Spain’s demand for Catalan, Basque and Galician to become official EU languages faced objections from the bloc’s member states on Tuesday as they fear any such move will trigger a domino effect.
The headache for the EU began after Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez failed to score a victory in July elections, leaving the country in limbo.
He now needs the support of Catalan separatists to stay in power and they demand the languages’ recognition.
Spain has taken advantage of its EU presidency to put the issue on the agenda of a European ministers’ meeting in Brussels on Tuesday.
The European Union currently has 24 official languages, although there are around 60 minority and regional languages in the 27-nation bloc.
All legal EU documents — treaties, laws and international agreements — must be translated into the 24 languages and there must be interpretation available in them at leaders’ summits and ministerial meetings.
Any additional language must be agreed unanimously by all 27 member states.
The feverish debate has even made it to the football field.
Pep Guardiola, Manchester City football manager, and Joan Laporta, head of Barcelona FC, are both Catalans who have urged EU member states to agree to Spanish demands in social media posts.
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.
– ‘Too early’ –
Ministers called for more time to study Spain’s proposal.
“It’s too early to say,” Swedish EU Affairs Minister Jessika Roswall told reporters.
“There are many minority languages within the European Union that are not official languages,” she added, suggesting others could follow with similar demands.
“We will request a legal study to see how we can accommodate Spain on this subject,” said France’s minister in charge of European affairs Laurence Boone.
Spain says it will cover the costs linked to translation, but without providing detailed figures.
The issue of costs is particularly sensitive since the debate comes at a time of difficult negotiations on expanding the EU’s multi-year budget, when the bloc is suffering the economic consequences of Russia’s war against Ukraine.
“With regards to the Spanish proposal, we believe that it needs really very careful consideration,” said Croatia’s European Affairs Minister Andreja Metelko-Zgombic.
“It would be most useful for our consideration and adopting final decision also to get previously, the legal opinion and analysis of the legal service of the Council,” she said, referring to the body representing member states.
– No veto –
Catalan, Basque and Galician have official language status in Spain.
“We are not talking about minority languages,” Spain’s foreign minister Jose Manuel Albares 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.”
He welcomed the fact that no member state vetoed the proposal and announced the creation of a working group to study the questions posed.
Spain has suggested the EU accept Catalan as an official language first in a gradual process that would then see the other two adopted.
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.
Members of Spain’s parliament will be able to speak in three languages with simultaneous translation from Tuesday.
Originally published as EU states reluctant to add Catalan as official language