GÀIDHLIG AND OTHER LESSER USED LANGUAGES:
Europe is a linguistic and cultural mosaic. Although Europe has a relatively low percentage of living languages in compassion to other continents, there are still over 200 autochthonous languages1 used daily on our continent. And these do not include the many hundreds of African and Asian languages spoken by immigrants and guest-workers, who arrived in Europe over the past half century. Some of these autochthonous languages are widely used languages, even on a world scale [e.g. English and Spanish]. Others may be spoken by only a few hundred people. Some of these 'lesser used' languages are among the oldest in the Western world and most of them have rich cultural, literary and folk traditions. All of our languages form an integral part of Europe's cultural heritage. In addition to English, Scotland has two native languages, which fall into the category of 'lesser used' - Gàidhlig and Scots. What future have such languages in the new Europe? Has the policy or lack of policy of European institutions got any relevance for Gàidhlig or Scots? And, if so, can we influence them?
When we think of Europe we think automatically of the European Union. We also may think of the Council of Europe and the OSCE. What then is the position of these bodies in relation to our languages?
To speak of the position of the European Union on language is at once both simple and complex. Very little is said in the Treaty establishing the European Community about language. Only two articles are directly relevant. Article 314 states:
The treaty, drawn up in a single original in the Dutch, French, German, and Italian languages, all four texts being equally authentic, shall be deposited in the archives of the Italian Republic, which shall transmit a certified copy to each of the governments of the other signatory States.
Pursuant to the Accession treaties, the Danish, English, Finnish, Greek, Irish, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish versions of this treaty shall also be authentic.
And Article 21, which states:
... Every citizen of the Union may write to any of the institutions referred to in this Article or in Article 7 in one of the languages mentioned in Article 314 and have an answer in that language.
So we have here twelve official, authentic versions of the Treaty and twelve languages in which a citizen may write to one of the Union's institutions. The question of official and working languages is dealt with, not in the Treaty itself, but in Council Regulation No. 1 of 1958. This Regulation, amended following on the accession of new member states, names eleven official and working language i.e. the twelve "Treaty languages", as listed in Article 314 of the Treaty, less Irish.
The exceptional status of Irish can be traced back to the attitude of the Irish government of the day, in the early seventies, when Ireland was negotiating its terms of accession. The government sought that Irish be an official language, but not a working one. It was claimed that Irish being a working language "could give rise to serious difficulties of a practical nature."2 Some observers would suggest that the real reason lay in the fact that plans were being laid to end competence in Irish as an essential qualification for entry into general grades in the civil service - a move which would have been rendered well near impossible should Irish become a working language of the European Communities. Whatever the real motive may have been, the Irish authorities missed the point that Regulation No. 1 makes no distinction between official and working languages. The result was that Irish is neither an official nor a working language. However, the Irish government did succeed in agreeing that Irish could be used for certain purposes, subject to certain restrictions. Irish is an official language of the European Court of Justice. It may also be used in the European Parliament if advance notice is given to the interpretation service. Revised versions of the Treaty are produced in Irish, as are certain documents, e.g. Parliament resolutions, information material, if requested. Irish appears on all EU passports. This "in between" position of Irish has been underlined because it may serve as a precedent for other languages in the future. For instance, the status of Irish in the EU is a source of interest in Malta. Maltese is undoubtedly the national language of Malta but one spoken by only 300,000 people and rarely used for international communications.
The Union, with its eleven official and working languages is quite exceptional as an international organisation. The Council of Europe and NATO have only two working languages - French and English. The UN has only six. The practical difficulties which arise from having such a large number of working languages should not be underestimated. Labrie3 estimates that the Commission alone has to translate more than a million pages and to interpret for more than 100,000 interpreter days per annum. Geometric progression comes into play with each language added to the list of working languages, as translation and interpretation from and into this language must be possible from each and every other official and working language. The proverb, Talk is cheap, hardly applies in this case!
It is worth noting that the de facto as distinct from de jure position of language use does not reflect this multilingual situation. A study carried out in 1994 by the Gerhard-Mercator Universität of Duisburg4 showed that there were two dominant languages in use in EU institutions - French and English. Table 1 gives a résumé of the study:
LANGUAGES USED BY STAFF IN EU INSTITUTIONS
|Language||Within EU Institutions
|With EU citizens
|With Non-EU citizens|
When the LINGUA Programme - now part of Socrates - was launched, to promote "foreign language" ability among European citizens, Irish and Lëtzebuergesch were included for the purposes of the programme. Later on, the three non-EU members of the EEA - Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein - agreed to participate in and financially support the EU's educational and cultural programmes. This led to the inclusion of Norwegian and Icelandic in the list of LINGUA languages. Of course, the lesser used languages, spoken by 40m.+ EU citizens did not figure in these provisions.
The first signs of interest in the future of the Communities' regional and minority languages appeared in the European Parliament in 1979. On 28 September of that year a motion for resolution was tabled by Gaetano Arfé MEP and a number of other Socialist members, all of them from either Italy or France, on a Charter of Ethnic Minorities. Less than a month later, a further motion for resolution was tabled by John Hume MEP5, now a Nobel Peace Laureate, and co-signed by a Socialist deputy from all the member states calling for the drawing up of a 'Bill of Rights of the Regional Languages and Cultures of the Community'. Although at first glance both motions for resolution seemed very similar, there was in fact a very profound underlying difference in approach between them. Whereas the Arfé Motion for Resolution speaks of 'the demands for autonomy, of ethnic and linguistic minorities', the Hume Motion for Resolution side-steps issues such as ethnicity and autonomy and rather refers to 'this diversity' being 'again one of the main sources of the vitality, richness and originality of European civilisation'. In the event, the Parliament decided to have two different reports drawn up - one on the rights of ethnic minorities and another on the promotion of regional and minority languages. Gaetano Arfé MEP, a former Professor of History in the University of Firenze and a highly respected parliamentarian, was appointed rapporteur of the report on languages whereas the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament appointed a German Christian Democrat, Mr. A. Goppel, to prepare the report on European legislation on ethnic groups.
Hume expressed the opinion on a number of occasions to me that an approach based on ethnicity would never meet with success because it would of its nature trigger off a substantial political reaction. He believed, however, that an approach based on language and culture would strike a chord across political and ethnic divides and stood a very good chance of being accepted. Hume's assessment of the situation proved to be correct. The Arfé Report and accompanying motion for resolution came before the plenary session of the Parliament in October 19816. The Goppel Report on the other hand never got past committee stage nor did a subsequent attempt to prepare such a motion for resolution, prepared by Graf Stauffenberg MEP and later by Siegbert Alber MEP.
The Arfé Resolution called on the member state governments and on regional and local authorities to enact a number of measures to support and promote regional and minority languages particularly in the domains of education, mass communication, public life and social affairs. The motion was adopted by a comfortable majority - 80 votes in favour, 18 against and 8 abstentions. The only political block which voted almost solidly against the resolution was the English Tory group. It was interesting that the Irish Fianna Fáil deputies, who were members of the same political group as the French Gaullists, voted in favour of the resolution but persuaded their French colleagues to abstain rather than vote against the resolution. Most of the 80 votes in favour came from the centre left groupings, especially the Socialists. It should be clearly understood that it was not within the competence of the European Parliament to order a member state government to take any particular action in this field and it had to limit itself to calling on them to adopt certain measures.
In 1982, participants from lesser used language communities in a colloquy, organised by the Socialist Group to consider how best the provisions of the Arfé Resolution might be implemented, decided that the time was ripe to establish an organisation which could speak and act on their behalf at European level. This led to the establishment of the European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages. I was elected its first president and subsequently served as Secretary General for almost fifteen years. The Bureau has as its general aim to conserve and promote the lesser used autochthonous languages of the European Union, together with their associated cultures. It concerns itself only with its general aim and in matters relating to party politics, religion, race or ideology, it remains independent.
The organisation has committees in fourteen of the fifteen EU member states and now has its sole office in Brussels. [At one point, the Bureau had a head-office in Dublin and an education secretariat in Luxembourg, in addition to the Brussels office, which was then an information centre]. It aims at seeking political and financial support for lesser used languages in European institutions and has been particularly active in the European Parliament and the Council of Europe. It also seeks to facilitate an exchange of information and experiences among those working for lesser used languages and to this end organises an annual study visit programme, and has published a considerable number of booklets, posters etc. It has a bilingual newsletter, Contact-Bulletin and a news agency - Eurolang. It receives by far the greater part of its income from the EU.
The Arfé Resolution led to the opening of a small EU budget line to support measures in favour of regional and minority languages. This was first included in the budget of 1982 and amounted to only 100,000 ECU, as the Euro was then called. By 1997, this figure had grown to 4 million Euros.
A second resolution on lesser used languages was adopted by the Parliament in 19837. Again, this resolution was prepared by Gaetano Arfé. It did not contain any new or innovative proposals and its main purpose was to keep pressure on the Commission and on the other EU institutions to fully support and implement the measures contained in the original Arfé Resolution.
The next major initiative on behalf of lesser used languages in the European Parliament came in the form of a report and resolution prepared by Willy Kuijpers, MEP, a Fleming from the Volksunie group8. The Kuijpers Resolution was more ambitious and wide-ranging than the original Arfé Resolution. While more or less respecting the division of domains as outlined by Arfé, it went into greater detail on specific actions which might be taken in different areas. Interestingly, it also called on the Council and Commission to continue their support and encouragement for the European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages by ensuring adequate budgetary resources.
Another very important development was to take place in 1983 with the establishment of the Intergroup for Minority Languages and Cultures. An intergroup is an informal committee, comprising MEPs from different political groups, who come together on a regular or an occasional basis because of their interest in a common issue - in this case, in the promotion of lesser used languages. The first meeting was convened on 9 February 1983 under the chairmanship of Gaetano Arfé MEP. The minutes of this meeting record Mr. Arfé as having 'explained the purpose of the meeting, which was to bring together those members of Parliament who had shown an interest in promoting minority languages and cultures with a view to working together in Parliament to promote and monitor community policies in favour of minority languages and regional cultures.' Unlike many other intergroups, the Intergroup for Minority Languages and Cultures has continued to flourish and over the past seventeen years has done sterling work to ensure the development of an EU policy in respect of the Community's linguistic heritage. While the minutes of the first meeting show that, with three exceptions, all of those present were either Socialist or Communist members, the membership of the Intergroup quickly spread to practically all political groups. Such was the respect in which Gaetano Arfé was held that he continued to remain President of the Intergroup until leaving the European Parliament at the time of the 1984 European elections. Since then the presidency has rotated, normally on a six-monthly basis, between one political group and another.
In 1990, John Hume tabled a new motion for resolution calling for another report on languages. This time the rapporteur chosen was Mark Killilea MEP. Killilea was an Irish Fianna Fáil deputy who was a member of the Union for Europe Group whose other members were mostly French Gaullists and Italian members of Forsa Italia. The report itself differed from the earlier Kuijpers and Arfé Reports in that it focused very much on the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages which had been accorded the status of an international convention by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in 1992. The Killilea Resolution9 was wholehearted in its support for the Charter.
The European Parliament ...
6. Supports the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, accorded the legal form of a European Convention, as an effective yet flexible instrument for the protection and promotion of lesser used languages;
7. Calls on the Member State Governments which have not yet done so as a matter of urgency to sign and their parliaments to ratify the Convention choosing at all times to apply those paragraphs best suited to the needs and aspirations of the linguistic communities in question ...
When the vote was taken on the Resolution in February 1994 there were 321 votes in favour with only one vote against and six abstentions. This landslide vote in favour of the most ambitious resolution yet to be put to the Parliament in favour of lesser used languages, serves as a yardstick in assessing the positive shift in public opinion in favour of linguistic diversity.
The latest resolution10 on this topic was adopted as recently as 13 December 2001. It was tabled by a number of MEPs, from different political groups and was aimed at reactivating EU support for lesser used languages, which by then had largely lapsed.
Finally, it is worth noting there were positive and helpful references to lesser used languages in resolutions relating to other matters such as cable television networks, European rural policy, regional policy, and radio and television production, adopted by the European Parliament.
The Union Treaty was amended at Maastrict in 1992. Among the changes made was the introduction of new provisions on education and culture. Article 149 (Education, Vocational Training and Youth) referred to the "cultural and linguistic diversity of the member states" whereas Article 151 (Culture) referred to the "national and regional diversity" of the member states. Paragraph 4 of the same Article declares that "The Community shall take cultural aspects into account in its action under other provisions of this Treaty, in particular in order to respect and to promote the diversity of its cultures" - the latter phrase being added at the time of the Amsterdam revision of the Treaty. At one level these references are vague but at another level they reflect a new and more inclusive perception of European unity.
Things might have continued to develop positively had not the former British Government (i.e. that of John Major) not taken a case against the European Commission to the European Court of Justice in 1996. The thrust of the British case was that the Commission had no legal right to spend money on a particular programme as it was not the subject of a legal act, agreed by the Commission, the Parliament and the Council. Ironically, neither the legal point at issue nor the particular programme in contention, which related to combating social exclusion, had anything to do with language. However, the Court found in favour of the United Kingdom and ruled that no monies could be allocated to projects if these projects did not form part of a programme, agreed by the three main Community institutions. The Court delivered its verdict11 in early June 1998 and the immediate effect was that over a hundred budget lines, whose legal bases were doubtful, were blocked. Over the ensuing few weeks, over half of these were unblocked when the legal services of the Commission satisfied themselves that each programme had a satisfactory legal basis. Among those to remain blocked was Budget Line B3-1006 (Regional and Minority Languages and Cultures).
Some Commission officials and many sympathetic parliamentarians would have been happy to see an appropriate legal act adopted, one which would establish a multi-annual action programme to support lesser used languages. Much preparatory work was done before the legal advisers of the Commission ruled that Article 149 (Education) would not be sufficient as a legal base for the proposed legal act. Article 151 (Culture) would also have to be invoked. There lay the political impasse. Actions under Article 151 require unanimity - something impossible to achieve in the present political climate as it is almost certain that Greece, and even possibly some other states, would seek to veto any programme aimed at supporting regional or minority languages. Speaking at a Committee of the Regions function in Brussels on 14 December 2000, Commissioner Reading said, "At the recent Nice summit, European leaders failed to remove the right of veto in Article 151 of the Treaty, which deals with cultural matters. ... This means that if all Member States are not in favour of a programme to support these languages, it will be very difficult to achieve this. However, by the end of 2001, the European Year of Languages, the various communities will have made it very clear what they wish. The citizens of the regions will say, 'this is what we want Europe to do to support languages' and on the basis of these discussions perhaps we could put proposals". Nothing happened and there matters effectively rest.
The European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages was saved from financial ruin by supporters in the European Parliament managing to have a line in the A chapter of the EU Budget opened for the Bureau and the Mercator Centres. The Mercator Centres, originally established under the aegis of the Bureau in 1988, are information/documentation centres supporting lesser used languages by providing information in the critical domains of education, legislation and media.
It has also to be observed that there has been an ongoing rowing back of EU support from institutions working for lesser used languages. Support was withdrawn from the Bureau's Education Secretariat in Luxembourg in 1995, followed by a similar withdrawal of financial assistance from Mercator-France. Other casualties were the Children's European Publishing Secretariat in Kemper, which facilitated the publication of full-colour children's books in lesser used languages, and the Welsh-based Agora, which promoted economic development in areas where lesser used languages are spoken. The latest closure, as a result of the Commission withdrawing its support, is the Dublin Office of the European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages. For the first eight years of the Bureau's existence this was the Bureau's only office. Its closure has resulted in the Bureau losing its annual subvention from the Irish Government and, as one may reasonably imagine, much of the political support that the Bureau obtained from Ireland in EU institutions over the years. Commission officials will insist that these cutbacks were made in the interests of efficiency and for procedural reasons. However, some observers suspect that a more sinister agenda is behind these developments.
But the horizon is not entirely dark.
In autumn 2000 published a call for tenders to prepare a report on how best the EU might promote regional and minority languages. The call was won by a proposal tendered by the European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages and ECMO [European Centre for Minority Issues]. The project, entitled SMILE [Support for Minority Languages in the European Union: Analytical Framework and Strategic Options] is now close to completion. I have the honour of being a member of the SMILE team. I am convinced that we will be able to deliver a top quality report. Whether this will ultimately change EU is another matter.
Another interesting development was the adoption at Nice of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. Many see this document as an embryonic constitution for a federal Europe. Article 22 of the Charter states that:
The Union shall respect cultural, religious and linguistic diversity.
Not a very strong commitment but nevertheless a hopeful omen!
On 13 June 2001, the Committee of the Regions, an EU institution with primarily advisory functions, adopted a very positive Opinion on the Promotion and Protection of Regional and Minority Languages. This Opinion was prepared by two members - Tony McKenna from Ireland and José Muñoa Ganuza from the Basque Autonomous Community. A resolution of the Council of Ministers on 23 November 2001 to mark the end of the European Year of Languages includes the statement that:
All European languages are equal in value and dignity from the cultural point of view and form an integral part of European culture and civilisation.
As already observed, the European Parliament has tried to reintroduce a budget line to support regional and minority languages. There is a provision of ?1m for 2002. But the legal services of the Commission may again intervene and block the spending of this money.
I would also draw your attention to the fact that at the meeting of the European Council, held in Laeken, Sweden, on 15 December 2001, it was decided to establish a Convention on the Future of Europe. It is hoped that this body will do much of the preparatory work for the Intergovernmental Conference of 2004. This broadly representative body, composed of members of EU institutions and member state nominees, will be chaired by V. Giscard d'Estaing. It held its inaugural meeting on 1 March 2002. What is particularly relevant for us here is that it is envisaged that the Convention will convene a Forum, broadly representative of European civil society. It is imperative that our voice be heard at this Forum.
Another interesting and encouraging indication can be found in the acceptance address of the new President of the European Parliament, Pat Cox MEP. Before making a short intervention in Irish, Mr. Cox explained:
I shall now speak briefly in Irish. Why do I do this? Irish is my native tongue. It is an ancient language from an ancient European country. It is an official but not a working language of the European Union. I do it to underline my conviction that cultural pluralism and cultural diversity are the sine qua non of the Europe to which I am committed and which we seek to build.
Even wider questions on language policy face the Union. Must it, or can it, continue to add indefinitely to its list of official and working languages? Enlargement adds a sense of urgency to the issue. Should a more limited number of working languages be agreed for reasons of cost and practicality? It is interesting to note that when the European Coal and Steel Community was established in 1951, Schumann and his colleagues envisaged that there would be only one working language - French. Indeed, the only authentic, as distinct from official, version of the ECSC Treaty is the French one12. But this proved to be unacceptable. It is claimed that the Flemish were the first to object, fearing that a monolingual French-speaking body, as important as the Community, could upset the linguistic balance in Belgium. About seven years ago, the French Presidency of the Union proposed that there be only five working languages - French, German, English, Italian and Spanish. This proposal gave rise to a storm of protest, especially from the Netherlands, and was quickly and quietly dropped.
A recent Eurobarometer report13 shows that more EU citizens prefer to learn either English or French as a second or third language than any other European language. This is true, even for German, notwithstanding the dominant position of German as a mother-tongue. Table 2 from the report does not have any legal bearing on the situation but it probably does give us some clues as to the direction EU policy on language usage might take.
LANGUAGES SPOKEN BY EUROPEAN UNION CITIZENS
|Language||Acquired as First Language i.e. Mother Tongue
|Learned as Second Language
The challenge remains. The Union must be workable and practical in its approach. And yet Europe can be truly united only if it respects diversity. One wonders if a distinction might be agreed between internal working languages and languages of service to Europe's citizens. Internal working languages could be restricted for most but not all purposes to two or three languages. Languages of service should include not only all existing official and working languages but also most of those we now call "regional", "minority" or "lesser used". There should be no second-class citizens in the Community, which is under construction.
Let us now turn our attention briefly to the OSCE. The members of the OSCE were quick to recognise that dealing in an acceptable manner with issues relating to national minorities was a key factor in assuring peace and security in Europe. This led to the establishment in 1992 of the office of High Commissioner on National Minorities. This position was held until last year by a highly respected Dutch statesman, Max van der Stoel.
Mr. Van der Stoel requested that recommendations be prepared to guide him in carrying our his duties. The first of these were The Hague Recommendations Regarding the Education Rights of National Minorities, adopted in 1996. They were followed by the Oslo Recommendations Regarding the Linguistic Rights of National Minorities, adopted in 1998, and the Lund Recommendations on the Effective Participation of National Minorities In Public Life, adopted in 1999.
What is interesting about these recommendations is that they are not original in nature but are based on existing provisions in international law. They constitute an interesting résumé of codified international language rights. The HCNM has done much excellent work over the years and has contributed in no small measure to resolving many potential causes of conflict, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe.
The Council of Europe now has 43 member states, including most of the former Communist Block countries.
In 1984 the first steps were taken to prepare an international legal instrument to protect lesser used languages. After a long period of preparation and gestation the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages was adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the CoE in 1992 and accorded the legal form of an international convention. Ten years on we find that 28 European states have signed the Charter and of these 16 have already ratified it, including the United Kingdom.
Let us look briefly at the Charter itself. It has a preamble and five parts:
|Part I||General Provisions This deals primarily with definitions, undertakings and practical arrangements.|
|Part II||Objectives and Principles All contracting parties [i.e. ratifying states] are obliged to accept these objectives and principles.|
|Part III||Measure to promote the use of regional or minority languages in public life This is where we find details of the practical measures required of states in the various domains of life where language is used - Education, Judicial authorities, Administrative authorities and public services, Media, Cultural activities and facilities, Economic and social life and Transfrontier exchanges.|
|Part IV||Application of the Charter Here we find out about the furnishing of reports and the role of the Committee of experts.|
|Part V||Final Provisions The procedure for signing, ratifying and the coming into effect of the Charter is set out here.|
It is Part III that we find the substance of the Charter. There are 7 articles in this Part and each article has paragraphs and sub-paragraphs:
Article 8 - Education
Article 9 - Judicial authorities
Article 10 - Administrative authorities and public services
Article 11 - Media
Article 12 - Cultural activities and facilities
Article 13 - Economic and social life
Article 14 - Transfrontier exchanges
A ratifying state must apply a minimum of 35 paragraphs or sub-paragraphs from the provisions of Part III to each named language to be covered, including at least three paragraphs or sub-paragraphs from Articles 8 and 12 and a minimum of one from Articles 9, 10, 11 and 13. As you can see, ratifying the Charter is a serious undertaking and not merely a vague expression of tolerance and good intentions.
The United Kingdom covers Gàidhlig, Welsh and Irish under Part III and Scots, including Ulster-Scots, under Part II. Welsh is covered by 52 paragraphs, Irish by only 36 and Gàidhlig by 39. Let us have a look at what these 39 paragraphs are.
|Article 8 - Education||1a(i), 1b(i), 1c(i), 1d(iv), 1e(iii), 1f(iii), 1g, 1h, 1i, 2|
|Article 9 - Judicial authorities||1b(iii)|
|Article 10 - Administrative authorities and public services||1c, 2a, 2b, 2d, 2e, 2f, 2g, 5|
|Article 11 - Media||1a(ii), 1b(ii), 1c(ii), 1d, 1e(ii), 1f(ii), 1g, 2|
|Article 12 - Cultural activities and facilities||1a, 1d, 1e, 1f, 1g, 1h, 2, 3|
|Article 13 - Economic and social life||1a, 1c|
|Article 14 - Transfrontier exchanges||a, b|
By the way, there is nothing to prevent any ratifying state from upgrading its regime of support for its regional or minority languages, by naming new languages to be covered by Part III or by choosing stronger measures to support them. The Netherlands has already done so and Germany is preparing to do the same.
The provisions for the application of the Charter, as found in Part IV, are also very interesting. Within a year of the Charter coming into effect for a state, it must supply a written report on its implementation to the Council of Europe. It must provide further reports every three years thereafter. These reports must be made public. A committee of experts examines these reports and eventually makes its own report to the Committee of Ministers. The Committee of Ministers may make this report public. Bodies or associations legally established in a ratifying state may draw the attention of the committee of experts to matters relating to the undertakings entered into by the state under Part III of the Charter. After consulting with the state , the committee may take account of this information when preparing its report. In a word, citizens may complain that a state is not meeting its obligations under the terms of its instrument of ratification. And in turn the committee of experts may act on this information. I can say, from what I know of the work of the committee of experts, that it is taking its responsibilities very seriously and has visited a number of states to check on the situation pertaining there. In short, I think that the monitoring mechanism is proving to be quite effective and that, all in all, the Charter is proving to be a stronger document than some of us thought it might be.
This leads us back to the question posed in the title of this paper - what future for Gàidhlig and other lesser used languages in the future. The future may be very uncertain in many respects but there are some things we can say we a reasonable degree of certainty.
First of all, considerable progress has been made in making the conservation and promotion of languages like Gàidhlig a European issue. Linguistic diversity was placed firmly on the European agenda, albeit not near the top. Political positions have been adopted and international legal instruments developed to protect our languages. Working on a pan-European basis, we have given encouragement to each other. We have learned that we could do things together that separately would be impossible. It is important that we fully utilise what we have gained.
In particular, I would encourage the Gàidhlig movement to carefully monitor the implementation of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages by the UK Government. Furthermore, it should aim at persuading the Government to upgrade its instrument of ratification within a reasonable time frame - say three to five years - and to extend other paragraphs and sub-paragraphs from Part III of the Charter to Gàidhlig.
Secondly, we should focus on the major developments and changes that are happening in the EU. We should, pay attention to the Convention on the Future of Europe and in particular on the Forum, which will be open to organisations from civil society. Let our voice be heard there. We should lobby at member state level and in European institutions to have an article included in the Treaty establishing the European Community, which would underpin language rights and linguistic diversity. The next intergovernmental conference on the Treaty will probably take place in 2004 so we have the time to prepare effectively. We should also insist on there being an EU multi-annual action programme to support our languages as well as on all other programmes being open to projects relating to our languages. MPs and MEPs should be briefed and lobbied on such issues.
Above all, I would say to you that we - all of us - should be active players, not mere spectators. We can and should influence events. The Gaelic civilisation of Scotland and indeed of my own country is an integral part of Europe's cultural heritage. It can be a source of enrichment, not only for us Celts, but for Europe as a whole. The challenges facing us are great but the rewards are even greater.
Paragraphs and Sub-Paragraphs from Part III of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages being applied to Gàidhlig in Scotland
Paragraphs applied to Gàidhlig are in bold.
1 David Crystal [Language Death, Cambridge, 2000] estimates that only about 4% of the world's living languages are European. ^
2 Letter dated 23.07.71 from Dr. Patrick Hillery TD, Minister for Foreign Affairs, to the President of the European Communities. ^
3 Labrie, Normand, "The Historical Development of Language Policy in Europe", in A Language Strategy for Europe - Retrospect and Prospect, Pádraig Ó Riagáin and Síle Harrington, editors, Dublin 1999. ^
4 Reported in the New Language Planning Newsletter, Vol. 9 No.4, June 1995. ^
5 Motion for Resolution on a "Bill of Rights of the Regional Languages and Cultures of the Community", B3-0016/90. ^
6 Resolution on a Community Charter of Regional Languages and Cultures and on a Charter of Rights of Ethnic Minorities, adopted by the European Parliament on 16 October 1981 (A1-965/80) 16.10.81 OJC 287 p. 57 ^
7 Resolution on measures in favour of minority languages and cultures. Resolution prepared by Gaetano Arfé and adopted by the European Parliament on 11.03.1983 (A1-1254/82) OJC 68 (14.03.93) p. 104 ^
8 Resolution on the languages and cultures of regional and ethnic minorities in the European Community adopted by the European Parliament on 30.10.87 (A2-0150/87) OJC 318 (30.11.87) p. 144 ^
9 Resolution on Linguistic and Cultural Minorities in the European Community adopted by the European Parliament on 9 February 1994 (A3-0042/94) OJC 061 pg. 110 ^
10 Resolution on Regional and Lesser Used European Languages - RC B5-0770/2001 - Martens, Pack, Morgan, Esteve, Eurig Wyn & Fraisse - adopted on 13 December 2001 ^
11 C-106/96 ^
12 Labrie, Normand, La Construction Linguistique de la Communauté européenne, Paris, 1993. ^
13 Eurobarometer Report No. 50 - March 1999. ^
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