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Pujol : "No to" Constitution unless EU status for Catalan amidst further controversy over the language in Valencia
by Davyth Hicks and James Fife Status for Catalan as an official EU language is the prerequisite for support in next year's constitutional referendum, said Jordi Pujol, leader of the Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya (CDC). Speaking at the party's congress on Saturday, he denied that voting "no" on the referendum
Jacques-Yves Le Touze pour Eurolang le 10/10/04 17:04

by Davyth Hicks and James Fife

Status for Catalan as an official EU language is the prerequisite for support in next year's constitutional referendum, said Jordi Pujol, leader of the Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya (CDC). Speaking at the party's congress on Saturday, he denied that voting "no" on the referendum was a rejection of "Europeanness".

Pujol said that a "no" vote on the referendum was no more anti-Europe than a "yes" vote would be anti-Catalan. Nonetheless, he said that failure of the language to receive official status in the EU institutions warranted withholding support for the Constitutional Treaty, set for a referendum in February.

Although other major parties in Spain are lining up in favour of a "yes" vote in the referendum, Pujol, a long-time leader of the government of Catalonia, urged party members to press for recognition of Catalan by EU institutions.

Pujol’s statement follows heated debate from last month over Catalan status in Europe and the linguistic definition of the Valencian dialect of Catalan as ‘Valencian’ or ‘Valencian Catalan’. There have also been further moves by the Spanish state for EU Official status for Catalan, Basque and Galician.

The Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, in a letter to the EU expressed the Spanish Government’s “desire” that Basque, Galician, Catalan and 'Valencian' be recognised as EU official languages. However, he qualified his statement saying that the Executive “has not formalized a proposal yet”.

In the letter, Mr. Moratinos also asked the outgoing President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, to suggest to him different ways to comply with the commitment expressed in the Final Act of the EU’s Inter-Governmental Conference of 17-18 June: to pay “special attention” to the languages which enjoy official status in all or part of the territory of Member States in order to contribute to fulfilling the objective of respecting the Union's rich cultural and linguistic diversity. Such a move, if fulfilled, would open the door for other languages which have official status within their member state, such as Welsh, to gain EU official status.

As regards the Catalan/Valencian issue, Moratinos’ announcement provoked a political storm among Spanish, Catalan and Valencian party leaders, with division of opinions even within the PP and PSOE, the two parties which have traditionally promoted language policies aiming at dividing the language. Moratinos stated that the reason for their differentiation is strictly legal, as he said he just keeps to the name mentioned in the Valencian Statute of Autonomy, while a representative from his own party, the PSOE, in the Congreso later added that Catalan and Valencian are “scientifically” the same language.

In contrast, the Spanish Government has no problem in using different names when referring to Spanish in two basic legal texts. For example, 'Castilian' in the Spanish Constitution and 'Spanish' in the European constitutional treaty.

The Barcelona based language law NGO, Mercator Legislation, point out that the Spanish Constitutional Court have already reached a verdict on the language unity issue in 1997, when it concluded that “Valencian ... may also be referred to as ‘Catalan’”. The same verdict has been reached by the Valencian Higher Court of Justice in four different decisions.

In an effort to find a solution to the political controversy, two days after his announcement the Minister of Foreign Affairs stated his commitment to solve the conflict and pointed out that one possible solution would be to refer to the language as ‘Catalan-Valencian.’

Catalan language NGOs have been in uproar over the issue chiefly because of the way the language debate is being used politically by the Spanish authorities to divide the Catalan language community.

In addition, a recent case of language based discrimination and intimidation raises questions about the progress of language rights within the Autonomous Community itself. In the case Mr Esteve Comes alleges that he was intimidated by both restaurant staff and police when he used Catalan in Terrassa a town 30km north of Barcelona.

Speaking to Eurolang, Catalan academic Miquel Strubell said that : “The Esteve Comes case, which has yet to be resolved in the courts, reveals the difficulties that Catalan-speakers can face even today in trying to use their language freely in Catalonia. The rapidly growing number of non-Catalans moving into Catalonia, with misconceptions, not to say stereotypes, about the Catalans and the social status of their language, makes relegitimising the language a constant uphill task.

“If and when Catalan attains an unquestioned status at all levels, including the police, the courts and the central Spanish and European institutions, it will become easier for the language to survive and for Catalans to be able to cope with the country’s new population.

“For the first time since the end of the Franco regime, the proportion of fluent Catalan-speakers in Catalonia declined, albeit slightly, in 2001. By 2006, when the population which was 6·0 million just a few years ago, will have surpassed 7·0 million, there is likely to be a serious drop. The Catalan-speaking population, even in Catalonia proper, cannot manage to recruit new speakers fast enough to keep pace with events.”

Regarding the discrimination case language activists across Europe will be asking if Catalan, with nearly 10 million speakers and some autonomy to back it up, has such problems what hope have other minoritised languages got.

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