Should Welsh be an official EU language?

The question of whether Welsh ought to be an official language of the EU is certainly debatable; there are actually 23 languages designated as ‘official’ in the European Union, but only three are in wide use across all member countries. German is most common, followed by English and French. Welsh, and five others including Scottish and Gaelic are considered ‘semi-official’ languages.

In general the EU promotes the importance of preserving the cultural and linguistic diversity of its member countries, but the specifics are left to the individual states. In the opinion of Jill Evans, Plaid Cymru MEP, the fact that Welsh has status as a semi-official language is good but not good enough. She believes that Welsh should have the same official status in the EU as it does in Wales, and plans to make this a central issue in next year’s election campaign for the European Parliament.

Another Welsh MEP, Kay Swinburne, disagrees with that approach and suggests that changing the status to Official in the EU would cost a great deal in translation expenses while doing nothing to advance the basic cause of preserving all the diverse cultures that exist within the EU. She points out that the Welsh government has done more than many European countries to protect its heritage; the Welsh Language Act (as refined in 1993) is the most notable example.

Swinburne also noted that the semi-official status that Welsh currently holds in the EU serves to allow Welsh citizens to correspond with EU officials in that language, and that translators are available for Welsh speakers in the European Parliament, if they get “a bit of notice”.

She said that making Welsh official would entail hiring translators full time, at a cost in the millions of pounds, for the benefit of only a very few people, including herself and Jill Evans. Far better, she says, that other countries take note of the way Wales has handled its programme of identity-saving, and take similar steps to preserve and promote their own diversity of culture and language.