Spain Requests for Catalan, Basque, and Galician to be Official EU Languages

José Manuel Albares New EU Languages from Spain

The Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, José Manuel Albares, requested formally on August 17, 2023, for the Council of the European Union to include Catalan, Basque, and Galician as official EU languages. 

Albares submitted a petition to the President of the Council on behalf of the Spanish government to include the matter in the agenda for the next General Affairs Council, a meeting that will take place in Brussels on September 19, 2023.

The three languages have long been recognized as official languages in Spain alongside Spanish for government business in the provinces where they originated. As of this year, all three languages will also be allowed at national congress sessions, which have traditionally been held only in Spanish.

The request implies an amendment to the rules of the EU that define linguistic usage, as set forth by “The Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union” and contemplated in the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, which stipulates that “EU nationals have the right to use any of the 24 official languages to communicate with the EU institutions, and the institutions must reply in the same language.” 

The council is the main decision-making body of the European Union and one of the bodies in charge of negotiating and adopting EU laws. It is also responsible for coordinating member countries’ policies, such as the one proposed by Spain.

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If the request made by Spain is granted, the implications are vast, as all EU documentation would now need to be available in 27 languages. Furthermore, interpreters for all three languages would need to be available at the meetings of the European Council and the Council of the European Union since member state representatives are allowed to use any EU official language at these meetings.

Allowing these languages would necessarily open the door for similar requests from other linguistic groups in the European Union that are currently not official EU languages (e.g., Luxembourgish and Valencian).

The Spanish president, Pedro Sánchez, currently presides over the EU government as well and will do so until December 31, 2023. On the same date the petition was submitted, he announced that he would foster usage of what he called “co-official” languages within the EU institutions during his time as EU president.

“Spain speaks Castilian, but also Catalan, Basque and Galician, and it is our duty and our responsibility to guarantee opportunities for representation, use, and knowledge of these languages,” added Sánchez during a speech to members of the Spanish government.

Adding regional languages to the European Union’s linguistic framework is not without challenges. As the so-called “derogation status” of Irish was nearing expiry in 2020, the EU struggled to find enough qualified translators.