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Spain grants Basque, Catalan and Galician languages parliamentary status

Spanish MPs have been able to address congress in Basque, Catalan and Galician for the first time after the country’s Socialist-led caretaker government agreed to smaller parties’ demands for the the three regional languages to be granted official parliamentary status.

The change – which is intended to help the chamber “progress along the path of linguistic plurality” – was requested by the Catalan pro-independence parties on whose support the acting prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, is relying to form a new government after July’s general election resulted in a hung parliament.

The move, which will be the subject of a formal vote on Thursday, has been welcomed by some parties but criticised by the conservative People’s party (PP) and the far-right Vox party. MPs from the latter party signalled their displeasure by leaving their newly issued earpieces on Sánchez’s seat – the acting prime minister is attending UN meetings in New York – and marching out of the chamber.

Galician was the first newly co-official language to be spoken on Tuesday morning, when the Socialist MP José Ramón Besteiro, who comes from the north-western city of Lugo, told fellow lawmakers it was a “double honour” to be debuting the system and celebrating Spain’s “cultural and linguistic riches”.

According to official Spanish figures, 9.1 million people speak Catalan, while 2.6 million and 1.1 million speak Galician and Basque respectively.

Hardline Catalan separatists, led by the self-exiled former regional president Carles Puigdemont, are seeking to extract maximum gains from Sánchez in return for helping him form a new government.

This month Puigdemont – who fled Spain six years ago to avoid arrest over his role in the failed unilateral bid for regional independence in October 2017 – made his support conditional on the granting of an amnesty for all those wanted by Spanish courts in relation to the secessionist push.

The PP has criticised Sánchez and his partners for even entertaining the notion of an amnesty and has called a rally in Madrid on Sunday to protest against the possibility.

Puigdemont also wants Catalan to be made an official EU language.

Sánchez has taken advantage of Spain’s EU presidency to push for Catalan, Basque and Galician to be accepted as official languages in the bloc, but his efforts met with a cool response at a European ministers’ meeting in Brussels on Tuesday.

The EU has 24 official languages, although there are about 60 minority and regional languages in the 27-nation bloc. Many in Brussels worry that acceding to Spain’s request could encourage others to follow suit.

Ministers called for more time to study Spain’s proposal. “It’s too early to say,” the Swedish EU affairs minister, Jessika Roswall, told reporters.

“There are many minority languages within the European Union that are not official languages,” she added, suggesting others could follow with similar demands.

France’s minister in charge of European affairs, Laurence Boone, said: “We will request a legal study to see how we can accommodate Spain on this subject.”

Spain says it will cover the costs linked to simultaneous translation but has not provided detailed figures.

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