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Appendices > The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages

The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages

The Charter, drawn up on the basis of a text put forward by the Standing Conference of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe, was adopted as a convention on 25 June 1992 by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, and was opened for signature in Strasbourg on 5 November 1992. It entered into force on 1 March 1998.


1. What purpose does the Charter serve?

The Charter is a convention designed to protect and promote regional and minority languages as a threatened aspect of Europe's cultural heritage. Its overriding purpose is cultural. It covers regional and minority languages, non-territorial languages and less widely used official languages. It is intended to ensure, as far as is reasonably possible, that regional or minority languages are used in education and in the media, to make possible and encourage their use in legal and administrative contexts, in economic and social life, for cultural activities and in transfrontier exchanges.

The Charter is based on an approach that abides by the principles of national sovereignty and territorial integrity. It does not conceive the relationship between official languages and regional or minority languages in terms of competition or antagonism. Development of the latter must not obstruct knowledge and promotion of the former.


As defined by the Charter, "regional or minority languages" are languages traditionally used within a given territory of a state by nationals of that state who form a group numerically smaller than the rest of the state's population; they are different from the official language(s) of that state, and they include neither dialects of the official language(s) of the state nor the languages of migrants.

The expression "non-territorial languages" means languages used by nationals of the state which differ from the language(s) used by the rest of the state's population but which, although traditionally used within the state's territory, cannot be identified with a particular area thereof.

Eight fundamental principles applicable to all languages (Part II, Article 7)

  • Recognition of regional or minority languages as an expression of cultural wealth.
  • Respect for the geographical area of each regional or minority language.
  • The need for resolute action to promote such languages.
  • The facilitation and/or encouragement of the use of such languages, in speech and writing, in public and private life.
  • The provision of appropriate forms and means for the teaching and study of such languages at all appropriate stages.
  • The promotion of relevant transnational exchanges.
  • The prohibition of all forms of unjustified distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference relating to the use of a regional or minority language and intended to discourage or endanger its maintenance or development.
  • The promotion by states of mutual understanding between all the country's linguistic groups.

2. What commitments do states enter into?

The Charter is divided into two main parts, a general one containing the principles applicable to all the Parties and all regional or minority languages (Part II), and a second part which lays down specific practical commitments, which may vary according to the state and the language (Part III).

Part II sets out the main principles and objectives underlying states' policies, legislation and practice, and regarded as providing the necessary framework for the preservation of the languages concerned.

Part III serves to translate the general principles affirmed in Part II into precise rules. The rules relate to education, judicial authorities, administrative authorities and public services, the media, cultural activities and facilities, economic and social life and transfrontier exchanges. States undertake to apply those provisions of Part III to which they have subscribed.

Firstly they have to specify the languages to which they agree to this part being applied, and then they have to select at least thirty-five undertakings in respect of each. A large number of provisions consist of several options, of varying degrees of stringency, one of which has to be chosen "according to the situation of each language". The parties are encouraged subsequently to add to their commitments, as their legal situation develops or as their financial circumstances allow.

3. How can the honouring of commitments be guaranteed?

The Charter provides for a monitoring system enabling state parties, the Council of Europe and the general public, to follow and observe its implementation.

a. States' reports

States have to submit three-yearly reports to the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, explaining their policies and the action they have taken to fulfil the commitments they have undertaken. These reports are published and may be obtained from the states concerned and from the Council of Europe.

b. The report of the committee of independent experts

The Charter makes provision for a committee of independent experts to be established, comprising one member for each contracting party, appointed by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe from a list of individuals of the highest integrity. The committee of experts is responsible for examining states' periodical reports, as well as any other information from associations and other bodies legally established in the state concerned and with an interest in the field of languages. The committee prepares and forwards to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe a report of its own, including proposals for recommendations to be made to states.

c. The recommendations issued by the Committee of Ministers to states

Once it has considered the committee of experts' report, the Committee of Ministers may decide to make it public. It may also decide to make recommendations to states with a view to their taking the necessary action to bring their policies, legislation and practice into line with their obligations under the Charter.

d. Monitoring by the Parliamentary Assembly

Once every two years, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe has to present to the Parliamentary Assembly a detailed report on the application of the Charter. This ensures that the members of Europe's parliaments are kept informed about application, enabling them to bring political pressure to bear if necessary to encourage national governments to take appropriate measures.

e. The role of the NGO

NGOs must be regarded by states as preferred partners in the pursuit of the shared aim of promoting language diversity. Their role is decisive, both before and after ratification of the Charter. Prior to ratification, they may assist states to choose the languages concerned and the provisions of part III that they wish to apply within their territory. Their role in the monitoring of the honouring of commitments is to advise the committee of experts and the national authorities of any problem that may arise when the Charter is implemented in states.

Further information: Directorate General of Legal Affairs of the Council of Europe, Local and Regional Democracy (

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