October 27: after five hours of debate, the French Senate voted on a motion that ratifying the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages would be inadmissible as any such ratification would be unconstitutional. The motion was passed by 180 votes to 155.


Bilingual road sign in Iparralde. Photo by Harrieta171, via Wikimedia Commons

The charter is a treaty established in 1992 by the Council of Europe (an intergovernmental body promoting human rights, democracy, and the rule of law among its member states, in effect practically all European countries) to protect and promote regional and minority languages in Europe as a means of encouraging linguistic diversity on the continent.

France signed the charter in 1999  but has not yet ratified it. In January 2014, the French National Assembly (the lower house) adopted a constitutional amendment permitting ratification, but approval by the Congress (the body formed by both houses of the French parliament, the National Assembly and the Senate), any amendment to the French Constitution, and the actual ratification of the charter are still pending. And with this latest vote, it would seem that any such ratification is still unlikely.

The charter has been ratified, however, by 25 of the 47 members of the Council of Europe, including both European Union members (such as the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Poland, and Hungary) and non-members (such as Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Ukraine, and Armenia) alike.

For further information on the vote in Basque click here; in French click here and here; and in Spanish click here.

On Saturday, October 24, there were simultaneous and coordinated demonstrations throughout the French Republic–in Baiona (Bayonne) in favor of Basque; in Montpelhièr (Montpellier) in favor of Occitan; in Aiacciu (Ajaccio) in favor of Corsican; and in Karaez (Carhaix) in favor of Breton–to support ratification of the treaty as well as to demand greater protection and respect for minority languages and cultures.  See reports on the Baiona demonstration in Basque here and in French here and here.

On the importance of official measures to protect and promote minority languages see Language Rights and Cultural Diversity, edited by Xabier Irujo and Viola Miglio.