Discurs al Consell d’Europa (Estrasburg)

Dicurs pronunciat en ocasió del XX aniversari de la Carta Europea de les Llengües Regionals i Minoritàries

The European Language Equality Network, proposals for better implementation of the ECRML

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

Thanks to the ECRML Secretariat for this kind invitation to speak here, in in front of all of you. I’m deeply honoured to be the voice of our civil society organisation.

The European Language Equality Network (ELEN) works to promote and protect minoritised languages. It was founded after the closure of EBLUL in 2011, and has grown to become the only Europe-wide civil society organization to represent European lesser-used languages. Today, ELEN represents 44 languages with 150 member organisations in 24 European States.

If we are to address a review of the Charter and its implementation, it is right and fitting to acknowledge the achievements and benefits which have emerged as a result of the implementation of its provisions.

It is widely acknowledged that the Charter has assisted many minoritised language groups throughout Europe to institute language policy and planning measures to enhance the social and formal status of Europe’s minority languages and cultures. This has been achieved, in no small measure, by the cooperative dynamic which the Charter sought to engender and by the emphasis it placed on the importance of cultural diversity in Europe.

The main benefits of the charter are twofold:
It established a standardised, and therefore comparative framework, for the development of language policy across Europe by which minority language concerns could be formally addressed,
And also, It created a sectoral approach to language planning for the provision of services and delivery of initiatives in support of minority language groups.

There are also, though, some Overarching Problems, which I’ll summarize in just four points, that we consider to be worth of prioritary attention:

  1. As is often the case with public policy initiatives, the strengths of the Charter also create the conditions for its critique. Other contributors to this debate have previously commented on the lack of executive function associated with the mechanisms envisaged in the charter in that its workings are based on a code-of-conduct model. While some of this critique is both valid and well-rehearsed, its relevance is also constrained by the reliance of the Charter mechanism on the good will and capacity of national governments to implement the sectoral provisions of the charter. 
  2. Some states have learned that just paying lip service to the Charter is more than enough to keep going; to appear as signatories and ratifiers of the Charter (and so, as officially respectful of linguistic diversity) while they do nothing in favour of their own minoritised languages, or even persist in their attempts to reduce their vitality. A mechanism allowing for punitive action against states that consistently ignore their obligations should be implemented, as a necessary feature of the Charter.
  3. Late reporting, which is a very common practice for the member states, has a chilling effect and acts to reduce the beneficial effect of monitoring especially when certain events happened years before. This acts to further disillusion the language community regarding the effectiveness of the Charter.
  4. Without some degree of officiality, many MLs simply don’t exist for institutions and authorities. Moreover, the decision on which languages is the Charter be applied to, should not be in the hands of the state but of the language communities themselves, under the supervision of the Secretariat and the COMEX and with the support of the EU. In this same line, it is incredible to see that in 2018, several founder EU states are yet to adopt and ratify the Charter. 

As a brief summary of the problems mentioned, we might say that the overall disillusionment of the civil society and the language community caused by the  combination of late reporting and poor implementation, acts to further alienate ML speakers, especially those whose languages are not officially recognised, from involvement in Charter monitoring.

After pointing out the problems, although just the most relevant ones in our opinion, the turn comes for proposals. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, our proposals for a better implementation of the Charter are based on two pillars: top down European–level measures and grass-roots community based improvements.

 For the European level, we have four specific proposals:

  • First, for the Charter and the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM) to be formally linked to the infringement proceedings mechanism of the European Union so that when they are violated it acts to trigger an infringement proceeding against a State. We aim to ensure that the EU is both empowered and motivated to take infringement proceedings against states in cases of language discrimination, and the precedent has been set already of using Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, and Race Equality Directive.
  • Second, to establish a European Language Commissioner or Ombudsman with a similar function to the Canadian Languages Commissioner who acts to uphold minority speakers’ rights and the provisions derived from the Charter.
  • Third, ELEN is campaigning for a European Languages Directive that would act to protect and promote MLs, and to ensure that the Charter is properly implemented.
  • Our fourth and last proposal concerns the name of the Charter. “Minoritised” would be a better term, since it correctly includes languages with many speakers, which are neither ‘minority’ nor dominant languages in their own territories. It wouldn’t alter the acronym of the charter and might promote an easier allegiance from some groups of speakers.

For the Grass-roots proposals, we have summarised our contribution in, again, four additional points:

  1. It’s important to make the monitoring process more transparent and to focus more on NGO and shadow report involvement. This will have the beneficial effect of fully engaging the language community. Here, civil society could be allowed to support the monitoring process by formalizing the shadow reporting from NGOs as part of the monitoring process. Hopefully it would incentivize state parties to speed up their own monitoring and thus, contribute to partially tackle one of the problems we just mentioned.
  2. We would like to see how the Committee of Experts selects who it will meet at the ‘on the spot visits.’ It should ensure that NGOs and independent experts are fully consulted as a priority, rather than state parties, official state institutions and political parties. Currently, there is a discrepancy between the objective of involving NGOs in the reporting process and the actual practice, with state institutions and political parties dominating the process at the local level.
  3. Regarding its implementation, the Charter could be better adapted to each different language community. Therefore, we would like to address the awareness gap of the different language communities via a joint ELEN/ Council of Europe training course and consultation that would aim to train stakeholders in each different language community. ELEN is well placed to deliver on this as it is made up of the leading Regional and Minoritised Languages’ civil society organisations. 
  4. Lastly, we would like to establish a formal synergy between the functioning of the Charter and the Donostia Protocol. The Protocol was developed with the full involvement of European civil society language organisations and represents the standards and guidelines in language protection and development that our members wish to see upheld today, based on their own experiences in best practices for the 21st century. 

I’d like to finish my intervention by clearly stating that we deeply apreciate the efforts of the Cttee of Experts and the dynamism of the Secretariat and that we would like to continue to have the Secretariat’s insight and input into ELEN meetings, as well as having more opportunities to interact with the Cttee of Experts, as a way to collaborate as much as we can in the reporting cycle and in shared problem solving.

Thank you very much for your kind attention,