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European Parliament discusses Dutch minority language policy in the Caribbean

The meeting of the Intergroup in the European Parliament on 26 November 2015 showed that the European Union goes clearly beyond the European continent. On the agenda of last week was a presentation about the situation of the Papiamentu on the island of Bonaire, which is an integral part of the Netherlands in the Caribbean. Ruben Severina, chair of the SPLIKA Foundation, told about the developments in Bonaire.

Papiamentu is a language of its own that differs strongly from other languages spoken in the area, such as English, Spanish and Dutch. Similar to English, which combines French, Latin and Germanic influences, Papiamentu lent from Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, but also Arawak (an indigenous language) and Yiddish. On the island of Bonaire, and also on neighbouring islands of Curacao and Aruba, Papiamentu has been spoken for centuries. Approximately 130,000 people use the language on a daily basis.

However, since Bonaire became a sort of Dutch municipality after the constitutional reform of the Netherlands Antilles in 2010, the language of instruction in schools is shifting to Dutch and Papiamentu is no longer a mandatory examination subject. Still, the majority of the population (63%) has Papiamentu as his or her mother tongue, although this number is decreasing, because of immigration.

According to Severina, the Netherlands should recognise Papiamentu as a minority language under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. There is no good reason why the Dutch government should refuse this. Nevertheless the Dutch government is very hesitant and hiding behind formal arguments, that the citizens are already permitted to use Papiamentu in council meetings or at court, or communicate with the island government and that it doubts if Papiamentu qualifies for application of the European Language Charter. For Severina, it is clear that Papiamentu requires protection and for that he received support from the Members of the Parliament.

In the second half of the meeting the Members of Parliament discussed what items it should put on the agenda of the coming year. In December there will be a meeting about the minorities and the minority situation in Ukraine. Topics suggested for 2016 were e.g. a meeting on education at elementary level and the closure of schools; a presentation by the European Court of Justice or the European Court of Human Rights on minority issues they encounter in their work; on minorities in Bulgaria; on citizenship issues in Latvia and the proposal to use one of the sessions for a discussion with the responsible European Commissioners on how they see minority issues in the EU. The MEPs were invited to submit additional topics to the chairs of the Intergroup. 

Furthermore the Intergroup wants to organise a seminar in 2016 on the impact of the economy on minority regions. This seminar will take place in Brussels, where more time will be available than there is during the plenary meetings in Strasbourg. 

Photos: European Parliament 2015