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EU ministers have snubbed Spain’s request to add Catalan, Basque and Galician to the bloc’s list of official languages, in a setback for Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s efforts to form a new government.
The premier had asked to add the three languages as he courts the support of separatists following inconclusive elections in July. But EU affairs ministers on Tuesday raised concerns about adding so many at once, said Spanish foreign minister José Manuel Albares. Madrid would not abandon the project, he said, but instead focus on making Catalan an official EU language first.
“We have proposed to start the rollout first with Catalan and then with the other two languages”, said Albares, adding that there was greater “insistence” from the Catalan-speaking community, which is larger than the other two.
Ministers from other member states raised concerns about the legality and practicality of translating the full acquis of EU laws into Catalan, Basque and Galician, asking for more time and information to consider the proposals. Spain committed to covering costs related to the expansion, Albarés said.
Swedish EU minister Jessika Roswall said ahead of the meeting that the proposal lacked sufficient details on the “legal and financial questions [and] what consequences it will have for other minority languages”.
About a dozen member states shared Sweden’s concerns — and any decision to expand the list of official languages requires unanimity.
Prioritising Catalan, however, risks angering Galician and Basque parties whose support Sánchez also needs to form a government. Albares on Tuesday sought to give reassurances that this move was “absolutely not” a discrimination against speakers of Galician and Basque. All three are already official languages in the country’s Congress.
The proposal has won strong support from speakers of the three languages in Spain, including some not in favour of independence for their regions, because they see it as overdue recognition of their cultural heritage.
While most new languages were added when the EU accepted new members, there are precedents for existing members expanding the list post-accession. Ireland joined the bloc in 1973 together with the UK and Denmark. While the EU treaties were translated into Irish since its accession, the language became official in 2008 and was phased in gradually, in part due to difficulties in attracting personnel to translation and interpreting posts.
Albares said Catalan was not a “minority language” given that 10mn people speak it, which would make it one of the top 15 languages in the bloc. The EU has currently 24 official languages.
In addition to the language issue, Catalan separatists have more pressing demands in return for their support for another Sánchez-led government, notably amnesty for Together for Catalonia founder Carles Puigdemont and others for their involvement in the 2017 push for independence.
“Today we have seen that Spain is not being heard in Europe as much as [Sánchez] claims,” Puigdemont wrote on X, previously known as Twitter, on Tuesday. “It is true, however, that we had never come this far.”