Education, Languages and Linguistic Minorities in the EU: Challenges and Perspectives

AuthorGulara Guliyeva
Date01 March 2013
Published date01 March 2013
DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-0386.2012.00614.x
eulj_614219..236
Education, Languages and Linguistic
Minorities in the EU: Challenges
and Perspectives
Gulara Guliyeva*
Abstract: Although, with the coming into force of the Lisbon Treaty, two provisions of
EU primary law now refer to ‘minorities,’ there are no explicit EU competences and
policies to promote the rights of minority groups in education. Nevertheless, EU law has
a strong potential to impact the educational rights of linguistic minorities in Member
States. To evaluate the right to access education, with an emphasis on the needs of
minorities to preserve their identity, this paper f‌irst discusses the EU’s relevant compe-
tences in education (Part II) and then in languages (Part III). Based on the analysis
of relevant EU provisions, the paper concludes that EU law is unlikely to offer mean-
ingful protection to linguistic minorities without explicitly endorsing their educational
rights. However, to do so, the EU needs a stronger competence in education and minor-
ity rights.
I Introduction
This paper assesses the right to access education in the EU, with an emphasis on the
needs of minorities to preserve their identity. Education in a minority language is
essential to protect the identity of a minority group, because ‘its capacity to survive
as a cultural group is in jeopardy if no instruction is given in that language.’1It is
noteworthy from the outset that the protection of minorities has two aspects: f‌irst,
non-discrimination and equality with majorities, and, second, special rights to protect
the elements of their distinct identity, such as language, culture and religion. These
additional features do not constitute separate rights under human rights law, as ‘their
purpose is merely to effectively guarantee the equal enjoyment of all human rights and
to eliminate discrimination in both law and practice.’2It therefore follows that, in
addition to non-discriminatory treatment in education, further requirements, such as
* Dr Gulara Guliyeva, Lecturer, Birmingham Law School, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston,
Birmingham, United Kingdom. E-mail: g.guliyeva@bham.ac.uk
1F. Capotorti, Study on the Rights of Persons Belonging to Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities
(United Nations, 1979), at 84.
2G. Alfredsson, ‘A Frame an Incomplete Painting: Comparison of the Framework Convention for the
Protection of National Minorities with International Standards and Monitoring Procedures’, (2000) 7
International Journal on Minority and Group Rights 291, 293.
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European Law Journal, Vol. 19, No. 2, March 2013, pp. 219–236.
© 2013 Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford, OX4 2DQ, UK
and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA
equality of opportunity with the majorities and pluralism in education,3have to be
satisf‌ied. As Van Dyke puts it:
If pupils who speak different languages are in the same school and if one of the languages becomes the
medium of instruction, then some students automatically gain an advantage and others are handi-
capped. At the same time, to teach some in a language that is widely used and others in a language that
is little used would mean that the life chances opened up to members of the two groups would be very
unequal.4
In light of this dual need of minorities to be integrated whilst preserving their unique
identity, it is rightly argued that education of both majorities and minorities may pose
the greatest challenge to States wishing to accommodate the educational rights of
its minority groups.5This challenge is further compounded by the fact that minority
languages are often regarded as obstacles to the unity of a State, which, in this context,
‘correlate with exclusiveness’6of majority languages. Because the choice of national
language is a political act, if States do not offer additional protection, minority
languages are likely to lack protection through institutional and political structures,
and have reduced value.7Furthermore, in the EU, where the benef‌its of EU law are
accorded to 23 off‌icial languages,8minority languages may be further marginalised.
Signif‌icantly, with the coming into force of the Lisbon Treaty, two provisions of
EU primary law now refer to ‘minorities’. Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union
(TEU) now asserts that the EU is founded on inter alia respect for human rights,
including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. In addition, Article 21(1) of the
EU Charter of Fundamental Rights provides for equality and non-discrimination
based on a long list of grounds, including membership of a national minority. However,
the term ‘minority’ is def‌ined neither in EU law nor in international law; therefore, it is
not entirely clear which groups may benef‌it from these references. Furthermore, there
are no explicit EU competences and policies to promote the rights of minority groups
in education.
This paper argues that despite these handicaps, EU law has a strong potential to
impact educational rights of linguistic minorities in Member States. To evaluate such a
potential, this paper f‌irst discusses the EU’s relevant competences in education (Part II)
and then in languages (Part III).
II EU Competence in Education
Even before the Member States granted the EU an explicit, though limited, competence
in education in 1992, access to education featured strongly in the jurisprudence of the
3H. Cullen, ‘Education Rights or Minority Rights?’, (1993) 7 International Journal of Law and the Family
143–177.
4V. Van Dyke, ‘Equality and Discrimination in Education: A Comparative and International Analysis’,
(1973) 17 International Studies Quarterly 375, 384.
5K. Henrard, Devising an Adequate System of Minority Protection: Individual Human Rights, Minority
Rights, and the Right to Self-determination (Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2000), at 262; see also,
T. Kozma, ‘Minority Education in Central Europe’, (2003) 35(1) European Education 35–53, 51–52.
6P. Thornberry, International Law and the Rights of Minorities (Clarendon Press, 1991), at 1.
7N. Nic Shuibhne, EC Law and Minority Language Policy: Culture, Citizenship and Fundamental Rights
(Kluwer Law International, 2002), at 50; S. May ‘Language, Nationalism and Democracy in Europe’,
in G. Hogan-Brun and S. Wolff (eds), Minority Languages in Europe: Frameworks, Status, Prospects
(Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), at 212; see also, F. de Varennes, Language, Minorities and Human Rights
(Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1996), at 87.
8Regulation 1/58 as last amended by Council (EC) Regulation no. 1791/2006, 20 November 2006.
European Law Journal Volume 19
220 © 2013 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

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