Parliamentary question: Financial support to Frisian-language theatre (27 June 2011)


The Dutch government has announced its decision to stop its financial support to the only professional theatre company working in the Frisian language in that Member State. Tryater, the oldest theatre company working in the Frisian language in the Netherlands, is a theatre company in Leeuwarden (Friesland, Netherlands), founded in 1965. This decision is the result of financial cuts to the cultural sector in the Netherlands, and means that Tryater will not be able to continue in its present form.

It is important to stress the extent to which Europe’s cultural diversity, in particular its rich linguistic heritage, constitutes an irreplaceable raw material for the cultural and creative industries. Accordingly, facilitating the learning process and increasing the legal recognition of minority and regional languages can only bring social and economic advantages. It is essential that, where two or more European languages coexist, citizens are able to communicate in both languages in an official and social capacity.

Under Article 12 of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and Articles 5 and 15 of the framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (which have been signed, ratified and put into force by the Netherlands), the Netherlands has a legal obligation to support this theatre company. In addition, following the ratification of the European Charter the Netherlands signed a covenant with the province of Friesland for the 2001-10 period (extended to 2011), which explicitly states that Tryater will receive support.

Does the Commission agree that the Dutch Government has acted in breach of Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union? If so, will the Commission act urgently on this matter?

Oriol Junqueras Vies (Verts/ALE) , Alyn Smith (Verts/ALE) , Frieda Brepoels (Verts/ALE) , François Alfonsi (Verts/ALE) , Jill Evans (Verts/ALE) , Ian Hudghton (Verts/ALE) and Tatjana Ždanoka (Verts/ALE)

Answer given by Ms Vassiliou on behalf of the Commission

Respect for the rights of persons belonging to minorities is one of the values on which the European Union is founded. With the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, this is explicitly mentioned in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union.

According to Article 165 of the Treaty on the functioning of the European Union, Member States are fully responsible for their cultural and linguistic diversity. In the domain of language policy the European Commission can only act if an issue is related to the application of EC law and there is no EC law regulating the use of languages within the Member States, nor does the Treaty provide powers for the adoption of such provisions.

The Commission has developed a strategy to promote multilingualism in the EU. This strategy covers official, national, regional, minority and migrant languages. The communication of September 2008, ‘Multilingualism: an asset for Europe and a shared commitment’, confirms the Commission’s support for all languages spoken in the European Union, including the languages spoken by minorities.

The Commission also reminds the Honourable Member that the framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages are international legal instruments of the Council of Europe and are not part of the EC law.