The Catalan Language in the European Union
I. The meaning of the European Union
- Ever since its foundation, the European Union (EU) has applied, within its institutions, a linguistic policy based on a pluralistic and egalitarian recognition of its linguistic diversity. The EU’s treaties are clear and unmistakable in regard to this recognition. Article 22 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights affirms, specifically and explicitly, a respect for that linguistic diversity, which is, indeed, highlighted as an invaluable asset to be preserved and strengthened.
- The creation of a social, political, administrative and economic framework which embraces the countries of the Old Continent is viable as long as it presupposes the most strict respect to the linguistic and cultural diversity of each of its countries, based on the solidarity among the parts.
- The exclusion or the undervaluing of a language would involve a lesion, unacceptable from any viewpoint, of the integrity of all the peoples that constitute the EU.
- Even though the will of the EU, to establish a reduced number of linguae francae following criteria based on demographic and political considerations, is understandable, this pragmatic solution would be totally unacceptable if it leads to discrimination against languages and cultures. Quantitative matters apart, they all deserve the same consideration.
- Besides, solely to follow political criteria is to reach an inexcusable and unjust attitude which implies the predominance of some territories and their languages over the others, and the lack of an egalitarian—that is, democratic—treatment of different countries. The humanities and social sciences unanimously consider that no languages or cultures are superior to others.
II. The Catalan language in the context of the European Union
- To begin with, it is deplorable that the Catalan language does not have official status without restrictions in the EU even though it is spoken in three of the member states: Spain, France and Italy.
- The imminent incorporation of further states as members of the EU will entail the adoption of a number of new official languages.
- Although there is nothing objectionable to the granting of official status to these new languages, the refusal of such status to the Catalan language is to be condemned.
- The importance of languages cannot be measured by quantitative arguments, unless from a point of view focussed on the will of some to dominate others. Neither can it be assessed with political arguments: a fundamental principle of respect for human rights is that all languages and all cultures constitute, in equal terms, our human heritage.
- Nevertheless, it is not superfluous to stress some of the historical, demographical and legal characteristics of the Catalan language.
5.1. Among the new languages that will have official status in the EU, only Polish and Romanian have a larger number of speakers than Catalan; Slovak, Lithuanian, Latvian, Slovene, Estonian and Maltese are languages of countries with fewer than 6 million inhabitants.
5.2. Were Catalan to be ranked among the eleven official languages of the EU according to the number of inhabitants of their geographical areas, it would hold the seventh position.
5.3. As for the number of users, Catalan is comparable to Swedish, Greek and Portuguese, and outnumbers Danish and Finnish. Among the so-called "regional" languages Catalan is the only language spoken by more than seven million people.
5.4. The Catalan language has a unified standard, with a solid grammatical, lexical and terminological norm which is recognised by all its speakers.
5.5. Since 1907 the Catalan language has an Academy: the Institut d’Estudis Catalans.
5.6. Outside the strict area of the territories where it is the natural language, Catalan is taught in seventy-six universities of Europe and America.
5.7. A proof that it is a language adapted to the present society is the existence of many television channels and radio stations and the fact that it is the nineteenth most used language in the world in the cyberspace of Internet.
5.8. From the historical and cultural point of view, Catalan is a Romance language, having its origins in the ninth century.
5.9. In the Middle Ages Catalonia was an independent nation, with Catalan as the official language; this status was only denied by the coercion and the political and cultural repression of some regimes during the eighteenth and twentieth centuries.
5.10. Catalan literature can number among its authors many of international renown, such as Ramon Llull, Ausiàs March, Bernat Metge, Joanot Martorell, Jacint Verdaguer, Carles Riba, Mercè Rodoreda, and Salvador Espriu.
- Thus, it is only the fact that the territories of Catalan language and culture are not a state of the EU that is used as a pretext to deny official status to Catalan within the EU.
- This attitude is inadmissible, for the new Europe must be the Europe not exclusively of the states but, without exception, of all the peoples that constitute it.
- Further, the criterion of according official status only to languages of states is not just obsolete, but indeed very unjust, for it implies the shearing of the European heritage with an argument that has nothing to do with safeguarding the diversity as a richness of the Old Continent.
- The arbitrary nature of this criterion becomes obvious if one considers that Andorra is a sovereign state with Catalan as the only official language.
III. The attitude of the Spanish State with respect to the officiality of the Catalan Language in the EU
Of the three states of the EU where Catalan is spoken, only Spain, in some of its autonomous regions, allows it an official character. This situation gives the Spanish State a greater responsibility regarding the external promotion of this language.
The Spanish Constitution of 1978 explicitly acknowledges the linguistic plurality existing within the Spanish State. Further, the different autonomous statutes and other laws approved by the autonomous parliaments establish a regime of territorial co-officiality for the languages of the different nationalities.
Nevertheless, the Spanish Government is systematically reluctant to promote acknowledgment of the official status in the EU to any language other than Spanish, and searches incessantly for the means to restrain any initiative that could interfere with its will. This attitude is contrary not only to democratic principles of equality but also to the Spanish Constitution.
This behaviour of the Spanish State must indeed provoke perplexity among the members of the EU, even if only in the sense of discerning in it a conflict between the wishes of the Spanish Government and what, in contrast, a community has expressed regarding the consideration of its own language.
No democratic state has the right to ignore the language and the culture of a community, and much less has it the right to extend that disdain beyond its borders. On the contrary, it has the duty to defend, integrally and equally, the linguistical and cultural heritage of the lands that compose it.
Taking into account the considerations set out in this text, the Plenum of the Institut d’Estudis Catalans (IEC), in its ordinary session of April 8, 2002, unanimously approves the following resolutions:
The IEC is enjoined by its Statutes to denounce and prevent any situation that could hurt or threaten the integrity of the Catalan language and thus its consideration in terms of equality as a language of culture.
This duty is particularly reinforced by the recognition given to the IEC and its role by the Royal decree 3118/1976, of the 26 of November.
The IEC deprecates the policy of the Spanish Government of opposing the granting by the EU of official status to the Catalan language.
It is strange, at the very least, that the government of a state neither endorses the right to such status of a language of its territories as an essential contribution to the linguistic and cultural heritage of Europe, nor gives support to initiatives towards such objective.
The IEC urges the Government of the Spanish State to remove the obstacles that render difficult the acknowledgement of the official character of the Catalan language in the EU, to definitively abandon any position that could induce its frustration, and to undertake the defence of the linguistical and cultural diversity of its territories as a human heritage. The IEC considers this last to be constitutionally and morally incumbent on the Government of the Spanish State.
The IEC exhorts the Parliament and Government of the Generalitat de Catalunya, the Parliament and Government of the Balearic Isles, and the Corts and Government of the Generalitat Valenciana to make common cause of this request and work politically with the Spanish Government, the EU institutions and the citizens in order to make possible full official status of the Catalan language in the EU.
In the same way, the IEC urges the Congress and the Senate of the Spanish State, to adopt unequivocal positions in favour of official status, with full rights, of the Catalan language in the EU.
The IEC turns to the European Parliament and the European Commission and asks them to initiate the process leading to the acknowledgement of Catalan as an official language of the EU.
Likewise, the IEC requests from all academic, cultural, and political institutions of the Catalan nation and the Spanish state, as well as international, especially European, institutions, solidarity with the claims hitherto expressed.
In conclusion, the IEC demands, with the firmness conferred by the most basic considerations relative to the just and democratic treatment of linguistic and cultural diversity, that the Catalan language become, without further delay and with full right, an official language of the EU.
Barcelona, April 8, 2002