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Spanish parliament approves use of all official languages, EU postpones decision

The Spanish parliament approved the use of Catalan, Basque and Galician in all the institution’s working sessions on Tuesday, while EU representatives in Brussels decided to postpone the decision on their use in the bloc.

The use of Catalan and Spain’s other co-official languages in the country’s parliament and EU institutions is one of the main demands put forward by Catalan separatist parties to reinstate the acting Spanish Prime Minister Pedro S?nchez (PSOE/S&D).

Left-wing parties, including PSOE and the Sumar platform, welcomed the move, as did regional nationalist formations, including the Basque PNV, EH Bildu, and the Galician Nationalist Bloc (BGN), besides Catalan pro-independence forces, Euractiv’s partner EFE reported.

Vox and PP protest at the “price” to pay

Tuesday’s fully multilingual session began with a speech in the Galician language, although within minutes of the start, deputies from the far-right Vox party (ECR) left the Chamber in protest and put their headsets for simultaneous translation on S?nchez’s empty seat, as he is currently in New York to attend a meeting of the UN General Assembly.

Both Vox and the Popular Party (PP/EPP), the main centre-right opposition force, see the measure as a direct concession by S?nchez to Catalan separatist parties to stay in power.

“It is an honour that allows me to debut the translation of my language, which is a symbol of the cultural richness of the country”, Galicia MP Jos? Ram?n Besteiro (PSOE) commented in his native language.

From Brussels, where he attended an EU General Affairs Council, Spanish Foreign Affairs Minister Jos? Manuel Albares defended the need for Catalan, Basque and Galician to be official languages in the bloc because – he said – they are not minority languages and because it is a demand that Spain has been defending since 2005.

“We are not talking about minority languages. They are languages spoken by millions of people (…) Catalan is spoken by more than 10 million people, which puts it above many of the languages that are currently official (in the EU)”, Albares told the press.

However, despite Spain’s haste, EU partners have opted not to rush the decision and to take a decision more calmly and without Madrid’s pressure.

‘Failure’ in Brussels, success in Madrid

A large majority of EU countries expressed practical, financial and legal doubts on Tuesday and asked the Council’s legal services to draw up a report on the “Catalan” linguistic issue.

As a result, Spain failed to push through an amendment to the regulation, as demanded by Catalan pro-independence parties, on whose vote in favour of a new S?nchez government is directly dependent, albeit in exchange for difficult concessions, including, in addition to the language “hot dossier”, an amnesty law and a referendum on Catalonia’s self-determination.

Despite frustrated expectations in Brussels, the two main Catalan separatist parties, the centre-liberal Junts Per Catalunya (JxCat, Together for Catalonia) and the left-wing Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Republican Left of Catalonia, ERC), had better news in Madrid.

PSOE, Sumar, ERC, JxCat, EH Bildu, BNG, PNV, and Coalici?n Canaria voted in favour of reforming the Spanish parliament’s rules of procedure to allow the use of Catalan, Basque, and Galician in plenary sessions, committees and in all parliamentary initiatives, which will now have to have a permanent staff of interpreters and translators.

Madrid ready to pay the bill of Spain’s multilingualism

However, the measure will have a high cost both in Madrid and perhaps in the future in Brussels if Spain’s proposal is finally adopted.

A European Commission spokesperson told EFE that the European budget earmarked for translation and interpreting is equivalent to approximately 6% of the total accounts.

The costs of the Directorate-General for Interpretation (SCIC), with 483 staff interpreters and 970 freelance interpreters, were around EUR122 million in 2022 for interpretation at the European Commission, the European Council, the Council of the EU, the Committee of the Regions, the Economic and Social Committee, the European Investment Bank and other EU agencies.

For its part, the services of the Directorate-General for Translation – with some 2,000 members of staff, 70% of whom are translators – cost some EUR255 million in 2022, including salaries, training, IT infrastructure, events, and absolute availability of these professionals.

Despite concerns expressed by a few member states, Albares expressed the Spanish government’s willingness to finance the costs and also said that this is a legal proposal by EU law since article 55.2 of the Treaty of Lisbon allows this fundamental EU regulation to be also translated into Catalan, Galician and Basque.

(Fernando Heller EFE-Brussels)

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