Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Last Labor of Hercules: Will Francois Hollande Get to Ratify the ECRML?

by Farhan Patel

States that have signed and ratified the ECRML in dark green,
states that have signed but not ratified the ECRML in light green,
states who have neither signed/ratified the ECRML in white,
and non-Council of Europe member states in gray.
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According to PEN International, the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages (referred to now as ECRML) is a treaty originally signed by 12 European countries on November 5, 1992 – swearing to protect and promote European historical, regional and minority languages. The Council of Europe, which currently consists of 47 European states, heavily encourages all European states to sign and ratify the document. Since 1992, 21 members of the Council of Europe have signed onto the ECRML, for a total of 33 signatories. Out of the 33 signatories, only 25 countries have advanced to ratify the ECRML, meaning they have made the charter officially binding on their state, rather than simply expressing the intention to comply with the treaty. The ECRML can be ratified by a state according to its respective national procedures. For instance, in order for the Netherlands to ratify a national treaty, their national parliament must have a majority approval either for against the ratification of the agreement.

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The Nationalia website mentions how France is a founding member of the Council of Europe and has been in the organization since May 5, 1949. Surprisingly however, France was not one of the 12 original signatories of the treaty, as French President Lionel Jospin signed the ECRML on May 7, 1999, seven years after the introduction of the document. However, since 1999, the French government has refused to ratify the ECRML, providing the excuse that the charter contradicts its national constitution and threatens French unity. Article II of the French Constitution states that the “language of the Republic is French” and the French government interprets this to leave no room for recognition of regional or minority languages. The only route France can take to ratify the ECRML is to amend its own constitution, which the French government has delayed upon even seriously considering until the 2012 election of President Francois Hollande.

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The Nationalia and Euractive websites combined explain how French President Francois Hollande collected many votes from the Breton, Occitan, and Basque speaking areas of France, promising his trusting voters the ratification of the ECRML in return. Two years after his taking of the President position, Francois Hollande has continued to postpone the ratification of the charter. Granted only two years of his five-year presidential term has passed, does it remain acceptable for Hollande to leave stranded the minority French residents he garnered votes from with unfulfilled promises?

France is always ready to proclaim itself the founder and defender of human rights, but cannot unite itself to defend the minority and regional languages internally impacting its own state, both socially and politically. The French government has repeatedly asserted the absurd argument that regional and minority languages – languages that are considered internationally endangered – threaten the widespread use of French in France and harms French unity. Granting collective rights to speakers of regional and minority languages does not mean the use of regional and minority languages will overtake the use of French in the vast majority of public spheres. France providing its citizens with a specific form of collective rights, polyethnic rights - those that recognize and respect aspects of the linguistic heritage of ethnic groups, would not devastate, but instead strengthen French unity. Public nationalism levels and support for the French government would only increase as a result of the French government legislating fair and favored laws. France is afraid the French language would be placed into harm’s way with the ratification of the ECRML, and isolated French regions such as Corsica, where many speak a shared regional minority language, may then be inclined to ask for self-government rights, or territorial political autonomy, similar to how Catalonia is an autonomous community in Spain.

In order to most effectively institute productive linguistic reform, French President Francois Hollande should pursue a path similar to that of his neighb
or, Spain. Spain ratified the ECRML on April 9, 2001, but clearly informs its citizens that though regional and minority languages such as Catalan and Basque are now protected languages by the federal government, all Spanish citizens possess the duty to know Spanish and have the right to use it. France can institute a similar law where French citizens are allowed to freely use their respective regional or minority languages in the private and public spheres, but are simultaneously obligated to know French. French President Francois Hollande chanted, “Le Changement C’est Maintenant” (Time for Change is Now) during his 2012 presidential campaign and he must now fulfill the promises he made to his voters. If France does ratify the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages, the state will demonstrate its honest commitment to the protection of cultural and linguistic diversity to its own citizens and the international community.

Online Sources 

The author of this blog entry is Farhan Patel, a sophomore in in Political Science and Arabic Studies at the University of Illinois. Farhan is planning on teaching in China this summer and is interested in going to law school after graduation. He wrote this text in the seminar LING 418, Language and Minorities in Europe.


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