by Davyth Hicks
According to the Catalan, Spanish and French press the Irish Presidency opposes Catalan, Basque and Galician becoming Treaty languages. El Pais and Avui both reported in mid May that according to ‘official Irish sources’ the Irish Presidency, was against the three languages having official status partly because it would create problems in the run up to signing the constitution.
According to AVUI (19 May), Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen did not want to introduce Treaty language status into the Draft Constitution process, but accepted only the translation of the EU Constitution into Catalan, Basque and Galician. Avui also speculates that Fianna Fail, the ruling party in Ireland, does not want Catalan to get the same official recognition as Irish. In their opinion if other minoritised languages have the same rights as Irish, the Irish government fears that campaigners for the language will have more justification to ask for full EU working status.
Attention on the issue is particularly focused in the run up to agreement being reached on the text of the Draft Constitution by the end of this week. Spanish Foreign Affairs Minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, admitted that “it will be difficult to change the draft text”, but “nothing is impossible, and we will try it”.
Eurolang was unable to obtain a statement from the Irish Taoiseach’s office, but did manage to contact the Irish Presidency today. A spokesman said that “the Irish Presidency has proposed a text which agrees to the translation of the Treaty into the languages and official languages used within states.” He added that, while the Irish Presidency was not against Catalan, Galician and Basque being Treaty languages, it was not necessarily an Inter Governmental issue and could be sorted out a later date.
However, any such move to merely to provide a translation of a treaty into a stateless, regional or minority language falls far short of the Spanish Government’s wish for Catalan, Basque and Galician to be accorded Treaty status where people have the right to write, and receive a reply, from EU institutions in their own language. Furthermore, it completely ignores the wishes and the rights of the speakers of those languages.
There are two further factors which mean that the issue will have to be dealt with. Firstly, enlargement has meant that languages, which have a fraction of the number of speakers that Catalan has, have full working status, such as Maltese, Estonian and Latvian. These last languages are more equivalent to Basque and Welsh in speaker numbers. Unless these minoritised languages obtain Treaty status it highlights a complete lack of language rights, a shambolic EU language policy, and raises questions about what kind of democracy the European Union is when whole peoples cannot address their elected representatives in their own language.
Secondly, if or when Catalan are Basque are accorded Treaty status, it will mean that while they are official at EU level they will still have no recognition at all in France. A fact that is not lost on the French state and undoubtedly fuels France’s apparent desire to keep Catalan and Basque as non- Treaty languages.
Speaking to Eurolang, Helen Ó Murchu from the Stádas campaign, said that “there is nowhere else for the government to go … I think that Ireland should be the last country in the world to stand in the way of increased rights and recognition of lesser-used languages”. The Stádas campaign in Ireland wrote to each candidate in the European Elections asking their stance on official working status for the Irish language in the EU.
Minoritised language communities will face an uphill task to change any Draft Constitution text once it has been agreed upon by states. In the event of referenda on the Constitution it could prove to be an EU own-goal as the affected language communities will have more reason to vote against the Draft.
Over the weekend the Irish circulated a paper to member states to iron out any obstacles to signing. According to an Irish Presidency spokesperson it includes the agreement on having Treaty translations into lesser-used languages “but nothing additional”.