Promoting ratification of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages in France
The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (ECRML) was signed by France on 7 May 1999 but has not yet been ratified. In January 2014, the National Assembly adopted, with a large majority, a constitutional amendment permitting also the ratification of the treaty. The Senate debated the proposed constitutional amendment on 27 October and on 3 November 2015. The approval by the Congress, the actual amendment of the Constitution and the actual ratification of the Charter are still pending.
During the public debate about the ratification, it has been suggested that a very high number of regional languages would have to be covered under the Charter – some claim that there would be more than 70 languages – and that this fact could complicate the implementation of the treaty. However, the debate did not sufficiently consider how the Charter itself defines the concept of “regional or minority languages”. When determining the languages to be covered by the Charter in France, the following criteria must be taken into account in accordance with the letter and the spirit of the Charter:
- The Charter concerns languages. Dialects of regional languages are not covered by the Charter in their own right. Rather, dialects of regional languages are covered by the Charter in combination with their standard form traditionally used on the relevant territory. Consequently, the Charter applies holistically to a regional language “as a whole” (dialects and standard form) rather than only to one form of it.
- The Charter concerns languages that are different from the official language of the State. It does not include dialects/varieties of the official language of the State.
- The Charter concerns languages that are traditionally used within a given territory of the State by nationals of that State. It does not include the languages of migrants.
- The Charter aims at the protection of the historical regional or minority languages of Europe, as stated in its Preamble.
- The Charter concerns also languages that are often official and majority languages of other states. Most regional or minority languages in the present States Parties of the Charter are actually official and majority languages of other states (for example, Italian is the official and majority language of Italy as well as a regional or minority language inter alia in Slovenia).
- The Charter concerns languages that are still spoken. It does not concern languages that are extinct.
In light of the aforementioned criteria, the Charter would apply to the following seven regional languages of France: Basque, Breton, Catalan, Corsican, Dutch (Western Flemish and standard Dutch), German (dialects of German and standard German, regional language of Alsace-Moselle) and Occitan.
Therefore, concerns currently expressed in the public debate that the Charter’s application would become difficult to manage as a result of a very high number of regional languages are completely unfounded.
 According to the definition in Article 1 (a) of the Charter, the concept “‘regional or minority languages’ means languages that are i. traditionally used within a given territory of a State by nationals of that State who form a group numerically smaller than the rest of the State's population; and ii. different from the official language(s) of that State. It does not include either dialects of the official language(s) of the State or the languages of migrants”.
 See also European Commission: The Euromosaic study.
 In 2014 and 2015, the Alsace region, the Lower Alsace and Upper Alsace departements and several Alsatian cities and municipalities adopted local versions of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages that all contain the following definition of the regional language: « Par l’expression « langue régionale », on entend la langue allemande dans ses formes dialectales (dialectes alémaniques et franciques parlés en Alsace et en Moselle) et dans sa forme standard (Hochdeutsch). » / „Im Sinne dieser Charta bezeichnet der Ausdruck „Regionalsprache“ die deutsche Sprache in ihren Mundartformen (die in Elsass-Lothringen gesprochenen alemannischen und fränkischen Mundarten) und in ihrer Standardform (Hochdeutsch).“ (Charte de la Région Alsace, du Département du Bas-Rhin et du Département du Haut-Rhin pour la promotion de la langue régionale sur la base de la Charte européenne des langues régionales ou minoritaires du 19 juin 2014, article 1 / Charta der Region Elsass, des Departements Unterelsass und des Departements Oberelsass zur Förderung der Regionalsprache auf der Grundlage der Europäischen Charta der Regional- oder Minderheitensprachen vom 19. Juni 2014, Artikel 1. See also Bulletin officiel [B.O.] hors-série n° 2, 19 June 2003.
Against this background, several municipalities in Brittany, including the City of Rennes, have expressed their interest in applying the Charter. At a conference about the Charter in May 2013, the Council of Europe encouraged French local and regional authorities to apply Charter provisions according to their competences, possibly in the framework of partnerships with the Council of Europe. Following this, the local and regional authorities below have signed a local charter containing Charter provisions. Such local initiatives help to prepare the future implementation of the Charter.
Strasbourg / Straßburg
Date of adoption: 20/04/2015
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