Catalans are not demanding favourable treatment, just linguistic equality
The EU’s General Affairs Council will discuss on 19 September whether Catalan should become an official language of the bloc. This is a great opportunity to correct the serious historical anomaly of millions of European citizens whose linguistic rights are still not guaranteed on equal terms, writes Pere Aragonès.
“Language is a country’s soul and deserves a great deal of attention,” said the Catalan writer Mercè Rodoreda. She said it with all her love for the Catalan language, the foundation of our country, Catalonia, and what gives us backbone and cohesion.
A language that defines us as Europeans, as do all Romance languages. A language that is thousands of years old, which contributes to enriching Europe’s cultural and linguistic diversity and which, far from being a minority language, fully maintains its vitality and is one of the 15 most widely spoken official languages in the continent.
Catalan, like all languages, deserves a great deal of attention. Defending, promoting and fully normalising the language are absolute priorities for the government of Catalonia.
This is why we have, for years, been calling for what the European Union’s General Affairs Council will be discussing on 19 September: That Catalan should also become an official language of the European Union, a decision that the 27 member states must take unanimously.
For Europe, and for Catalan society, this is a great opportunity to correct the serious historical anomaly of millions of European citizens whose linguistic rights are still, today, not guaranteed on equal terms with the vast majority of European citizens.
In Catalonia, we realise this opportunity may be viewed with suspicion in some parts of Europe. But the Catalans are not demanding favourable treatment, just linguistic equality.
We are Europe and we believe in Europe. And all we ask is to be able to speak to Europe as almost all our fellow citizens do, in our own language.
For centuries in Catalonia, we have suffered from exclusionary Spanish nationalism, which has used all the instruments of the state to marginalise the other historical languages. During the Franco dictatorship, Catalan was banned and persecuted, as another means of repressing differences.
Even today, there are still certain Spanish parties that are trying to prevent the full normalisation of our languages.
Adopting the same attitude, that goes against equality, multilingualism and diversity, that has generated so many conflicts in Spain and in Europe itself, and which is far removed from the values the Union represents. In Catalonia, and with Europe, we want to prevent such exclusionary attitudes from prevailing.
Some have cited the economic problems of recognising new languages.
We believe that defending citizens’ rights should not depend on economic discussions, but nevertheless, it is worth remembering that annual institutional expenditure on translations is only 0.2% of the Community budget and that new technologies could significantly reduce the cost in the coming years.
Moreover, the government of Catalonia is ready to work with European institutions to explore mechanisms to overcome all obstacles.
Other voices suggest that a limit should be placed on adopting new official languages. This is debatable, as one of the requirements for entering the club of official European Union languages is being official in a member state.
Today, there are only five languages in Europe that are not yet official in the European Union, even though they are official in their member state.
Catalan is one of them, despite being fully official in several territories of the Spanish state and much more widely spoken than a good number of languages that already have official status in the European institutions.
Finally, we know there are suspicions created by the mistaken belief that this request is from the Spanish government, currently presiding over the Council, that it has arisen from the current situation, at a time of political complexity in Spain, after a general election and while negotiations to form a new government are still ongoing.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The request for Catalan to be considered an official language in European institutions is a commitment first adopted by the state government more than a year ago, during the negotiations between the governments of Spain and Catalonia to resolve their conflict over sovereignty.
But the desire to be able to speak our language in Europe is a longstanding claim, based on the profoundly pro-European vocation of the Catalan society and recognised in our Statute of Autonomy.
On 19 September, the European Union General Affairs Council will not discuss the re-election of Pedro Sánchez as prime minister of the Spanish state. It does not have the powers, nor is it its role, to do so.
It will discuss recognising the linguistic rights of 10 million European citizens. And this should be the only focus guiding their decision. At stake is the European Union’s commitment to freedom, equality and multilingualism, and to the motto that unites us: united in diversity.
The Catalans are not asking to be an exception in Europe. We are asking not to be.