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Home » Cyprus EU Presidency, Focus

EU’S Multilingual Policy and the Cyprus Presidency

Submitted by on 19 Apr 2012 – 12:49

By C. Akça ATAÇ, Assistant Professor of Political History at the Department of Political Science and International Relations, Çankaya University, Ankara

Multilingualism presupposes respect for linguistic diversity in particular and cultural diversity in general. It stands where complete integration, national identity, education policy, social cohesion, complex communication, good immigration policies and competitiveness intersect. Multilingualism of the EU appears to be a unique characteristic among the organizations of the international community in terms of scope, quality, quantity, and functionality. From the very outset, which means since the establishing treaties of the EU and their amended versions, an explicit honouring of multilingualism has been integrated into the European values. This fact deserves genuine appreciation.

EU multilingualism is, in the first place, defined as the “democratic right” of the member states and citizens to “their own language.” This definition is useful especially in understanding the institutional multilingualism. The recognition of one state’s official language as an authentic EU language provides that state’s citizens with an unalienable right to involve in the EU’s decision-making process, communicate in the bureaucratic line in their own language, sit in the European Parliament as MEPs and deliver speech in any of the EU official languages.[i] The sustainability of this democratic right, however, depends on extremely costly, swift, accurate translations and excellent language skills. In other words, multilingualism as democratic right requires high maintenance and a very generous budget. It is evident that such colossal complexity takes its toll on Europe both in terms of work and budget load. Nevertheless, it is a toll worth paying in the name of narrowing the democratic deficit, which has been reigning in the EU in certain issue areas.

In an interview with Euractiv Romania in 2008, then Commissioner of Multilingualism Leonard Orban declared that whenever the Greek Cypriot government completed the required paperwork, Turkish would become the next official EU language.[ii] Article 3 of the Cypriot Constitution, which is currently in force, stipulates that both Greek and Turkish have official language status “with no distinction made between them.”[iii] Evidently, had the Annan Plan been accepted by Greek Cypriots, Turkish would have become one of EU’s “authentic” languages.[iv] Nevertheless, due to the now pending political settlement on the island, the Greek Cypriot government does not fulfill its obligation of registering the Turkish language with the European Commission as an official language. According to Article 8 of Regulation 1/1958, member-state languages do not automatically obtain official status. The member state itself is expected to apply for the registration of its official languages as official and working languages of the EU.[v] Because Greek was already an ‘authentic’ EU language and the Greek Cypriot government did not register Turkish with the Commission, Cyprus when it became a member state in 2004, did not contribute a language to the EU.

It is true that, as the Commission’s communication underlines, “[m]ember States are the key decision-makers on language policy.”[vi] From that perspective, it seems to be up to the Greek Cypriot government to make the necessary arrangements for the Turkish language and they are entitled not to do so. Nevertheless, their preference of not registering Turkish as an EU official language contradicts with their official discourse promising that “[a]s an EU member, Cyprus’s democratic institutions can guarantee the political rights and freedoms of all its citizens.”[vii] Turkish is the democratic means that would provide better communication between the EU institutions and Turkish Cypriots and the Greek Cypriot government should not be able to prevent such communication. In the words of a student of law, “the Turkish Cypriots” should not be “deprived of the possibility of using their own official language in their relations with the European institutions.”[viii] The Greek Cypriot government’s treatment of the issue as a non-issue disturbs even its Greek Cypriot citizens on the grounds that the absence of Turkish in the communication with the EU hampers ”the access of young Turkish-Cypriots to the EU-related job market.”[ix]

The equal status of Greek and Turkish in Cyprus, as a matter of fact, manifests itself on “Cypriot euro coins.” Effective since January 1, 2008, “on the national side” of the coins “the name “Cyprus” reads both “KΥΠΡΟΣ” in Greek and “KIBRIS” in Turkish.”[x] What the coins thus testify should not be denied from the Turkish Cypriots. It is our conviction that regardless of a solution to the Cyprus question, Turkish should be registered as an official EU language, because the current constitution of the Greek Cypriot state safeguards the equal status of Greek and Turkish and the Greek Cypriot government claims to be the legitimate EU representative of the entire Cypriots, from both sides of the island. What is striking, the fact that Commissioner Orban has now been replaced by a Cypriot, Androulla Vassiliou as the Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth makes the topic of EU multilingualism even more sensitive. When a commissioner who rhetorically believes that “every EU program” of multilingualism should have “a direct impact on citizens’ lives”[xi] remain indifferent to the lack of such impact on the Turkish Cypriot youth, the situation at hand appears to be the quintessential example of an oxymoron.

The EU’s multilingualism report supervised by the renowned author Amin Maalouf underlines that “[t]o neglect a language is to run the risk of seeing its speakers becoming disenchanted with the European project.”[xii] The EU executives and member states should realize that the failure to include Turkish in the EU languages has further contributed to the Turkish Cypriots’ disenchantment with the EU, which has been ongoing since the ill-fate of the Annan Plan. Turkish could have helped facilitate closer reconciliation on the island and the Turkish speakers throughout Europe, mostly immigrants, would not have had to wait for Turkey’s membership to be fully integrated with the European society.[xiii] The Greek Cypriot government’s attitude towards multilingualism and the Turkish language during its EU presidency would serve as a litmus paper testing the Greek Cypriots commitment to the EU ideals, norms and values.


[i] Agnieszka Doczekalska, ‘Drafting and Interpretation of EU Law-Paradoxes of Legal Multilingualism,’in Gunther Grewendorf and Monika Rathert, Formal Lingusitics and Law (Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2009), 341.

[ii] ‘Interview: Importance of Multilingualism “will not diminish”,’ 02 April 2008, http://www.euractiv.com/en/culture/interview-importance-multilingualism-diminish/article-171266

[iii] Peter Yves, ‘Managing or Celebrating Linguistic Diversity in the EU?,’ 2004, http://www.iee.umontreal.ca/pubicationsfr_fichiers/COLLOQUE-2004/IvesIESfinal.pdf, 6.

[iv] Piror to Cyprus’s adhesion to the EU, the Annan Plan was taken to referenda concurrently on both sides of the island. Whereas 75% of the Greek Cypriot voters said “No,” 65% of the Turkish Cypriot voters said “Yes.” The fact that their “Yes” vote for an EU-supported UN plan has not substantially eased up the sanctions on them has caused significant resentment among Turkish Cypriots. A 2007 survey showed that 65 % of Turkish Cypriots now opted for two separate states and not a united Cyprus. See Mehmet Hasgüler and Murat Tüzünkan, ‘Cyprus at a Crossroads,’ Middle East Quarterly, Vol. 16 No: 4, Fall 2009, 63-71.

[v] Doczekalska, ‘Drafting and Interpretation of EU Law-Paradoxes,’ 342.

[vi] ‘Multilingualism: An Asset for Europe and a Shared Commitment,’ Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, September 18, 2008. http://ec.europa.eu/education/languages/pdf/com/2008_056_en.pdf, 4.

[vii] Euripides L. Evrivades, ‘Cyprus in the European Union: Prospects for Reunification, Peace with Turkey, and Regional Stability,’ Mediterranean Quarterly, Vol. 1 No: 3, 2005, 7.

[viii] Atilla Arda, ‘Turkey’s European Dream Starts with the Turkish Langauge,’ 19 May 2006, http://www.agoravox.com/news/europe/article/turkey-s-european-dream-starts-4835 .

[ix] Olga Demetriou, ‘Catalysis, Catachresis: The EU’s Impact on the Cyprus Conflict’ in Thomas Diez, Mathias Albert and Stephen Stetter (eds), The European Union and Border Conflicts: The Power of Integration and Association (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 81.

[x] Atilla Arda, ‘Turkish Language Enters Euro Area,’ 24 January 2008, http://www.lawofemu.info/blog/2008/01/turkish-languag.html .

[xi] Quoted in ‘Vassiliou Vows to Boost Student Mobility, Job Skills,’ Euractiv, 15 January 2010, http://www.euractiv.com/en/priorities/vassiliou-vows-boost-student-mobility-job-skills/article-188956

[xii] ‘A Rewarding Challenge How the Multiplicity of Languages could Strengthen Europe. Proposals from the Group of Intellectuals for Intercultural Dialogue set up at the initiative of the European Commission,’ Brussels 2008, http://ec.europa.eu/education/policies/lang/d20oc/maalouf/report_en.pdf, 12.

[xiii] Peter Yves, ‘Managing or Celebrating Linguistic Diversity in the EU?,’ 2004, http://www.iee.umontreal.ca/pubicationsfr_fichiers/COLLOQUE-2004/IvesIESfinal.pdf 6.