REGIONAL LANGUAGES: According to the administrative court, the debates must be held only in French. Several municipalities have announced their intention to appeal
- Seized by the prefect of the Pyrénées-Orientales, the administrative court of Montpellier cancelled the authorization, taken by the municipal councils of five communes of the department, to deliberate in Catalan.
- Justice considers that the use of a regional language by municipal councillors to present draft deliberations and to debate and to use French only as a translation is contrary to Article 2 of the Constitution and to the Toubon Law of 1994.
- Several municipalities have announced their intention to appeal this judgment. They believe in particular that the use of Catalan in the debates does not call into question the primacy of French as the language of the Republic.
“City council meetings must first take place in French, and the use of the Catalan language is permitted in translation. Seized by the prefect of the Pyrénées-Orientales, Rodrigue Furcy, the administrative court of Montpellier cancelled the authorization, taken by the municipal councils of five communes of the department, to deliberate in Catalan. In April 2022, Elne, followed by the municipalities of Amélie-les-Bains-Palalda, Tarerach, Saint-André and Port-Vendres had, in turn, modified their rules of procedure. This is to allow debates in Catalan, with immediate translation into French.
The court considered that the use of a regional language by the municipal councillors to present the draft deliberations and to debate and to use French only as a translation was contrary to Article 2 of the Constitution. Which, relying on the ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts of 1539, stipulates that “the language of the Republic is French”. As well as article 1 of the Toubon law of August 4, 1994 which specifies that “(…) the French language is a fundamental element of the personality and heritage of France. It is the language of education, work, exchanges and public services”.
“A significant step forward for regional languages”
Lawyer for three of the five municipalities attacked by the prefect, Matthieu Pons-Serradeil sees in this judgment “two new lessons compared to all the decisions made so far concerning the use of regional languages in deliberative assemblies. The annulment is not based on the undemocratic nature of the use of Catalan, as may have been the case with judgments concerning other regional languages. The second is that in the name of the primacy of the French language, French cannot be a language of translation. Catalan can be a translation language, but not the main language. This therefore legally brings the use of regional languages into the debates of a deliberative assembly, it is a significant step forward”.
Despite everything, at least four mayors of the five municipalities (that of Saint-André has not yet pronounced) have announced their intention to appeal this judgment before the administrative court of appeal of Toulouse. “This decision is open to criticism because the Constitution establishes primacy, which does not mean scoop. It is the deliberations that create the law, not the debates. However, the deliberations are written exclusively in the French language, continues the lawyer. Moreover, the deliberations which were the subject of debate in Catalan and written in French have not been cancelled, what has been, it is the modification of the rules of procedure authorizing the debates in Catalan”.
Three months to comply with this decision
For Matthieu Pons-Serradeil, the Toubon law of 1994 does not justify the decision of the administrative court. “The judges relied on this law which specifies that the language of public services is French. But a deliberative assembly is not a public service, it is an institution. Moreover, during local elections, people of foreign nationality can present themselves and be elected. They are not required to speak French in the organizations where they have been elected”.
As the appeal is not suspensive, the elected representatives of the five municipalities have three months to modify the rules of procedure of their municipal council.