24th May 2024
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Spain must wait to see if EU will accept Catalan, Basque & Galician as official languages

Spain’s demand for Catalan, Basque and Galician to become official EU languages faced opposition on Tuesday as the bloc’s member states fear any such move will trigger a domino effect.

The EU’s General Affairs Council debated the possible inclusion of the three languages in Brussels on Tuesday, but was unable to reach an agreement. Some countries said they needed more time to study the proposal and its implications.

After a majority of member states voiced doubts in the meeting of European and foreign affairs ministers, Spain decided not to put the proposal to a vote.

The debate over making the languages official was reportedly ‘constructive’ despite lasting only 40 minutes. Some 20 countries spoke in the debate and asked for legal and cost analyses of the proposal. The 27 member states agreed to return to the topic of making Catalan, Basque, and Galician official continental languages in future meetings. Click here to read the General Affairs Council statement following the meeting.

The EU already has 24 official languages, and the inclusion of Catalan, Basque and Galician could lead to pushes by other minority languages to be recognised from other parts of Europe. All 27 members of the EU must agree unanimously for any new language to enter force.

All legal EU documents — treaties, laws and international agreements — must already be translated into the 24 languages and there must be translation available in them at leaders’ summits and ministerial meetings.

The reservations from several EU countries about adding Catalan to the list of the bloc’s official languages will potentially complicate Pedro Sánchez’s attempt to court Catalan pro-independence parties in his bid to win another term as Spanish prime minister.

The request is part of Sánchez’s efforts to meet the demands of the pro-independence party Junts per Catalunya (JxCat), led by Carles Puigdemont, and secure enough votes for getting a majority in parliament after an inconclusive election last month.

Failure to deliver will weaken Sánchez’s position and probably require him to present additional guarantees for any future promises and win the support of pro-independence forces.

Spain took advantage of its EU presidency to put the language issue on the agenda of the European ministers’ meeting in Brussels on Tuesday, but Madrid’s insistence is frustrating the bloc.

The Swedish government has said it is hesitant and has called for a study into the ‘consequences for efficiency of the European Union’s work’.

‘There are many minority languages within the European Union that are not official languages,’ Swedish EU Affairs Minister Jessika Roswall told reporters on Tuesday.

EU ambassadors last week said the Spanish request raises ‘legal, administrative and budgetary questions’ that must be carefully looked at before any decision.

Spain has said that it will cover the costs linked to translation, but without providing detailed figures.

What worries many in Brussels is that if they give ground to Spain, there could be similar demands from people who speak regional languages elsewhere in the EU.

‘With regards to the Spanish proposal, we believe that it needs really very careful consideration,’ said Croatia’s European Affairs Minister Andreja Metelko-Zgombic.

Catalan, Basque and Galician have official language status in Spain, and from Tuesday the three languages can also be spoken by MPs in the Spanish Congress, despite opposition from the country’s right-wing and far-right parties. ALSO READ: Spain allows MPs to speak Catalan, Basque and Galician in Parliament – Vox walk out.

‘We are not talking about minority languages,’ Spain’s Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares (main picture) said in Brussels.

‘Catalan is spoken by more than 10 million people, which places it above many of the languages that are currently official and many of the languages of the representatives who will be around the table this morning with me.’

According to the Spanish Statistical Office, 9.1 million people speak Catalan, while 2.6 million and 1.1 million speak Galician and Basque respectively.

Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium after the illegal independence referendum held in Catalonia in October 2017, has also called for an amnesty for pro-independence supporters, including himself, as a precondition for his backing of any investiture of Sánchez. ALSO READ: Puigdemont demands ‘amnesty’ for all independence activists as ‘precondition’ for Sánchez’s investiture.

Puigdemont took to X (formerly Twitter) on Tuesday to deliver a video statement, saying that, ‘Today we have verified that Spain is not being heard in Europe as much as Pedro Sánchez claimed’ (see Tweet below).

‘It is true, however, that we had never come this far and never before had so many EU countries shown their support, and I want to thank them for that,’ said Puigdemont. ‘That no state has vetoed the proposal is good news, but it is not enough. The Spanish State knows this, it knows it has work to do and it knows it must do it diligently, because the opportunity is now. We will be very attentive. The way to achieve it should be irreversible without having to wait too long; because we’ve waited enough.’

Following Spain’s July election, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, leader of the right-wing People’s Party (PP), was tasked by King Felipe VI to try to form an administration. Feijóo will face an investiture debate and vote on 26-27 September to see if he has the support of parliament. If he loses, as is widely expected, Sánchez would then try to form a government in the following weeks.

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