I went to the open day at the European Court of Justice and during a question and answer session I am near certain I heard the President of the Court state that in fact, Ireland had named both Irish and English as official languages for the purposes of the European Union. Malta, too, had nominated both Maltese and English.
Why does this matter? Well, the country most associated with English, when we skip the US, is the United Kingdom and they clearly nominated English. However, they decided last year they were taking the path less travelled, as it were. This led to a lot of discussion – to put it mildly – hysteria might be a better description – about how English would no longer be an official language in the European Union after Brexit.
The problem is, this idea of nominating languages by country is not something I have really found in the official documentation. Clearly I am not a European lawyer, and I don’t work at the European Court of Justice. But.
If you read Alexander Drechsel’s piece on the subject, he will tell you that language and linguistic arrangements are covered by Resolution number 1 in 1958 Article 1 of which states that the
The official languages and the working languages of the institutions of the Community shall be Dutch, French, German and Italian.
Slight lack of English there but bear with me.
Ireland, the UK, Norway and Denmark negotiated membership of the European Economic Communities in 1972. The Treaty agreed between the four countries seeking membership and the EEC as it was at the time was subject to ratification (which Norway did not complete, hence it is not a member) was drafted in the then 4 official languages of the EEC, as listed above. It has some provisions relating to linguistic arrangements. The Treaty itself was drawn up in 8 languages.
This Treaty, drawn up in a single original in the
Danish, Dutch, English, French, German, Irish, Italian
and Norwegian languages, all eight texts being
equally authentic, will be deposited in the archives of
the Government of the Italian Republic, which will
transmit a certified copy to each of the Governments
of the other signatory States.
The corresponding Council Decision was also drawn up in the same languages. The point to note here is that Irish is listed.
The texts of the acts of the institutions of the Communities
adopted before accession and drawn up by
the Council or the Commission in the Danish, English
and Norwegian languages shall, from the date of
accession, be authentic under the same conditions as
the texts drawn up in the four original ‘languages.
They shall be published in the Official Journal of the
European Communities if the texts in the original
languages were so published.
The key point to note here is that Irish is not listed.
The texts of the Treaty establishing the European
Economic Community and the Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community, and the
Treaties amending or supplementing them, drawn up
in the Danish, English, Irish and Norwegian languages,
shall be annexed to this Act. These texts shall
be authentic und6r the same conditions as the original
texts of the Treaties referred to above.
Without wanting to be too predictable but the key point to note here is that Irish is listed.
1 . Council Regulation No 1 of 15 April 1958
OJ No 17/385, 6 October 1958
Article 1 is replaced by the following:
” The official languages and the working
languages of the institutions of the Community
shall be Danish, German, English, French, Italian,
Dutch and Norwegian.”
This is a modification to the Council Regulation I mentioned at the start. Note that Irish is not included here.
The texts of the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community and of the Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community, together with the Treaties amending or supplementing them, in the Danish, English, Irish and Norwegian
(FINAL ACT Documents included – D)
However, the Final Act of the treaty which lists the documents which should be in annex, specifies that the texts of the Treaties, and any treaties amending or supplementing them, should be in Irish (plus the other three languages assuming Norway had chosen to ratify in the end).
Irish is missing from two places – the modification to Article 1, Regulation 1/58. It is also missing from Article 155 which relates to acts drawn up by the institutions. In 1972, at least, it seems clear that English was acceptable to Ireland as an official and working language. The status of Irish is commonly described as “Treaty language”. The primary legislation needed to be translated into Irish but it was not a working or official language otherwise. I made a cursory look at the Irish National Archive’s website to see if perhaps there was any way of finding any internal Irish Government discussions on the matter but a quick review brought nothing and of course there is the added issue that documents from 1972 may not have been digitised either. Obviously the status of the Irish language changed in 2007 when it became a full official and working language with the derogations allowing gradual implementation.
What does this mean for English? Well strictly speaking, as I understand it, any changes to Article 1 of Regulation 1/58 needs to be agreed by the Council unanimously. I am not sure Malta and Ireland would agree with removing English. For now, at least, there were 24 official and working languages, and de facto, the institutions still have 3 procedural languages (English, French and German). In the meantime, the legal underpinning of this concept of notifying official languages to the EU still eludes me.