Commissioner’s statement on language policies (excerpts), 2019

Promoting social cohesion through balanced policies on languages

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The Advisory Committee on the FCNM has consistently emphasised, in respect of a range of countries, including Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Moldova, North MacedoniaRomaniaSlovakiaUkraine and the Russian Federation, that policies on the use of languages should aim to reconcile the needs of different groups of speakers, those of the state and those of society as a whole, rather than deepening gaps between different groups based on linguistic differences [..]

Tackling discrimination based on language

Laws and policies that promote the use of a specific language should not result in discriminatory treatment of some groups of the population. Therefore, before introducing new measures regulating the use of languages, the authorities should carefully assess the possible disproportionate impact of such measures, especially on persons belonging to national minorities. The Advisory Committee on the FCNM has indeed highlighted that strict language requirements can constitute a disproportionate obstacle for persons belonging to national minorities in a range of areas, such as access to employment, participation in political life, and access to health care and education. In the case of Latvia and Estonia for instance, it deplored insufficient access for persons belonging to minorities to public positions due to overly strict language requirements.

It is therefore crucial for countries to ensure that they have an effective anti-discrimination legal framework in place, which explicitly prohibits discrimination based on ethnic or national origin as well as on language, and, importantly, which foresees effective remedies for persons alleging such discrimination. [..]

Using incentives rather than sanctions to ensure implementation

A particularly important incentive is to ensure that there are enough opportunities for learning the state or official language and that the offer is accessible and of adequate quality. This is crucial to ensure access for all to a shared and common language. I read with interest the findings of a recent audit report about the teaching of Estonian language for adults in Estonia, which showed a shortage of funding and adequately trained teachers. The report indicated for example that in 2015, the plan was to offer free language classes to 540 persons, while in fact almost 6,000 people applied for such classes. Lack of funds and/or trained teachers and the quality of teaching materials have also been issues of concern in several other countries.

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Document data: 29.10.2019. Link: https://www.coe.int/en/web/commissioner/-/language-policies-should-accomodate-diversity-protect-minority-rights-and-defuse-tensions Also available in French and Russian

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