Far-right politicians storm out as Catalan, Basque and Galician is spoken in Spanish Congress for first time
Far-right politicians stormed out of the Spanish Congress today in protest at Catalan, Basque and Galician being spoken officially for the first time.
In a historic day for language rights in Spain, MPs voted by 176 to 169 to allow the use of all of the state’s official languages, rather than just Spanish, in the parliament’s business.
“It’s no more or less than normalising in this chamber what’s already normal for millions of citizens,” said Socialist party MP José Ramón Gómez Besteiro in Galician as he gave the first speech in a language other than Spanish.
The move is part of efforts by Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to win the support of pro-independence parties that he needs to form a new progressive minority government.
Members from the main opposition party, the conservative Partido Popular (PP), voted against the change and refused to use the translation headsets provided to listen to speeches not in Spanish.
And MPs representing far-right Vox dumped their headsets in a pile on the government benches as they marched out of the chamber after trying to disrupt Besteiro’s speech.
The party’s 33 MPs returned shortly afterwards to listen to a speech by a member of the PP, only to leave the chamber for a second time when the MP began to speak in Basque.
“We won’t be part of this separatist farce,” said Vox MP Pepa Millán.
A vote on whether Catalan, Basque and Galician should become official languages of the European Union was also scheduled to take place in Brussels today at the request of the Spanish government.
Manchester City manager Pep Guadiola was among high profile Catalans who took part in a campaign designed to convince other EU countries to back the move.
“Ours is a millennium old language spoken by 10 million people and it’s part of the European cultural heritage that we all take pride in,” he said in a video message published ahead of the vote.
— Plataforma per la Llengua (@llenguacat) September 16, 2023
As well as the right to interact with the European institutions in Catalan, Basque or Galician, the use of the languages in the labelling of food and medicines would be among other noticeable changes brought about by official status.
However, the vote was postponed after it became clear there wasn’t the consensus needed for adoption today.
While no member states have declared outright opposition to the move, Sweden’s government was among those that raised concerns about the potential cost and the precedent it could set for other languages.
Speaking in Catalan, Finland’s Europe minister, Anders Adlercreutz, told journalists: “I’m a great friend of the Catalan culture. Together, we have to defend the linguistic diversity of the European Union.
“But we also have to know the consequences of our decisions. This is why it’s too soon to take a decision today.”
Race against time
The Spanish government, which has reportedly promised to foot the bill for three additional official languages, now face a race against time to win round other EU governments.
November 27 is the data on which new elections will have to be called if Sanchez hasn’t secured the support of pro-independence parties from Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia.
“The Spanish state has work to do and has to do it with diligence and without losing time because the opportunity is now,” warned Carles Puigdemont, the exiled former president of Catalonia and potential kingmaker for the new government, after the vote’s postponement.
“The path to official status has to be irreversible and without waiting too long because we’ve already waited long enough.”
Sanchez’s Socialist party and left-wing Sumar hold 152 seats of the 176 needed for a majority.
He will need the cooperation of Puigdemont’s Junts per Catalunya and Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, who both hold seven seats, as well as Basque nationalists EH BIldu and the EAJ, who hold six and five seats respectively, to form a government.
The PP and far-right Vox hold 170 seats between them but don’t have other potential coalition partners who could help them make up their six seat shortfall.
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