European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages

The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (ECRML) is a European treaty (CETS 148) adopted in 1992 under the auspices of the Council of Europe to protect and promote historical regional and minority languages in Europe. However, the charter does not provide any criterion or definition for an idiom to be a minority or a regional language, and the classification stays in the hands of the national state.[1]

European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages
CET 148
Member states that have signed and ratified in dark green, those that have signed but not ratified in light green, those that have neither signed nor ratified in white, non-member states of the Council of Europe in grey. Source: the list of signatories at the Council of Europe website.
Signed5 November 1992
Effective1 March 1998
ConditionRatification by 5 States
DepositarySecretary General of the Council of Europe
LanguagesEnglish and French
European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages at Wikisource

The preparation for the charter was undertaken by the predecessor to the current Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, the Standing Conference of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe because involvement of local and regional government was essential. The actual charter was written in the Parliamentary Assembly based on the Congress' Recommendations. It only applies to languages traditionally used by the nationals of the State Parties (thus excluding languages used by recent immigrants from other states, see immigrant languages), which significantly differ from the majority or official language (thus excluding what the state party wishes to consider as mere local dialects of the official or majority language) and that either have a territorial basis (and are therefore traditionally spoken by populations of regions or areas within the State) or are used by linguistic minorities within the State as a whole (thereby including such languages as Yiddish, Romani and Lemko, which are used over a wide geographic area).

Some states, such as Ukraine and Sweden, have tied the status of minority language to the recognized national minorities, which are defined by ethnic, cultural and/or religious criteria, thereby circumventing the Charter's notion of linguistic minority.[2]

Languages that are official within regions, provinces or federal units within a State (for example Catalan in Spain) are not classified as official languages of the State and may therefore benefit from the Charter. On the other hand, Ireland has not been able to sign the Charter on behalf of the Irish language (although a minority language) as it is defined as the first official language of the state. The United Kingdom has ratified the Charter in respect to (among other languages) Welsh in Wales, Scots and Gaelic in Scotland, and Irish in Northern Ireland. France, although a signatory, has been constitutionally blocked from ratifying the Charter in respect to the languages of France.

The charter provides many actions state parties can take to protect and promote historical regional and minority languages. There are two levels of protectionall signatories must apply the lower level of protection to qualifying languages. Signatories may further declare that a qualifying language or languages will benefit from the higher level of protection, which lists a range of actions from which states must agree to undertake at least 35.