25th Oct 2016

Croatian to become 24th EU language

  • Croatian will become the 24st EU language. (Photo: EUobserver)

Croatian will become the European Union's 24th official language when the country joins the EU.

Officials made the decision during talks on Croatia's accession when the negotiating chapter on institutions was closed two weeks ago. In most cases, the EU simply accepts the official language of an acceding country as one of its official languages.

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But in the case of Croatia there had been concerns that some member states would demand that only a single language, a hybrid of Croatian, Serbian, Bosnian and Montenegrin that is understood throughout the region, be admitted. Such a language would not be changed when other Western Balkan states eventually acceded to the EU in order to reduce translating and interpreting costs.

The idea was never proposed officially but diplomats and members of parliament suggested it would be logical if so many people speak the same language under different names. As a model they pointed to the UN's International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague where proceedings are translated into a Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian vernacular called BHS.

Some Croatian officials have said in the past that if the EU failed to accept Croatian as an official language it would be almost impossible to get the support of Croatian citizens in a referendum to join the EU.

"For the time being, we will have Croatian as an official language," one EU official said. "When Serbia, Bosnia and Montenegro negotiate about membership it might be a different story because millions of euros are spent for the translation of documents and interpretation in the meetings of EU institutions."

The EU rule foresees that a language enshrined as official in a joining country's constitution will become an official EU language as well. This status was awarded to Czech and Slovakian, two languages as similar to one another as Croatian is to Serbian. Statements by Czech officials and Czech films broadcast on Slovak TV are not translated.

Beside the additional burden of Serbian, Bosnian or Montenegrin, the case of Macedonia is likely to pose additional linguistic problems. Many Bulgarians do not recognise the existence of a distinct Macedonian language while Greece objects against the neighbouring country's use of the names Macedonia and Macedonian.

In Croatia, news of the EU's acceptance of Croatian as an official language was welcomed. Prime minister Jadranka Kosor declared it one of the biggest successes in the accession talks.

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