Spain Allows the Use of Basque, Catalan, and Galician in Congressional Sessions

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez

Beginning September 19, 2023, the Spanish Congress will allow the use of Basque, Catalan and Galician along with Spanish in its official sessions and documentation. During the first session, members of congress began debating the very “linguistic diversity” reform to congress rules that will make the practice a permanent fixture across government business, and will be able to do so in one of four languages.

Members of congress have been using the three co-official languages in written documentation for select procedures, but the proposal to allow multilingual verbal interventions during congress sessions gained momentum in August 2023 when parliament’s new president Francina Armengol pledged to make linguistic diversity a reality.

The pledge was followed during the same month by the central government’s second deputy vice president, Yolanda Diaz proposal to modify Article 6 of the rules of congress so that the measurements would be in effect from the first session of congress in September 2023 pending final approval.

Language Expansion Ambitions

Also in August 2023, the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, José Manuel Albares, submitted a petition to the President of the Council of the European Union to include Catalan, Basque, and Galician as official EU languages and to discuss it in the agenda for the next General Affairs Council, which is also taking place on September 19, 2023.

Spain will preside over the EU Council until December 31, 2023, and has put forth the petition hoping to gain support from fellow country members as it pushes for internal agendas in Spain’s complex political environment, which has parties represented in the central government that also includes an independentist movement in Catalonia. 

Catalonian parties have demanded to have Catalan used for government business as one condition for supporting negotiations with the central government and its president-elect (a final decision on who will be the central government president is also pending). 

According to news agency Euractiv, a few EU member countries, including Sweden, have expressed concern over the haste with which Spain wants its linguistic diversity agenda pushed. A statement posted by the Swedish government expresses the country’s belief that the matter requires a more thorough investigation that considers the legal and financial consequences of the proposal.

Another, larger concern among EU country members is that this would open the door for other minority languages to also seek official EU status. This is not an unprecedented concern, given that previous petitions to include other minority languages, such as Irish, did not obtain enough support and faced language staffing challenges.

Spain has other languages besides the four official and co-official languages, and although speakers of languages such as Aragonese, Aranese, and Asturian will be able to address the congress in their languages, they will need to actually give speeches both in their language and in Spanish as these languages will not be supported with professional interpreters.

According to the EFE Spanish international news agency, about 6 interpreters have been hired and will be compensated on a day worked basis. There will not be permanent contracts until the reform is definitely approved and a team of interpreters can be hired for steady work. 

All members of congress will have headphones to hear the interpretations and there will be an audio feed for members of the news media.