BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — In a victory for millions of Spaniards who speak a language other than Spanish, the European nation's Parliament allowed its national legislators to use Catalan, Basque and Galician for the first time on Tuesday.
The reform of the linguistic policy of Spain’s lower chamber was a demand of Catalan separatist parties to support the appointment of a Socialist as the new Parliamentary Speaker last month following inconclusive national elections in July.
Spain’s government is also trying to have Catalan, Basque and Galician recognized as languages that can be used in the European Union — even though that faces a much longer and apparently difficult path.
The right to speak languages other than Spanish in the national Parliament is a long-held objective of smaller parties from the regions in Spain’s north that have bilingual populations.
"(This change is) ... to normalize something that is already common for citizens who speak a language other than Spanish," said Socialist Party member José Ramón Besteiro, who alternated between Galician and Spanish to become the first lawmaker to take advantage of the modification.
The Madrid-based Parliament provided simultaneous translation with earpieces for the 350 members of the chamber as well as for the nationally televised transmission of the session.
This support of Spain's minority languages comes as acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is hoping to cobble together the backing from nationalist and even separatist parties from Catalonia and the Basque Country to form a new left-wing government.
The conservative opposition was against the reform, saying it would make debating more difficult. They also chided the Socialist Party for having caved in to pressure from Catalonia's separatists.
“We all know that we are not here to promote the use of the languages,” said conservative Popular Party lawmaker Borja Sémper, peppering his speech with Basque to the surprise of many fellow lawmakers. “That only makes sense if we accept the deception, when there is only one problem: that Pedro Sánchez needs the votes of the separatists.”
Members of the far-right Vox party, which holds ultranationalist views toward Spain’s regional and linguistic diversity, walked out of the chamber when Besteiro and Sémper spoke.
Catalan is spoken by around nine million people in Spain’s northeast, its Balearic Islands, as well as a small population in France. Galician is spoken by some two million people in northwestern Spain, while Basque has 750,000 speakers in Spain’s Basque Country and Navarra regions.
Meanwhile in Brussels, the EU’s General Affairs Council debated the possible inclusion of the three languages but was unable to reach an agreement Tuesday. Some countries said they needed more time to study the proposal and its implications.
The EU already has 24 official languages, and the inclusion of Catalan, Basque and Galician could lead to pushes by other minority languages to be recognized from other parts of Europe. All 27 members of the EU must agree unanimously for any new language to enter force.
Sweden’s European Affairs Minister Jessika Roswall told reporters it’s too early to decide and that they need to look into the proposal from legal and financial perspectives.
“There are several, many, minority languages within the European Union which are not official languages," Roswall said.
The European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, estimates that last year a total of around 355 million euros ($380 million) was spent to solely meet its translation needs.
Spain has recently offered to pick up the cost of the translation services for the new languages.
Spanish is also known as “castellano” or “Castilian” in Spain for its origins in the Kingdom of Castile. It is spoken throughout the country of 47 million people, including the regions where minority tongues survive.
Spain’s 1978 Constitution recognizes its minority languages as co-official along with Spanish in regions where they are spoken. Their use is common in regional parliaments and town halls.
___ AP writer Lorne Cook reported from Brussels.