European non-state languages under 'threat of extinction'

Despite the requirements of the Lisbon treaty, respect and support for Europe's multilingualism is in danger of being left by the wayside, warns François Alfonsi.

By François Alfonsi MEP

04 Oct 2013

Behind the one and a half minute duration of my short address at the plenary session - followed by the electronic vote giving more than 90 per cent approval to my report in favour of the promotion of the non-state languages of the European Union - lies work in which we at the European parliament have been engaged for four years.

We have been struggling not only to secure the inclusion of this report in the agenda, but also in the name of safeguarding a European heritage under threat, to obtain the major consensus of MEPs despite the political obstacles posed by a large number of member states, including France.

"Europe's heritage is made up of not only official languages, but also several dozen languages which are currently under threat of extinction"

Europe's heritage is made up of not only official languages, but also several dozen languages which are currently under threat of extinction, according to the inventory held by UNESCO.

Cultural diversity is an essential dimension of the European construct, firmly supported by the Lisbon treaty, which requires that "the Union [shall contribute] to the flowering of the cultures of the member states, while respecting their national and regional diversity".

However, over the last 10 years or so, funding allocations for these languages have steadily decreased. The protection of this European heritage needed to be prioritised. This is why the initiative report I presented serves to re-engage in a dynamic that favours promotion and support for the protection of these languages.

From now on, European funding allocations, and particularly those of the next 2014-2020 programming period, should be open to communities and associations, even if the languages involved are not 'official' in the state concerned.

The report also calls upon any member states who have not already done so, such as France, to ratify the European charter for regional or minority languages whereby they are required to commit to the pursuit of proactive policies to safeguard these languages under threat of extinction and to take whatever measures may be necessary to ensure that such languages can flourish.

The report requires European institutions to re-launch a European policy in favour of languages and to support any programmes to protect endangered languages led by the linguistic communities concerned.

EU education, multilingualism and youth commissioner Androulla Vassiliou and her staff must provide an official reply within the three months following 11 September, which was the date of the vote.

In the face of this majority, unique in the history of the European parliament, on the topic of regional, minority and endangered languages, the commission cannot remain silent, but must give some thought as to what it can do to ensure that the 2014-2020 programmes and the calls for projects provide the fastest possible response to these linguistic communities which have been abandoned for over 10 years.