Logotip de la revista Noves SL





The new member states of the European Union: linguistic demography and language policies, by Albert Branchadell


2. Language policy of the new member states (3)

How do these states organise their internal linguistic diversity? Here we shall draw upon a standard typology of linguistic regimes developed by Siguan (1995), Badia (2002) and Vernet et al. (2003) and adapted by the present writer.

We first have to divide the states in question into those that have one official language and those that have more than one. Of the ten states considered here, only two, Malta and Cyprus, have two official languages, all the rest are officially monolingual, with the majority language as the only official language of the State.

Where a state has more than one official language, these may be official throughout the state, or not. The latter situation applies in Belgium and Switzerland. In Switzerland, for example, German, French and Italian are the official languages of the Confederation but none of the three is official throughout the length and breadth of the state. The two new member states of the Union which have more than one official language represent the former option. That is, the two official languages of Malta (Maltese and English) are official throughout both islands that make up Maltese territory, and similarly the official languages of Cyprus (Greek and Turkish) are official throughout the territory of Cyprus.

In the case of Cyprus, we should emphasise what was said at the outset on constitutional designs. Even though the 1960 Constitution plainly establishes that Greek and Turkish are the official languages (article 3.1: "The official languages of the Republic are Greek and Turkish"), the Republic of Cyprus functions de facto as a monolingual state with Greek as the only official language. In the case of Malta (article 5.2: "Maltese and English [...] shall be the official languages of Malta") we have a special case, since one of her two official languages (English) does not have a significant group of mother tongue speakers.

The question is, how do the remaining eight, officially monolingual, states treat their language diversity.

According to our typology, a state that has one official language can either protect or not its minority languages; if it protects them, it may do so by considering them official in one part of the territory, or it may not. Nominally, the eight new member states of the Union which are officially monolingual all protect their linguistic minorities. Of the eight, we note that only one, Slovenia, explicitly recognises in the constitution the official status of (some of) the minority languages in their respective areas.dd

Thus, according to article 11 of the Slovenian constitution, "the official language of Slovenia is Slovenian. In the areas where the ethnic Italian and Hungarian reside, Italian and Hungarian shall also be official languages " (italics are ours). It is interesting to note that Slovenian does not recognise the official status of Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian/SerboCroat, which is (are) greater demographically speaking than Italian and Hungarian.

It can be observed that in three of the remaining states (Slovakia, Estonia and Hungary), while there is no explicit recognition by the constitution of official status, there is recognition ex constitution of the possibility of official use of languages other than the state language. The others are rather more vague on this issue (Latvia, Lithuania and Poland) or simply don't mention (Czech Republic). Tables 6 and 7 summarise the situation.

Table 6. States in which the constitution explicitly refers
to the possibility of official use of languages other
than the official state language




Article 6

2. The use of languages in relations with the authorities will be regulated by law.

Article 34 addition to the right of the state language to prevail, the citizens that belong to national minorities or ethnic groups shall, subject to conditions laid down by the law, have the following rights guaranteed:

a) the right to be educated in their own language,

b) the right to use their language in relations with the authorities,

c) the right to participate in the resolution of questions relating to national minorities and ethnic groups.


Article 51

1. All persons have the right to communicate with central government and local government authorities and their officials in Estonian, and to receive replies in Estonian.

2. In localities where at least one half of permanent residents belong to an ethnic minority, every one has the right to receive replies from the state government and local government authorities and their officials in the language of the said ethnic minority.

Article 52

1. The official language of central government and local government authorities shall be Estonian.

2. In areas where the language of the majority of the population is not Estonian, the local government authorities may use the language of the majority of permanent residents of this locality, both internally and extensively, according to the procedures established by legislation.

3. The use of foreign languages, including the language of ethnic minorities, by the authorities and in the courts and procedures leading up to court hearings, shall be determined by legislation.


Article 68

2. The Hungarian Republic shall extend protection to national and ethnic minorities and shall guarantee collective participation in public affairs, the promotion of their cultures, the use of their own languages, education in their own languages and the use of names in their own languages.

Table 7. States in which the constitution makes no reference to the possibility of official use of languages other than the stage




Article 114

Those belonging to ethnic minorities have the right to conserve and to promote their language and their ethnic and cultural identity.


Article 37

Citizens who belong to ethnic communities shall have the right to conserve their language, culture and customs.


Article 27

Polish shall be the official language of the Republic of Poland. These measure shall not infringe the rights of national minorities arising from internationally ratified agreements.

Czech Republic

no mention

As we stated at the outset, we shall here be limiting ourselves to discussion of the respective constitutional provisions; in actual fact, the most interesting approach would be to look at the lower-level legislation, and above all its practical application On the one hand, that would allow us to see that there are states like Lithuania and the Czech Republic, which recognise in their legislation the possibility (not explicitly recognised in the constitution) of official use of languages other than the official language of the state. On the other, it is evident we could also draw finer distinctions between states which constitutionally speaking fall into the same category. Simply as an illustration we could compare two states like Slovakia and Hungary, which belong to the group of states whose constitution alludes to the possibility of making official use of languages other than the state language.

In Hungary, Law LXXVII of 1993 on the rights of ethnic and national minorities provides for ample use of minority languages in official contexts. For example, article 52 of the Act states that the members of the Hungarian parliament who belong to minorities may use their mother tongue. A very noteworthy fact is that, in principle, no demographic threshold is established above which minorities can enjoy the rights recognised in the Act. Article 54, for instance, which states that vacancies in the public services should be filled by those who know the mother tongue of the local minority or minorities, refers simply to "settlements where there are people who belong to minorities".

In Slovakia, on the other hand, Law 184 of 1999 on the use of the languages of national minorities limits the possibility of using a minority language with the authorities to municipal areas where the minority in question constitutes at least 20 percent of the population (article 2.1: "Citizens of the Slovak Republic who are members of national minorities and, according to the results of the latest census, represent at least 20 % of the total population in the community may use the minority language in such a community in official contacts").

3. The new member states and the European Charter on Regional or Minority Languages

To complete this panoramic overview of the language policies of new member states of the Union, it would be worthwhile looking at their position vis-ŕ-vis the European Charter on Regional or Minority Languages http://conventions.coe.int/ [versions in English and French].

Of the ten states in question, four have ratified the Charter (Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia and Cyprus) and three have simply signed it (Malta, Poland and the Czech Republic). The three remaining states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) didn't sign it. It is perhaps significant that among the states who have not signed or ratified the Charter are the two clearly heterogeneous states (Estonia and Latvia).

Table 8 shows the situation in each state, as at 1st May 2004, with respect to the signing of the Charter, its ratification and coming into effect. As a point of reference here, it is worth noting that the Kingdom of Spain signed the Charter on the 5th November 1992 and proceeded to ratify it on the 9th April 2001, such that the Charter came into force in this state on the 1st of 2001.

Table 8. Situation in the states with respect to the European Charter on regional and minority languages

  Signed Ratified Came into force
Slovakia 20/2/2001 5/9/2001 1/1/2002
Slovenia 3/7/1997 4/10/2000 1/1/2001
Hungary 5/11/1992 26/4/1995 1/3/1998
Malta 5/11/1992    
Poland 12/5/2003    
Czech Republic 9/11/2000    
Cyprus 12/11/1992 26/8/2002 1/12/2002

2 de 3