European integration from its start has been a multilingual process. Europe’s history has been defined by a variety of nations, all having their own language. On top of the big national languages, that have seen their usage spread far beyond the borders of Europe in the colonial era, every region in Europe has its own regional language and often language borders do not follow national borders, creating linguistic minorities across the border.
The current language policy of the European Union guarantees the use of all national languages (currently 23) in official documents and debates in the Parliament. In practice only English and French are used as “drafting language” for documents in an early stage. However, the most important part of language policy, the choice which languages are to be used and taught in education, is left to the member states, as long as they follow the “national language plus 2 other” principle.
Transnational contacts on the grassroots level play a vital role in creating and enforcing a European identity, the feeling that one belongs to a European society, not just to a national one. To enable these contacts for all Europeans, regardless of native language and level of education, it is vital to chose one common second language that can effectively fulfil this role and minimises language discrimination.
For this reason AEGEE as interdisciplinary European students’ association strives for a clear European language policy, which ensures effective communication and equal rights for all citizens.
AEGEE proposes that the European language policy is to be shaped according to the following four criteria:
a) Equal chances for all citizens, prevent language discrimination
All Europeans should have the same rights to use their native language in all aspects of their daily life in their region and be able to communicate with their national and European institutions in this language. It is undesirable that some Europeans have better chances in business or can spend less time on language education because they are born with another mother tongue.
b) Safeguard and improve position of minority languages
Languages spoken by a minority in a country should still have the same rights and status as national languages, within the historical distribution area of a language. To give regional languages more status it is important to write down and stabilise their grammar and transform local dialects into viable regional languages.
c) Enable transnational communication
Whereas the above criteria postulate protection of the current multilingual landscape, effective communication demands one common language. Solving this paradox is the core of successful language policy. One language has to be chosen as bridge language for all
Europeans. On top of that, Europeans should be encouraged to learn the language of neighbouring regions.
d) Strengthen European identity
A group identity is based on common features, shared history, shared territory and possibly a shared language. A group identity can also develop in bilingual or multilingual groups. A necessary precondition however is mutual understanding and trust, which can only be reached by civil dialogue, impossible without a shared means of communication. This common language can then become an important ingredient of the European identity.
- The only scenario that can fulfil all four above described criteria at the same time, is the election of a common second language for all Europeans that is not one of the big national languages
- While elaborating its language policy, the European Union should take into account the acquired knowledge and practical experience in the field of interlinguistics over the past century and to build further knowledge wherever needed.
- We urge the European institutions to foster an open debate on Europe’s language policy. Even if it is to remain unchanged, there is still a strong need for debate. An open decision to keep the status quo can be very democratic, a silent one cannot.
AEGEE-Europe is one of the largest interdisciplinary student associations in Europe, which promotes a unified Europe, cross-border cooperation, communication, integration among students and strives to create an open and tolerant society of tomorrow. AEGEE is a voluntary non-profit organization that operates without being linked to any political party. It is represented in 230 university cities, in 42 countries all around Europe and has about 15.000 members.
Created 25 years ago, AEGEE has been working on a regular basis with the European Commission on implementing projects and is consulted on themes related to the students and particularly to the SOCRATES program. AEGEE is also recognized and has Consultative Status towards UNESCO and Participatory Status towards the Council of Europe.
AEGEE-Europe is looking forward to proceed with the discussion on the topic.