All French parties in favour of new minority language legislation

French Culture Minister says France will not ratify the European Charter for Minority Languages because it is ‘contrary to the principles’ of the Republic · A deputy speaks in Catalan in the French Assembly for the first time in history.

Although it is no doubt too early to analyse the French Assembly debate on minority languages in any great detail, some aspects of this historic event are now clear. The good news is that all the deputies who took part in the debate were keen to defend France’s linguistic diversity. There was a general feeling across parties that new legislation should be drafted to give an official status to the country’s regional languages, which the French constitution does not even mention.

The Minister for Cultural Affairs, however, made it abundantly clear that France has no intention of ratifying the European Charter for Minority Languages, arguing that the Charter “is against our principles” because it “implies [...] an inviolable right to speak a regional language, notably in the public sphere”, according to AFP. The right to speak a language other than French in the public sphere is in total opposition to current French legislation.

In their contributions to the debate (reported here), deputies regretted the state’s failure to protect minority languages. Daniel Mach, of UMP (Union pour un Mouvement Populaire), said a few words in Catalan before the President of the Chamber reminded him that it is forbidden to speak in a language other than French.

It now remains to be seen whether the Government, headed by Nicolas Sarkozy, will push through minority language legislation as a matter of priority, perhaps making 2009 the year France finally recognizes its minority languages, as Le Journal du Pays Basquepredicts.

From taboo to disavowal
Although Wednesday’s discussion was unprecedented in the history of the French Assembly, “regional” languages are still very much considered a minority issue. As Oui au breton reported yesterday, the Assembly Chamber was almost empty during the debate: images showed the high level of absenteeism among all parties.

Moreover, news of the debate was not even mentioned in the French national press: to read Le Monde, Le Figaro and Libération you would not even know the debate took place. Only the AFP news agency reported on the historic event. Non-French media reported widely on the issue, including Corsica’s Radio Alta Frequenza, the Basque Country’s Journal du Pays Basque and Iparralde, Catalonia’s Indépendant, Vilaweb and MónDivers and Brittany’s Agence Bretagne Presse.

Further information:

  • Languages spoken in France, in Mercator