Read in Catalan

No one will be expelled this Tuesday from Spain's Congress of Deputies for speaking Catalan. Not any longer. The lower house is holding a plenum this 19th September to carry out a fast-track reform of the regulations that will allow MPS to use the Spanish state's four "co-official languages" in addition to the only language allowed at present, Spanish. It will be done via urgency, so that the proposal is examined and then passed in 48 hours: on Thursday, if there are no surprises, Congress will start a new era in which Catalan, Aranese, Basque and Galician will be able to be used by MPs in the same way as Spanish. It will even be possible to submit texts in these languages. This normalization process, however, will have the opposition of the People's Party, and the PP will also be showing its opposition this weekend to a different measure and on a different stage, when it leads a Madrid demonstration against a possible amnesty law.

The progressive majority in the Congressional Bureau reached agreement last week so that any of the four co-official languages, so-called because they have official status alongside Spanish in parts of the state, will be able to be spoken in this same plenary session for the first time this Tuesday. In addition, deputies will also be able to make use of other languages spoken around the state - such as Asturian - which do not have co-official status but are considered part of the state's heritage. But, in these cases, any deputy wanting to use the language will have to make a "self-translation into Spanish", as reported by sources from the speaker's department. Why will it be possible to speak in these languages if the regulations have not yet been reformed? Because the current regulations, in fact, do not prohibit speaking Catalan or the other languages. It's just that, by tradition, the Bureaus that rule on procedure in the lower house have prohibited their use - those that have been chaired by the Socialists (PSOE), as well.

It is not that the PSOE has now been struck by an epiphany in its linguistic thinking. Rather, it was one of the commitments which Francina Armengol made to the pro-independence parties so that the Republican Left (ERC) and Together for Catalonia (Junts) would vote for her candidacy to preside over Congress. This change in the regulations was promoted by ERC, while Junts under their Madrid leader Míriam Nogueras demanded it as a sine qua non to invest the Balearic Islands Socialist as speaker of the chamber.

PP offensive against language and amnesty

The PP, however, will make another one of its gestures again this Tuesday. Despite reiterating that the party has no problem with the co-official languages of the Spanish state's various territories, it has already submitted a letter of reconsideration to the Bureau, which will have to be resolved this very Tuesday at 10am, a little earlier than the plenary session is due to begin. It is expected that, due to the progressive majority of this body, the letter will not prosper and Congress will be able to quickly start processing the rule changes.

This Monday, PP spokesperson Borja Sémper severely criticized the granting of usage status to the state's other languages, and in a press conference he asserted that the PP will maintain its use of Spanish in Tuesday's session. "We will not do anything strange", he stated when discussing this issue, to affirm that his political party wants to "talk to the Spanish" and try to make Congress "go back to being a place where the debates are edifying and that talk again about the things that interest the citizens". What's more, PP sources reiterate that the party is studying whether it can appeal to the Spanish judiciary over this whole process of linguistic normalization in the lower house, with the argument that the co-official languages are only official in those territories where they are the autochthonous; and this is not the case in Madrid.

This attempt to clamp down once again on Catalan, Basque and Galician (and Aranese) also takes place in a week that will end with an extremist-posture demonstration called by the PP in Madrid. It will be a rally to protest against the possibility that the PSOE will reach an agreement with ERC and Junts and thus move forward with an amnesty on independence process prosecutions. The first to speak out against this possibility was the former Spanish PM, José María Aznar. After Madrid right-wing media embraced the former leader's calls for mobilization, Alberto Núñez Feijóo's PP was forced to call the rally. And it will also take place just 48 hours before the debate on the investiture of the PP leader as new prime minister.

cuca gamarra congreso
Cuca Gamarra announcing the letter of reconsideration presented by the PP / Photo: Europa Press

Headphones, transmitters and translators

Having said that, how will it work, this first congressional debate with co-official languages able to be fully used? This Tuesday, a system of simultaneous translation will be put to work, with a team of six certified interpreters and 650 headsets which will be available to deputies who ask for them. In addition, the two giant screens that are already in the chamber will offer subtitles in Spanish.

Sources from the speaker's department in Congress indicate that the total expenditure on headphones will reach 7,600 euros, VAT included. To this figure must be added the cost of renting and maintaining the devices that receive the simultaneous translation signal: around 45,900 euros until the end of the year. The lower house intends to buy its own devices in the future. Thus, the translators who work in these meetings will charge around 90 euros an hour. These translators, who are self-employed, will work remotely. As they will not be physically present at the Congress, there will be a translation delay estimated to be no more than four seconds.

Catalan under examination in Madrid and Brussels

This Tuesday, the eyes will not only be on the linguistic developments in Madrid, but also on parallel moves happening in Brussels. The General Affairs meeting of the Council of the European Union is to debate giving official EU status to Catalan, Basque and Galician. The signs do not bode very well, given the public reluctance expressed by Sweden and Finland. The Spanish government needs - at least in front of the gallery - to show that it is fighting bravely for the officialdom of these three languages, since this, like the changes in Congress, was one of the demands from Junts before it would agree to support Francina Armengol as speaker of Congress.