by RAY FLEMING
IT If you speak and write Catalan you will now be able to address yourself to the European Union in that language. A casting vote by the president of the European Parliament has approved a proposal that citizens of Catalunya, Galicia and the Basque country should be able to communicate with the Parliament in their own languages, and to get a reply in them also. A similar vote only three months ago narrowly rejected the idea so some heavy lobbying must have been taking place in the meantime. This decision reflects current practice in the European Commission in Brussels but will not mean that parliamentary debates or committee meetings will have simultaneous interpretation in the three languages. Catalan is used by about ten million people, Galician by about four million and Basque, or Euskera, by about one million. The Catalan president, Pasqual Maragall, described the decision as ”a historical step for the country”. But there must be several more languages spoken by at least one million people who will be making use of the Spanish precedent. Gaelic, spoken in Ireland by 1.6 million people, will attain full EU official language status at the beginning of 2007, requiring that all documents and all proceedings in the EU should be translated and interpreted. The Tower of Babel comes to mind. However, one point should be noted. The cost of the new deal for Spain's regional languages will be born by the Spanish government, not by the EU.

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