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An unprecedented setback in the promotion of regional languages

François Bayrou
Screenshot BFM

On Monday, the EDP’s President François Bayrou gave an interview to the French weekly magazine L'Express about the decision of the French Constitutional Council to strike down the "Molac law" on the promotion of regional and minority languages. This constitutes an unprecedented setback in the promotion of these languages.

Bayrou, who is also the mayor of Pau believes that "to wipe out with a stroke of the pen the decades of efforts made to transmit these languages, which belong to the French linguistic heritage, is inconsistent, unprecedented and dangerous" because it "calls into question the existence of immersive schools, in which school life and the majority of classes take place in the regional language."

François Bayrou argues that it is by practising a language in everyday life - i.e. in school - that it is best learned.

The defender of Béarnese, a regional language spoken in his department, also points out that not only does immersion in a regional language not harm pupils' abilities in French, it even improves their results: "This is logical, because... the fact of juggling two, sometimes three languages, makes them develop a remarkable linguistic sense, so that their results are generally better than those of pupils who are taught in one language.”

Our Basque member party, EAJ-PNV, has denounced the French Constitutional Council's decision to reject the Molac Law, arguing that blocking immersive education in the public system would mean jeopardising a movement that has generated bilingual speakers, who communicate in both Basque and French.

For EAJ-PNV, going against immersive education means going against the main instrument for training new speakers in regional and minority languages. It is tantamount to ending any hope of their revival. Therefore, according to EAJ-PNV, the current situation shows the absolute necessity of a territorial status for Basque in the Basque Country, which the Basque party has been calling for for more than five years.

A report published in 2015 by the Basque government on the role of the Basque language and culture indicates that the Basque language accounts for 4.2% of the total GDP of the Basque Country, which has 56,142 jobs directly, indirectly, or professionally linked to its regional language.

Only last year, the European Parliament expressed its support for the protection and enhancement of minority languages and cultures in Europe and demanded a common framework of minimum European standards to protect minorities’ rights. According to the citizens' initiative Minority SafePack, 50 million European citizens belong to "traditional minorities and language groups".

The protection of persons belonging to minority groups is a founding value of the EU, and the Treaty (art.3(3)) states that there is an obligation to safeguard and enhance Europe's cultural heritage. If we believe in the founding values of the European Union and its motto, "united in diversity", we must stop using languages as weapons in partisan struggle. Defending the rights of the speakers of these languages means defending the fundamental rights of fifty million Europeans.

Click here to read the interview with François Bayrou on the webiste of his party "Mouvement Démocrate"