new linguistic communities are being formed every day. The Welsh language is a unique cultural expression in a culturally rich Europe.”

Plaid Cymru's manifesto says that one of its central ideological elements is for the Welsh language and its communities to survive and thrive. Although the manifesto mentions the desire for the Welsh language to become one of the working languages, there is no mention in the manifesto of supporting other minority languages and what measures it would take in the European Parliament.

Eurolang contacted the other parties and asked how they would support other European minority languages, but as yet has not received a reply.

The Conservative Party, the most Eurosceptic of the mainstream parties, says that it would “develop an inclusive Welsh language policy which emphasises the importance of the language to everyone” but adds that the policy would be “sensitive to those who cannot speak Welsh”. It would “continue to support the work of the Welsh Language Board” and “ensure that resources are spent on the most effective means to promote bilingualism and not wasted on unnecessary translation costs”.

On education it says that it would “promote the benefits of Welsh medium education” and “target resources at pre-school and primary school teaching of Welsh”. But it also says that it would “allow individual schools to determine whether the teaching of Welsh should be compulsory ...”

All the other main parties support the compulsory teaching of Welsh up to the age of 16, but some parents in schools in anglicised areas, where the Conservative Party is strongest, do not support this, and the Conservatives are the only ones that would allow the relaxing of this rule.

The Conservatives also say that they would “identify areas where the Welsh language remains the language of the community and where distinctive policies should apply”. This may refer to the housing problems in rural Wales, but so far the party has refused to support measures that would “distort the market”.

The Liberal Democrat Party says that it will “ensure that the Welsh Language Act is extended to keep pace with changes in public service delivery” and that they would “establish language action areas as consortia with resources to promote joined entrepreneurship, university spin-offs and community animation”.

The party says that it seeks “to ensure thriving communities that respect liberty, linguistic diversity, and the dialectic diversity within the Welsh language”. They do not want Welsh language communities “to be preserved in aspic or to decline economically and socially as impregnable ghettos of exclusivity or conformity”.

Their manifesto also adds that the party recognises “that there are areas within Wales where Welsh is, or has the potential to become the main language in everyday use, and that upholding the right of such areas to exist may involve confronting damaging social and economic pressures. We cannot abandon the Welsh language or allow it to dwindle as a community language”.

There is a new party contesting the European election in Wales this time. Forward Wales was established by a former Labour member of the British Parliament and Welsh Assembly. John Marek is now the sole representative of his new party in the Assembly. Its biggest coup has been attracting former Welsh Secretary and architect of Welsh devolution Ron Davies. Mr Davies – who has learnt Welsh - had to resign from his post after a sex scandal, but he is now one of Forward Wales’ candidates in the European election.

Mr Davies launched his party’s language policy near Tryweryn reservoir in north Wales – a site with huge signifance for Welsh patriots as a Welsh-speaking valley was drowned here in the 1960s to provide water for England. This led to a resurgence in Welsh nationalism. According to Forward Wales, “The loss of Capel Celyn symbolised how the Welsh language and the Welsh-speaking communities on which its survival ultimately depends are vulnerable to external economic forces. Today ... the threat ... is the yawning prosperity and opportunity gap between those communities and their natural hinterland and the most prosperous parts of the UK.” All the party’s election material is bilingual but there is no reference to other European minority languages.

Due to the recent enlargement of the European Union, Wales will receive four instead of five seats. The party likely to lose out is Plaid Cymru, with their MEP Eurig Wyn now concentrating on winning a seat in the British Parliament. He has been a vociferous supporter of minority languages in the European Parliament.

The Labour Party is likely to hold the most Welsh seats and it is disappointing that there is no mention of minority languages in its manifesto. One party likely to make gains in Britain is the United Kingdom Independence Party, a party that wants Britain to leave Europe and a party that has no word of Welsh in its election material. (Eurolang)


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