Wednesday, May 28, 2014

No Country Left Behind: Will Ratifying the Charter Truly Empower France's Regional and Minority Languages?

by Dorian Sosa

Editors’ note: Following up on our previous blog entry by Farhan Patel, here is another angle on France’s long-standing battle for the ratification of The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

European Union Flag
The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (ECRML) is now a prerequisite for the admittance of any country into the European Union (Barbière 2014). The fact that the Charter has become a requirement to join the EU is crucial, for it reflects Europe’s commitment towards its regional and minority languages.

Twenty-five of the 47 Council of Europe members have already ratified the ECRML, meaning that they have agreed to take on the responsibility of protecting and promoting the regional and minority language(s) in their individual states. Nations such as Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom – arguably three of the most powerful and influential nations in Europe – have already ratified the Charter, along with other notable countries like Hungary, Poland and Netherlands (Barbière 2014). France, however, one of the founding nations of the European Union, remains yet to have ratified it.

Seeing as France has always played a major role in European politics and has contributed so much to Antoine de Rivarol. It is obvious that the country is extremely proud of its language –it is argued to be one of the most prideful countries in the world – thus it is not surprising that the French Republic is against the promotion of minority languages. In fact its constitution prohibits it from ratifying the Charter.
the European Union makes it seem unconventional that the European state is against the ratification of the ERCML. Keep in mind that this is a country that claimed, “Ce qui n'est pas clair n'est pas français” –

The Constitution of France rules that there can only be “one people in the French Republic,” and as the Charter would recognize more than one people within the Republic, it has been deemed unconstitutional by the French Constitutional Council (Blackwood 2007). 

Nonetheless, all eyes are on France with the European Parliament pushing it more than ever to ratify the Charter (Barbière 2014).  The big question is no longer whether France will ratify the Charter, but when will France ratify it: sooner or later?

In 1999 France signed the Charter, meaning that it recognizes regional and minority languages within the Republic, but it does not have to take any measures whatsoever to protect the languages. In 2012 the ratification of the Charter was “one of the electoral promises made by the current French President François Hollande during his [2012] electoral campaign” (A Milestone 2014). And on 28 January 2014 the French Assembly passed a bill – 361 Assembly Members of the French parliament in favor compared to 149 against – to ratify the Charter (A Milestone 2014). Now, the bill must go through the Senate (Barbière 2014). France certainly seems to be on the verge of ratifying the ECRML.

However, with President Hollande’s Socialist party losing the municipal elections this past March  thus shifting power to the Front National, a conservative party (Willsher 2014) the Charter’s ratification may come later rather than sooner. The fact that “half of the [French] Senate chamber will be renewed in the September 2014 senatorial elections” (Argemi 2014), may also postpone its ratification. 

The ECRML may not be ratified as soon as anticipated, but based on France’s history in relation with it, it seems inevitable for the Republic to ratify the Charter in the not too distant future. This brings up another major question to be considered: “Will ratifying the Charter in France truly empower the minority languages in France?”

France has only signed 39 of the 98 measures outlined in the Charter. Unless France decides to agree to more of the terms of the text then the ECRML will not provide the same protection for regional and minority languages that it does in other countries – such as Spain – that have ratified a much greater amount of the possible provisions proposed by the Charter (Argemí 2014). Even closer to the point, the French Culture Minister, Aurélie Filippetti claims that ratifying the Charter “will change little [for regional and minority languages] since most of the 39 measures are already possible with current French laws” (Argemí 2014).

Will the ratification of the Charter simply act as a “superficial makeover” (A Milestone 2014)?

In an interview with Filippeti, the French Cuture Minister agrees that “la Charte a, pour l'essentiel, une valeur symbolique. Elle marque la volonté de la France de protéger son patrimoine culturel” [The Charter in and of itself, has a symbolic meaning : it symbolizes France’s willingness to protect its cultural heritage] (Feltin-Palas 2014).

Nonetheless, as Filippeti says, “Ce n'est pas rien” [It’s quite a move] (Feltin-Palas 2014). The ratification, alone, may not bring major changes to regional and minority languages in France, yet there is still hope. Paul Molac, president of the Cultural Council of Britain (Argouarch 2009), argues that if the Charter is ratified than the process will be a positive one. He believes that the ECRML “will allow the adoption of laws on language policies favoring those languages” (Argemí 2014). This would most surely be a positive step. Now the question is this: is France be ready to take that small symbolic step?

Le Tricolour
Bibliographical Sources
"A Milestone for France’s Regional Languages." NPLD. N.p., 28 Jan. 2014. Web. 31 Mar. 2014. 

Argemí, Aureli, ed. "French National Assembly on Long, Uncertain Road towards European Charter of Languages Ratification." Nationalia. CIEMEN, 29 Jan. 2014. Web. 25 Apr. 2014.

Argouarch, Philippe. "Paul Molac élu Président Du Nouveau Conseil Culturel De Bretagne." Agence Bretagne Press. N.p., 07 Apr. 2009. Web. 25 Apr. 2014.

Barbière, Cécile. "France One Step Closer to Ratifying Regional Languages Charter." Web log post. EurActiv. Fondation EurActiv PoliTech, 02 Mar. 2014. Web. 31 Mar. 2014. 

Blackwook, Robert J. "L'Exception Française? Post-war Language Policy on Corsica." Journal of Multilingual & Multicultural Development 28.1 (2007): 18-33. Print.

"Civil Society Language Associations Gather to Demand Ratification of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages by France." NPLD. N.p., 21 May 2013. Web. 31 Mar. 2014.

Feltin-Palas, Michel. "Le Plan Du Gouvernement En Faveur Des Langues Régionales En Savoir plus Sur Http://" L'Express. Groupe Express-Roularta, 28 Jan. 2014. Web. 25 Apr. 2014.

Willsher, Kim. "French Elections: François Hollande under Pressure after Crushing Losses." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited, 31 Mar. 2014. Web. 25 Apr. 2014.

Dorian Sosa was a senior in Architecture with a major in French at the University of Illinois when he wrote this text in the “Language and Minorities in Europe”. Dorian is coming back to the U of I for graduate school and is interested in traveling over the summer.


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