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ECRML: an anniversary for a charter protecting Catalan that is still not fully effective

This year, 5 November is the 28th anniversary of the signing of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. 

Spain ratified it in 2001 but, since then, it has continually breached it in the areas of justice, reciprocity and public administration, as well as during the management of COVID-19. 

Plataforma per la Llengua regrets that States like France and Italy have not even ratified the charter after 28 years.

Plataforma per la Llengua regrets that once again this year Spain is systematically breaching the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages approved by the Council of Europe 28 years ago, on 5 November 1992. The NGO for Catalan also complains that, although they signed the charter, neither France nor Italy has ratified it, claiming it is incompatible with their national constitutions. Spain did ratify the charter in 2001.

Spain's breaches of the charter are in the areas of justice, State public administration, reciprocity in the media, and the management of the COVID-19 pandemic 

This November, it will also be a year since the recommendations of the Council of Ministers of the Council of Europe which accompanied the report of the Committee of Experts on Spain's compliance with the ECRML. In fact, the Committee of Experts' report asked for Aragon to include Catalan in its statute, and for Catalan to be recognised as a source of cultural wealth in the Murcian region.

The Committee of Experts' report called for urgent improvements in the situation of Catalan in the area of justice and public administration in Spain. In 2019, the Council of Ministers recommended that the Judicial Authorities Act should also be amended urgently to ensure that Catalan can be used in legal proceedings if one of the parties so requests, something that is not always possible nowadays. This recommendation is repeated, but no Spanish legislative body has promoted the relevant legal amendment. The European experts once again requested, in a recommendation for immediate application, that the State authorities use Catalan in Catalonia, the Valencian region and the Balearic Islands. Along similar lines, Plataforma per la Llengua calls on the Spanish parliament to reform the law requiring public-sector workers in the general State administration to have sufficient language skills in Catalan, as they are already required to have in Spanish. The NGO for Catalan also asks that it should be possible to carry out all required administrative procedures on the State administration's websites in Catalan.

Plataforma per la Llengua is concerned about the systematic breach of audiovisual reciprocity preventing the free circulation of audiovisual products either between countries or between territories of the Spanish State. The fact that reciprocity of radio and television broadcasts in Catalan between the various Catalan-speaking territories is only partial is a direct attack on the language rights of more than 10 million European citizens. This unjustified restriction on the reception of audiovisual media shows continuing contempt by the Spanish, French and Italian States for the ECRML in another field.  

The most recent example of a breach of ECRML concerns the COVID-19 pandemic. In March, the Council of Europe criticised the fact that some States, like Spain, "do not share information, instructions, guidelines or recommendations in languages other than the official language of the country". In a note, the organisation in charge of monitoring the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages stated that "the communication of relevant recommendations in more than one language is very important for the welfare of speakers of regional or minority languages". This bad news for health service users is confirmed by the Council of Europe, which determined that the commitment to guarantee attention in Catalan in the Catalan health service (in this case the responsibility of the Government of Catalonia) is not being fully met. The rating on the report issued in 2019 by the Council of Europe's Committee of Experts, which monitors the ECRML, downgraded the rating for this commitment from "fulfilled" to "partially fulfilled". 

In March, the Council of Europe expressed its disquiet, considering that the action of States opting to provide education on television "limited to the official language, without taking into account the needs of pupils used to receiving education in coofficial languages" was "discriminatory". Plataforma per la Llengua points to the Spanish government as a bad example of this kind of language uniformity when it comes to making recommendations to citizens. In fact, Pedro Sánchez's government issues all its communications on official websites and social media and holds press conferences exclusively in Spanish. The NGO for Catalan also notes that the education programmes offered by the Spanish Ministry of Education via Televisión Española when the schools were closed in 2020 were exclusively broadcast in Spanish.

The cases of France and Italy:

On the anniversary of the signing of ECRML, Plataforma per la Llengua wants to highlight the attitude of France and Italy, two countries that have still not ratified the charter. This reflects a total lack of concern for a linguistic community that sees its language threatened with disappearance in these two States. In May 2017, the NGO for Catalan asked the man who had just become President of the French Republic, Emmanuel Macron, to press ahead with the procedures to ratify it, a promise he had made during the election campaign. The ratification of the ECRML would involve the recognition of a whole series of rights for minority languages, including Catalan, by the French Republic. 

Along these lines, the charter would recognise, for the inhabitants of the area of France around Perpignan known as "Northern Catalonia", the right to learn Catalan at school. Depending on the degree of commitment agreed by the French State, it would also allow the translation of documents and laws into Catalan, and even the possibility of carrying out legal proceedings in the language. In addition, the ratification of the charter would also promote the production of cultural works in Catalan, guarantee regular audiovisual broadcasts and ensure there were no obstacles to its use in labour relations. Plataforma per la Llengua recalls that "the commitment expressed with respect to Catalan is especially important as, according to the latest survey of language use in North Catalonia, 80.3% of the North Catalan population states that it is in favour of teaching Catalan as a school subject and 76.1% would like to have bilingual education". President Macron's commitment to ratify the ECRML was expressed through a survey of the candidates for the presidency carried out by the European Language Equality Network (ELEN), of which Plataforma per la Llengua is a member. 

In August, when members of the French government appeared before parliament, the MP for the Aude départament asked the French Culture Minister, Roselyne Bachelot, a written question asking why the French State was not ratifying the charter. The Ministry of Culture answered that, despite its failure to ratify the charter, France complies with 39 of its commitments - the minimum is 35. In addition to this, although it is true that the Macron government has taken measures to protect Catalan, such as setting up the Public Office for the Catalan Language (an office initially provided with a very small budget), the NGO for Catalan sees it as important that States support the measures effectively in territories where the linguistic substitution of Catalan is highly advanced and, therefore, the measures are more urgent. It must be highlighted, for example, that only one in four North Catalans has access to any kind of education in Catalan and only 0.7% of young couples speak Catalan with their children. In overall figures, only 5.7% of the population habitually speak Catalan.

In Italy, ratification of the charter could be closer, which would have a great effect on the chances of Catalan-speakers in Alghero (known as Alguer in Catalan) to have the tools to ensure the continuity of their language. Four senators have proposed texts that would allow the ratification of the charter once a single text can be agreed on. The Minister of Regional Affairs and Autonomous Regions, Francesco Boccia, took part in an event in the Senate organised by the Ladin-speaking senator Elena Testor during which he told her of the government's determination to protect minorities and thanked members of parliament for their work. Senator Testor, one of the four who has proposed a bill, which is now in committees 1 and 3 of the Senate, is confident that this time it is going to happen.

The ratification of the ECRML would give a further boost to the teaching of Catalan in Alghero thanks to the recent approval of a law by the Sardinian Parliament allowing this. Ratification of the ECRML would also allow the people of Alghero to use Catalan in their relations with the public authorities in Alghero. This could take various forms, depending on the level of commitment agreed.

Plataforma per la Llengua considers that, until these reforms are carried out, Catalan-speakers will be exposed to language discrimination and treated as second-class citizens, because they have fewer rights than their fellows. In fact, however, the Spanish authorities have not yet been able to comply with the minimums established in the ECRML, the charter which is 28 years old today and is designed to protect the speakers of languages much smaller than Catalan is in Spain.

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