Due to the entry of several countries into the European Union during the last few years, the European Union now counts 24 official EU languages. By recognizing those languages, the EU provides its citizens the possibility to communicate in their own language. This applies for national governments, institutions and organisations as well, in view of the fact that European citizens have the right to get to know the politics in their country and to participate actively without the need to learn a new language. That includes, among other aspects, the translation of the legislative texts into each official language. Taken all together, languages play a crucial role for the European Union and its institutions, in particular in the European Parliament, which is obliged to ensure the highest possible degree of multilingualism.
Considering the above described circumstances, the following question arises for many people living in Luxembourg: Why is Luxembourgish, the national language of the country and symbol of the Luxembourgish identity, not an official EU language? Especially in view of the fact that several European institutions are located in Luxembourg, one can wonder why Luxembourgish is not recognised as an official EU language yet. In fact, Luxembourgish is the only national language of the EU that does not have the official EU language status. By contrast, Gaelic, also a language with relatively few speakers, already became an official language of the EU in 2007. So why does Luxembourg not take the initiative to claim the status as an official EU language?
Even though Luxembourgish is spoken at the parliament on a regular basis, the country as a whole is not very actively engaged in the attempt to change the status of the Luxembourgish language to an official EU language. There are some initiatives to promote the Luxembourgish language in the EU context, for instance by the ‘ADR’ (Alternative Democratic Reform Party), but the majority in Luxembourg looks at the current situation more pragmatically. The recognition as an official EU language would bring along the need to translate all the official EU documents into Luxembourgish. One important argument of the supporter of the implementation of Luxembourgish as an official EU language is the fact that EU documents and legal texts were translated into other small languages, such as Maltese and, as mentioned above, Gaelic. But since the legal texts in Luxembourg are written in French, the translation would cause high costs and a huge effort for the state. Moreover, it would be in a way a paradox to translate the documents into Luxembourgish for the European Union while their own legal texts are still written in French.
In addition, at the time of the foundation of the European Union with Italy, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Germany and Luxembourg as the first members, Luxembourgers were able to speak two of the EU languages at that time. Furthermore, the Luxembourgish language did not have the same status and importance for the Luxembourgish identity back then. Beyond that, linguistic ‘simplicity’ allows to be perceived as a mediator between countries, by which Luxembourg gains respect for itself, which is very important for it as a small country within the European Union.
Thus, it can be said that in the end practical reasoning predominates the decision about the implementation of Luxembourgish as an official EU language. The fact that on a political level only one party promotes the recognition as an official EU language illustrates that the majority of the population in Luxembourg is not concerned too much by the debate about the status of the Luxembourgish language within the European Union. According to ‘Die Welt’, it is, interestingly enough, more important for Luxembourgers to establish Luxembourgish as a recognised language on social media sites, such as Facebook. Particularly for small languages, as for instance Luxembourgish, the web can have a positive impact on the maintenance and the promotion of the language. Eventually, the implementation of Luxembourgish as an official EU language might be an important step with regard to its status within Europe and, probably even more importantly, to the Luxembourgish identity, but it would imply an enormous effort and at the same time it would not strongly influence the situation of the Luxembourgish language within the society. In summary, it can be stated that the effort of the recognition as an official EU language would be too much in comparison to the outcome of the whole process.
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Written by Anica Reifsteck
Study visitor from the University of Luxembourg