by Huw Morgan
With ten new countries having just joined the European Union - and many of these with small if not minority languages, how will this affect the minority languages within the Union. Will having more minority and smaller languages lead to more pressure for more resources to help them? Or will everyone have to share the same cake with the money available for each minority language being less? These are some of the considerations facing language groups in Wales following enlargement.
Aran Jones, temporary chief executive of Cymuned, says that it is difficult to foresee what exactly the effect will be. “Any negative effect to the financial contributions to minority languages would be very, very small,” he says. “And this effect would be more than compensated with pressure on the European countries to accept a multilingual situation. There is much yet to be done. They must ensure that all minority languages are treated equally. Personally, I see that the expansion is a good thing and only good can come of it.”
Dafydd Morgan Lewis, spokesman for Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (The Welsh Language Society), agrees that there is a need to work together. “The smaller languages must co-operate and fight for their rights. I very much hope that having these extra countries will strengthen the regions within the European Union so that they will be able to help the minority languages. This could be a good thing - this is one of the advantages.”
“But the problem, of course, is the possibility of less money available. They will have to share the same amount, possibly, between more languages. The new countries are poorer than the 'old' countries of the European Union. The question one has to ask is how are these countries going to fight for their rights. We must form alliances with others and fight for our rights.”
And as these new countries are young states, having only fairly recently gained their independence, Dafydd Morgan Lewis says that one should question how they treat their minorities. “They do not tend to to give full rights to their minorities. They are not very tolerant. They are new countries and they have struggled enough to gain their freedom.”
“What is more significant - and possibly more relevant to us - is that Catalunya is asking for the Catalonian language to be made an official language within the European Union. I can see that this would be of great advantage to the Welsh language.”
“But I believe that it is too early to see exactly what the effect of expansion will be. The important thing is to take advantage of every opportunity that can be of help to the Welsh language and other minority languages.
The Welsh Language Board is very pleased that there will be more minority and regional languages in the European Union. In a statement to Eurolang, spokesperson Meleri Evans said: “The Board welcomes the additional opportunities that expanding the EU offers to share information and good practice with other minority and regional languages across Europe. With so many of these minority languages crossing frontiers - for example, Russian in Latvia - it raises a number of unique matters relating basically to human rights rather than linguistic rights.“
“Although by now there is not a direct financial line to finance minority and regional language projects by the European Union, the EU has mainstreamed money for minority and regional languages in its main finance prorgrammes. Whilst we welcome the opportunities that this offers to obtain finance from all the EU's financial programmes, we would want the EU to ensure that specific finance is earmarked within these programmes for minority languages and that there is a sufficient monitoring mechanism in place to ensure that minority language projects receives a fair share of money from these programmes.”