Catalan film screening spotlights Brussels language hypocrisy
The European Parliament is under renewed pressure to lift its plenary ban on the use of non-official EU languages — due to its own film prize.
Alcarràs, the Catalan-language story of a family of fruit farmers fighting to preserve their way of life in the face of market forces and the march of technology, is one of the five films shortlisted for this year’s European Parliament LUX Audience Award.
Carla Simón’s film, which will be shown at the Parliament on Monday (27 February) evening in a special screening attended by two of its actors, stands a good chance of winning after receiving the Golden Bear at the prestigious Berlin Film Festival.
It means the European Parliament could soon be handing its prize to a film in a language which can’t be used in the European Parliament.
"This film is a good opportunity to talk again about this situation, which is unjust and unfair," said Diana Riba, a Catalan MEP on the parliament committee responsible for overseeing the LUX Audience Award.
"Everyone can understand better when you speak with your mother tongue. You can be more precise. It should be normal."
Catalan is used by around 10 million people, making it Europe’s 13th most spoken language, according to the Catalan government.
Since 2006, citizens have been able to communicate in writing with the European intuitions using Catalan, along with two more official languages of Spain, Basque and Galician.
But in the same year, the Bureau of the European Parliament turned down a request from the Spanish government to allow the use of Catalan in plenary sessions based on arguments about potential costs, the "risk" of setting a precedent for other non-official languages and difficulties in the translation of the languages of newly-joined member states.
Alcarràs’s acclaimed arrival on the big screen has coincided with a revival of the issue.
In the same month that work began on this year’s LUX Audience Award, Spain’s foreign affairs minister, José Manuel Albares, sent a fresh request to European Parliament president Roberta Metsola to allow the use of Catalan, Basque and Galician in plenary.
"Spain would bear the costs of this initiative," said a Spanish government spokesperson of the request, the product of talks with the Catalan government designed to reduce tension following its 2017 independent push.
"The minister reiterated the request in November in Brussels. A response is awaited from the European Parliament Bureau."
Increased public awareness of the Catalan language aroused by Alcarràs’ success couldn’t have come at a better time for supporters of its use in the European Parliament.
While the timing is a coincidence, it’s probably a happy one for the film’s Barcelona-born director.
"I think that Carla [Simón] was conscious that the film would be important for the language," Alcarràs star Anna Otin told EUobserver ahead of her visit to Brussels for Monday night’s screening.
"The film is an ambassador for Catalan culture and the language," added her co-star, Jordi Pujol Dolcet. "You need to be able to speak the language that you live in. It shouldn’t be that difficult."
Two recent presidents of the parliament, Martin Schulz and Antonio Tajani, spoke out in favour of allowing Catalan to be spoken in the plenary.
A spokesperson for the current president said the Spanish government’s request still needed to be studied by the parliament’s services before it was considered by the bureau.
They rejected the idea that it would be ironic if a film made in a language that cannot be used in the European Parliament were to win the film prize of the European Parliament.
The five shortlisted films were selected by a panel of film industry experts and the winner is decided by ratings given by the public and members of the European Parliament, with each group having 50 percent of the vote. This year’s winner will be announced during the June plenary session in Strasbourg.