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Languages of the European Union

The languages of the European Union are languages used by people within the member states of the European Union. They include the 20 official languages of the European Union plus many others. The EU asserts on its English language homepage: "languages: Europe's asset". [1]

EU policy is to encourage all its citizens to be multilingual; specifically, it encourages them to be able to speak two languages in addition to their mother tongue. A number of EU funding programmes actively promote language learning and linguistic diversity, but the EU has very limited influence in this area as the content of educational systems remains the responsibility of individual Member States. [2]

According to the EU's English language website [3], the cost of maintaining its policy of multilingualism is €1,123 million, which is 1% of the annual general budget of the EU, or €2.28 per person per year.

Official languages of the European Union

The official languages of the European Union, as stipulated in EEC Council: Regulation No 1 determining the languages to be used by the European Economic Community of 1958-04-15 (as amended) [4], are

Starting on January 1, 2007, the following languages will also become official:

All languages of the EU are also working languages.[7] Documents which a Member State or a person subject to the jurisdiction of a Member State sends to institutions of the Community may be drafted in any one of the official languages selected by the sender. The reply shall be drafted in the same language. Regulations and other documents of general application shall be drafted in the twenty official languages. The Official Journal of the European Union shall be published in the twenty official languages.

Legislation and documents of major public importance or interest are produced in all 20 official languages, but that accounts for a minority of the institutions' work. Other documents (e.g. communications with the national authorities, Decisions addressed to particular individuals or entities and correspondence) are translated only into the languages needed. For internal purposes the EU institutions are allowed by law to choose their own language arrangements. The European Commission, for example, conducts its internal business in three languages, English, French and German, and goes fully multilingual only for public information and communication purposes. The European Parliament, on the other hand, has Members who need working documents in their own languages, so its document flow is fully multilingual from the outset.

External links:

  • EU Languages Portal
  • The process of creating documents in this multilingual environment
  • Work of conference interpreters at EU Institutions

Language skills of European citizens

This table from the year 2005 shows what proportion of citizens said that they could speak each of the official languages of the Union, either as mother tongue or as non-mother tongue (including as foreign language):

Language

Proportion of EU population speaking it

as a mother tongue

as a language
other than mother tongue

Total proportion

English

13%

34%

47%

German

18%

12%

30%

French

12%

11%

23%

Italian

13%

2%

15%

Spanish

9%

5%

14%

Polish

9%

1%

10%

Dutch

5%

1%

6%

Russian

1%

5%

6%

Swedish

2%

1%

3%

Greek

2%

0%

2%

Portuguese

2%

0%

2%

Danish

1%

1%

2%

Finnish

1%

0%

1%

The knowledge of foreign languages varies considerably in the specific countries, as the table below shows. The three most spoken second languages in the EU are English, German and French.

Country

English
as a language
other than mother tongue

German
as a language
other than mother tongue

French
as a language
other than mother tongue

 Belgium

52%

25%

44%

 Czech Republic

24%

31%

n/a

 Denmark

83%

54%

n/a

 Germany

51%

7%

12%

 Estonia

41%

18%

n/a

 Greece

44%

8%

8%

 France

34%

7%

n/a

 Ireland

6%

n/a

19%

 Italy

29%

4%

11%

 Cyprus

71%

3%

11%

 Latvia

34%

n/a

n/a

 Lithuania

26%

n/a

n/a

 Luxembourg

66%

84%

90%

 Hungary

16%

16%

n/a

 Malta

89%

n/a

17%

 Netherlands

87%

66%

24%

 Austria

53%

n/a

11%

 Poland

25%

19%

n/a

 Portugal

26%

n/a

20%

 Spain

20%

n/a

8%

 Slovenia

56%

45%

n/a

 Slovakia

n/a

28%

n/a

 Finland

60%

17%

n/a

 Sweden

85%

28%

10%

 United Kingdom

7%

6%

14%

Enlargement and Candidate countries:

 Bulgaria

15%

n/a

n/a

 Romania

26%

n/a

17%

 Croatia

43%

33%

n/a

 Turkey

18%

4%

n/a

Status of other languages

There has been a suggestion in an official briefing that the implicit principle for official languages of the European Union is that each member state can put forward at most one official language ('one member state, one language'). This has not been confirmed in documents.

The Spanish and Irish governments have sought the status of 'official' EU languages for Basque, Catalan-Valencian, Galician, and Irish. The 2667th Council Meeting of the Council of the European Union in Luxembourg on 13 June 2005 decided to authorise limited use at EU level of languages recognised by Member States other than the official working languages. Besides making Irish the 21st official language, the council also granted recognition to "languages other than the languages referred to in Council Regulation No 1/1958 whose status is recognised by the Constitution of a Member State on all or part of its territory or the use of which as a national language is authorised by law." The official use of such languages will be authorised on the basis of an administrative arrangement concluded between the Council and the requesting Member State.

Irish

Although the Irish language had not been one of the official languages of the European Union prior to 13 June 2005, it is the Republic of Ireland's first official language, and has minority-language status in Northern Ireland. Since the Republic of Ireland's accession to the European Economic Community (now the European Union) in 1973, EU treaties have been published and authenticated in Irish - as an official treaty language - as well as the EU official languages, and one has been able to make written submissions to Union institutions in Irish. On 13 June 2005, following a unanimous decision by EU foreign ministers, it was announced that Irish will be made the 21st official language of the EU but a derogation stipulates that not all documents have to be translated into Irish as is the case with the other official languages. [12] The decision means that legislation approved by both the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers will now be translated into Irish, and interpretation from Irish will be available at European Parliament plenary sessions and some Council meetings. The new arrangements will come into effect on 1 January 2007. The cost of translation, interpretation, publication and legal services involved in making Irish an official EU language has been estimated at just under €3.5 million a year. The derogation will be reviewed in four years and every five years thereafter.

Irish will be the first official language of the Union that is not the most widely spoken language in any member state - 2002 census figures show that in the Republic of Ireland there are 1,570,894 speakers of Irish out of a population of 3,750,995, and only 339,541 use Irish every day.

Catalan-Valencian, Galician, and Basque

Though Catalan-Valencian, Galician and Basque are not nation-wide official languages in Spain, as co-official languages in the respective regions they are eligible to benefit from official use in EU institutions under the terms of the 13 June 2005 resolution of the Council of the European Union. The Spanish government has assented to the provisions in respect of these languages.

The status of Catalan, spoken by many millions of citizens, has been the subject of particular debate. On 11 December 1990, the use of Catalan was the subject of a European Parliament Resolution (resolution A3-169/90 on languages in the (European) Community and the situation of Catalan (OJ-C19, 28 January 1991).

On 2005-11-16, Committee of the Regions President Peter Straub signed an agreement with the Spanish Ambassador to the EU, Carlos Sagües Bastarreche, approving the use of Spanish regional languages in an EU institution for the first time in a meeting on that day, with interpretation provided by European Commission interpreters.

Welsh and Scottish Gaelic

In response to a written parliamentary question tabled following the 2005-06-13 resolution on official use of regional languages, the UK Minister for Europe, Douglas Alexander, stated on 2005-06-29 that "The Government have no current plans to make similar provisions for UK languages."

Russian

Though not an official language of the European Union, Russian is widely spoken in some of the newer member states of the Union that were formerly in the Eastern bloc. It is, together with Dutch, the 7th most spoken language in the EU. About 6 % of all EU-citizens speak Russian to some extent.

Sign Languages

Roughly one person in one thousand uses a sign language as a first language. An increasing number of countries have some form of recognition of their national sign language.

On 1988-06-17, the European Parliament unanimously approved a resolution about Deaf Sign Languages. This resolution asks all member countries for recognition of their national sign languages as official languages of the Deaf.

Further languages of the European Union

Besides the languages of Ireland, Spain and the UK (see above), there are other regional languages spoken within the EU that do not have official recognition at EU level (although they may have some official status within the member state). Some of these count many more speakers than some of the lesser-used official languages.

These include:

  • Belarusian (in Poland)
  • the regional languages of France
  • Frisian
  • Languages of Italy
  • Kashubian
  • Ladin
  • Friulian
  • Limburgish
  • Low German
  • Luxembourgish
  • Mirandese
  • Russian
  • Sami languages
  • Sorbian languages
  • Minority languages in Sweden
  • Languages in the United Kingdom
    • Scottish Gaelic
    • Welsh
    • Scots & Ulster Scots
    • Cornish
  • Walloon
  • Yiddish

The Katharevousa variant of Greek is no longer official.

Although not an EU treaty, some EU member states have ratified the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

Provision in the proposed constitution treaty

The proposed (and later rejected) European constitution was officially available in the 21 official languages, and the languages of three candidate countries: Romanian, Bulgarian, and Turkish. The version approved by the European Parliament for ratification by the Member States contained the following provision:

Article IV-448(2): This Treaty may also be translated into any other languages as determined by Member States among those which, in accordance with their constitutional order, enjoy official status in all or part of their territory. A certified copy of such translations shall be provided by the Member States concerned to be deposited in the archives of the Council.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia