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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest


EC Law and Minority Language Policy: Culture, Citizenship and Fundamental Rights
Niamh Nic Shuibhne

Kluwer Law International, 2002
xxxvii, pgs. 358, Appendix 1 and 2, ISBN: 9041117334

The argument of the book begins with the commonsense premise that the EC's various institutions have significant effects on the EU's approximately 50 million (of 365 million) minority language users. The central conclusion is that the EC should develop a more coherent policy on minority language use, that moves beyond its current approach characterized by non-discrimination, to afford minority languages not just protection, but also positive action. To make this argument, Shuibhne moves with aplomb over an expansive legal landscape that includes not only every major European Community institution with direct or indirect impacts on arguments for minority language rights, but also approaches taken to the issue by the European Court of Human Rights and the United Nations (UN). Covered by her survey are legal commentaries, works in political in minority and language rights, and, more limitedly, sociolinguistic, anthropological and sociological theory regarding culture, language and identity. Several tensions in legal and political theory animate the argument of the work: sovereignty, human rights and the principle of subsidiarity, the uncertain status of language choice as a fundamental right per se or as a right derivative of other fundamental rights, whether minority languages should be justified on the grounds of language survival (recognizing the rights of a collectivity) or on the grounds of linguistic security (recognizing the rights of individuals).

Over the course of seven chapters Shuibhne provides: an introduction to the issues of minority rights and language policy in the EC; surveys the origins and early days of EC minority language policy; analyzes its current form; considers how the EC criteria for subsidiarity apply to minority language policies; makes an extended argument for recognizing minority language rights as fundamental rights; and surveys of the emerging ethos toward minority rights in EU institutions and the jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice. Schuibhne also includes two very useful appendices that cover, respectively, the relevant constitutional provisions of EC Member States and the text of European Parliament resolutions on this issue.

The book will certainly satisfy its intended audience of legal scholars and practitioners involved in the evolution of minority language and cultural policy in Europe. However, for those conflict resolution practitioners, the value is less direct. For those interested in minority or language policies outside of Europe, the book covers little aside from the founding documents of the United Nations and UN human rights law. While admittedly a book about EC law and policy, this reviewer finds it difficult to believe that minority language policies and debates in other regions of the world are so inappropriate to even deserve mention. Those interested in conflict prevention might also find it odd that activities of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) are not covered in some way by the book. Clearly minority rights are central to the OSCE's current work on conflict prevention, and given the overlap of practitioners working within the OSCE, the EU, and the Council of Europe, the OSCE's practice could at least be said to be informing the direction of language policy development in Europe.

Finally, while social scientific theories regarding culture and language are considered by the author, her argument for necessity of greater coherence in EC language policy might have been stronger if she had included empirical evidence that EC language policies actually affect patterns in language use or identity formation. However, even with these caveats, this reviewer looks forward to others who might use this book as a model for analysis of minority language or culture rights in other regions of the world.

Christopher T Timura, Law and Anthropology Candidate, University of Michigan

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