Ireland has said more time is needed before three Spanish regional languages could be made official languages of the European Union, following a controversial move by the Spanish government to use its EU presidency to promote the idea in Brussels.
Madrid took the unusual step of putting the idea of making Catalan, Galician and Basque official EU languages on the agenda of a meeting of European Affairs ministers in Brussels.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez is in talks with Catalan separatists in the hope that they will support a Socialist-led coalition, following an inconclusive general election in June.
As part of the offer he is seeking to have Catalan, as well as Galician and Basque, recognised as official EU languages.
However, the decision to push the idea at EU level during the Spanish presidency has raised eyebrows in national capitals, given that member states which hold the rotating six month term are not generally expected to assertively promote their own interests.
As expected, EU ministers declined to fast track the Spanish proposal, instead mandating member state officials and the European Commission to assess the legal and cost implications.
Spain's Minister for European Affairs Pascual Ignacio Navarro Rios said there had been "a constructive discussion" on the subject and that the Spanish presidency "noted everyone's readiness to continue working in order to solve the questions raised so as to include Catalan, Basque and Galician [as official EU languages]."
Ireland's Minister for European Affairs Peter Burke said: "Many of the colleagues around the table were of the view that they need an impact assessment done. More time is needed to evaluate the legal aspects and requirements, and also the budgetary measures."
He said Ireland is "supportive of linguistic pluralism".
"We know that it's so important for so many citizens right around Europe, to get access to the European institutions in their language that's very important and valued."
"You have to just take your time, assess the consequences of the decision, or the budgetary implications, because they obviously have to be prepared for and also in terms of the legal precedents that are set. I think it's only prudent to do that."
Member states are said to be concerned at the cost of introducing three new languages at EU level, while Paris and other capitals are understood to be concerned that their own regional linguistic minorities would push for similar treatment.
While member states normally pay for simultaneous interpretation services during EU meetings, typically the bloc would pay for translation costs.
According to diplomats, each new language would require some 200 translators, although it has been acknowledged that some Spanish translators would also speak the three regional languages.
The European Commission has said that the annual cost of translating documents into the EU's 24 official languages is around €300 million.
Spain's lower house of parliament today allowed the use of Catalan, Galician and Basque for the first time as part of a deal to elect a Socialist speaker amid vocal protests from conservative MPs.
Legislators used earphones to listen to live translations into Spanish of speeches in Catalan, Basque and Galician as they debated amending house rules to allow their use in proceedings, which had previously been banned in the lower house but partially admitted in the Senate.
The reform was passed with 176 votes in favour, 169 against and two abstentions.
Public use of Spain's regional languages was censored by the state during Francisco Franco's dictatorship. After Franco's death in 1975, Spain's fledgling democracy ushered in regional constitutions which declared them official within their region alongside Spanish.
The use of these languages has long been a point of contention between Spain's nationalist right, which champions a centralised vision of the country, and other parties seeking to bolster regional rights and diversity.
There are an estimated nine million speakers of Catalan, three million Galician users and some 750,000 people fluent in Basque.
In a statement, Sinn Féin's Irish Language, Gaeltacht, Arts and Culture Spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh said: "We understand from our own experience the importance of this type of status at EU level by creating livelihoods and opportunities for speakers and fostering positive attitudes towards the language.
"Official EU status can encourage excellence in language rights at home, something we have seen in the court decisions and subsequent legislative changes.
"Around 10 million people speak across three Catalan member states, competing among Czech, Swedish, Portuguese, Greek and Hungarian to become the 8th most spoken language in the EU, but in contrast to those who speak all these languages, they are barred from joining the EU institutions and policy making."
Irish was made an official language of the EU in 2007. However, a shortage of translation staff meant it was not until 2022 that it took full effect.
Minister Burke told RTÉ News: "I understand it, it is going to be a phased approach and Catalan will be the first [language] to be brought in."
He said his Spanish colleague had said that Spain would cover the costs, but there was no detail on how much they would amount to.
Additional reporting Reuters