Commissioner for Education, Multilingualism, Youth and Sport, Androulla Vassiliou, came to speak to the Intergroup for Traditional Minorities, National Communities and Languages (chaired by Kinga Gál MEP) yesterday on the Commission´s initiatives on languages and Multilingualism, and to hold an exchange of views with MEPs.
The Commissioner emphasised several times the ongoing commitment that the Commission has towards the promotion of regional or minority languages, and underlined the importance of how speakers of lesser-used languages are those who meet the Barcelona objective of “mother-tongue-plus-2”. She described these communities as a “precious asset” and how they often act to “build bridges” between member states and peoples.
The meeting continued on the question of status, particularly over the use of Catalan, a language with around 10 million speakers, but which does not have official status in the EU and which is not used in the Parliament despite having many more speakers than some member state languages.
The Commissioner replied that there was little the Commission could do because member states decide over which languages are official, but adding that “regional or minority languages are very important for us” and highlighting activities with language projects under the Lifelong Learning Programme.
Concerning the lack of use of Catalan, Basque and Welsh in the Parliament, she underlined that this was a problem for the Parliament deal with, the Commission could not influence matters because of the independence of the Parliament.
The meeting turned to the Slovak language law issue with Kinga Gál describing the controversial law as “unacceptable in modern Europe”. Other MEPs referred to the recent Venice Commission decision, which called on the Slovaks to review the law and remove the threat of fines for people speaking Hungarian.
Commissioner Vassiliou empathised with MEPs, referring to the Lisbon Treaty and Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of language. “However,” she said, “the Charter only applies when states implement EU law. If not, we do not have any competence, so you can understand our limitations”. She acknowledged the findings of the Venice Commission saying that the Slovaks should take them into consideration and behave with “caution and flexibility”. She added that the Commission will continue to “watch carefully” in case there was any transgression of EU law.
A further question outlined how the language law is having a negative effect on business with a newspaper being penalised for using Hungarian. Such measures, it was pointed out, transgress EU laws and hamper cross-border development. The Commissioner said that she would need to see more details, but that if the issue did come under EU competence then the Charter of Fundamental Rights would apply.
Questions followed on the banning of bilingual Occitan-French signs, with the Commissioner underlining that internal language policy is for member states to decide. On the questions of broadcasting, freedom of reception in the languages of national minorities, and the assignation of film rights, the Commissioner announced that two other Commissioners were in the process of looking into this issue and will make an announcement shortly.
Kinga Gál asked about language funding in the next financial framework 2013-20 and how NGOs could be better in involved in the process. Importantly she added that in promoting cultural diversity the Commission could focus on encouraging the majority to learn and appreciate the lesser-used languages and cultures in their state.
As part of her response, the Commissioner invited Members to participate in the online consultation on the matter which will guide the Commission in its future Culture plans.
Kinga Gál emphasised the importance of having concrete projects and Communications that will help the co-existence between minorities and majorities.
The Commissioner, concluding, looked forward to a continuing cooperation with the Intergroup, and to positive developments on the Slovak language law.
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