1. What purpose does the Charter
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
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
- 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
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
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
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
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
d. Monitoring by the Parliamentary
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