By François Alfonsi - 28th March 2013
I intend to ensure that the European Union stands as a guarantor for what is true cultural and linguistic diversity within its borders
Many minority languages are under threat of extinction in the EU, which is why it is vital to ensure that they are safeguarded, writes François Alfonsi.
On 21st January last year I submitted my draft report to parliament’s culture committee. The aim of this report is to plead the case for the European parliament to play a vital part in protecting and raising the profile of European languages under threat of extinction.
Three decades or so ago, the European parliament had already expressed concern over the issue of minority languages. Indeed, one of the first tasks of the culture committee has been the creation of the European charter for [regional or] minority languages of the Council of Europe, which was appended to the Lisbon treaty. While parliament has, therefore, already played a positive role in the past, it is vital that it should return to the task since the situation has deteriorated, particularly over the last 10 years.
There are several hundred languages within the European Union, each of which is an integral part of the cultural identity of Europe. However, European cultural diversity within the European Union can be seen to have been eroded at an increasingly faster rate, hand in hand with a relaxation of government policies, whereas Europe’s structural mission should be to ensure that its languages and cultural diversity are safeguarded.
In 2009, Unesco published the third edition of its endangered languages atlas, which records an alarming finding with regard to the European Union: there are several dozen languages under threat of extinction in Europe. While some countries, such as Finland, take pride in the fact that for over 20 years, a highly fruitful political initiative has been undertaken in the case of the Saami language, other states refuse to accept the cultural diversity which exists within their borders.
The report which I have undertaken to prepare focuses more specifically on languages threatened with extinction. This is indeed an area where the issue is a matter of urgency and where Europe’s cultural heritage is under direct attack. The European parliament must be capable, once again, to trigger a reaction, a realisation throughout the European Union.
A new multiannual (2014-2020) planning programme is due to start. Political will must, therefore, be revived, as must a dialogue with the commission, to ensure that support for minority languages is not conspicuous by its absence from this new planning period, as it regrettably was from the 2007-2013 planning schedule.
As part of the preparation of this report on endangered languages, I organised a workshop on 20 March last year, at the European parliament, to which about 15 representatives of the areas affected by this problem were invited, thus allowing them to confront our speakers: Jonathan Hill, from the European commission, Meirion Prys Jones, from the network to promote linguistic diversity, Christopher Moseley from Unesco, Adina Nichifor, representing the Council of Europe, as well as Markus Osterlund, representing the Swedish assembly of Finland.
The communities and groups responsible for this linguistic heritage should, indeed, be given more assistance and encouragement in the implementation of good practices. Through this report, I intend to ensure that the European Union stands as a guarantor for what is true cultural and linguistic diversity within its borders. As clearly stressed by Jonathan Hill when he spoke at the workshop, cultural heritage must not be sacrificed on the altar of economic profit.
François Alfonsi is parliament's rapporteur of endangered European languages and linguistic diversity in the European Union