Plaid Cymru call for Welsh to have official EU recognition
Welsh MEP Eurig Wyn (Plaid Cymru/EFA) is this week calling on the UK Government to follow Spain's example by recognising minority languages such as Welsh within the EU. Mr Wyn is writing to Tony Blair and Britain's Europe Minister urging them to follow Spain's lead and reminding them that now that many people in Wales regularly use Welsh to communicate with government, it is only fair that they should also be able to communicate with EU institutions in their own language.
Under the leadership of new socialist prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the Spanish government called for the EU to recognise "the status of Spanish state languages other than Spanish" during a meeting of senior member state officials to discuss the draft constitution in Dublin as reported on Eurolang.
The Spanish initiative, a recognition of the large number of people who speak Catalan, Basque and Galician on a daily basis, would add to the draft EU constitution a clause allowing each country to nominate the languages into which the document would be translated, at national governments' expense. The languages proposed and the status they would gain would be at the discretion of national governments. Sources at the meeting say that other member states did not object to the request by Spain.
The Plaid Cymru MEP believes that languages such as Welsh and Catalan would then in practice gain similar status to that enjoyed by Irish. Though not an 'official' language of the EU, the treaties of the European Union are translated into Irish and people may contact the EU institutions, and expect a reply, in Irish.
Speaking today, Eurig Wyn MEP, a long standing campaigner for the Welsh language in Europe and a prominent member of the European Parliament's Intergroup on lesser used languages, said: "It's high time the Welsh language is at least accorded the same status as Irish within the corridors of the EU. I will be writing to Tony Blair and Britain's Europe Minister this week urging them to follow Spain's lead.
"This would be a genuine step towards officially recognising the linguistic rights of Welsh speakers throughout the European Union. With such hysterical and negative coverage of most European issues in the British press and a difficult referendum now on the horizon for Mr Blair, such a positive initiative would go at least some way towards making citizens feel a little less detached from the whole EU process."
With 20 official languages now used in the new enlarged EU of 25 countries, the Spanish proposal has drawn attention to the real linguistic diversity within the new EU of 450 million citizens. Prior to enlargement, over 40 million EU citizens were recognised as speaking a different language to the majority language of their State. Following enlargement, this figure will be closer to 46 million with many of these languages not recognised by the EU.
The official recognition of the languages of some of the new smaller member states has highlighted some of the inconsitencies in EU language policy. Maltese for example, with 300,000 speakers, has now become one of the EU's official languages, but it is dwarfed by the 7. 3 million speakers of Catalan, which has no EU status at all.
Mr Wyn added: "A large percentage of Welsh speakers now regularly communicate with government agencies and local authorities in Wales through the medium of Welsh. With Brussels now at the centre of a good deal of legislation now affecting Welsh citizens, I see it only as natural that they should be able to contact all decision making institutions in their mothertongue. For the language to survive it must be a living, working language. If it's good enough for Ireland, it's good enough for Wales."
The issue of the status of Catalan, Basque and Welsh is now among a whole series of open questions still to be finalised in the EU constitution negotiations. The Irish EU Presidency hopes to resolve many of these issues in May leaving the remaining issues to be finalised by EU leaders in June.