France, the European country par excellence of centralism and linguistic uniformity, passed a law on Thursday to protect regional languages. The National Assembly adopted with 247 votes in favor and 76 against a text, already approved in December by the Senate, which will facilitate linguistic immersion in public schools in French regions where Catalan, Basque, Occitan, Corsican or Breton are spoken, always requested by parents and educators. The law, which did not have the support of the French government, was advanced at the initiative of a small parliamentary group and a Breton deputy, Paul Molac. He had broad support among the opposition, but also from deputies from La República en Marcha (LREM), the party of President Emmanuel Macron.
In addition to facilitating language immersion, the law will allow subsidizing private bilingual schools in places where access to education in these languages is not possible in the public system, and will promote bilingual signage and communication in regions that so desire.
Languages are very weakened in France, a Republic built on the idea that a single language and educational system was the guarantee of a nation of "free and equal" citizens, as enshrined in the founding texts. The social, and even less administrative, use of these languages is limited. The demand for the new possibilities offered by the law remains to be seen. Of the 12 million pupils in the French school system, some 170,000 are taught in their regional languages.
The most controversial article is the one that allows access to the so-called “immersive teaching”. It is a term that worries many in the country and that the Government sees in contradiction with Article 2 of the Constitution, which establishes French as the language of the Republic. Defenders of the law cite the jurisprudence of the Constitutional Council, according to which "the use of a language other than French cannot be imposed on students (…) in disciplines other than those of the language in question." According to this argument, “it cannot be imposed”, but it can “be proposed”. "This law marks a form of rupture in the acceptance of regional languages by France, an inflection of a long trend in our history," one of the deputies of the presidential majority who voted in favor, Romain Grau, told EL PAÍS , LREM deputy for Perpignan and Catalan-speaking. “For a long time the Republic considered the learning of regional languages to be a mark of archaism. Today it is beginning to be accepted that there is a more permissive framework in the learning of regional languages ”, he added.