The official recognition of the Friulian linguistic minority is underpinned by three laws: Regional Law no. 15 of 1996, State Law no. 482 of 1999 and more recently Regional Law no. 29 of 2007.
Regional Law no. 15/96 was the first legal measure that officially recognised Friulian as a “language” and explicitly established the possibility for local entities to provide for its use in their committees, toponyms and, more generally, in their relationships with the citizens. The Regional law has also identified an ad hoc linguistic policy body – the Osservatori pe lenghe e pe culture furlanis – in 2005 replaced by an autonomous agency: Agjenzie regjonâl pe lenghe furlane (ARLeF) – and outlined the first actions to be undertaken in the public education and radio-television system sectors.
Though enforced with some delay, Law no. 482/99 enabled to complete and extend the scope of protection already defined by regional legal provisions. State law, in fact, contains more specific provisions on teaching minority languages at school and provides for a general right to use such languages in all public administration offices located in a given territory. The legal regulations governing the planning of public radio and television are quite significant although, at present, basically not yet implemented.
After eleven years since the approval of Law no. 15/96 and eight years after the approval of the State law, the Region felt the need to “handle” the linguistic law on Friulian, approving a new regional protection law: Law no. 29/07 (Legal regulation for the protection, value-enhancement and promotion of the Friulian language). This choice was dictated by the need to overcome some of the limits set by previous legal regulations as well as perform new competences accepted by the Region following the reform of Title V of the Constitution, as well as the approval of Law Decree no. 223/2002 (a specific implementation decree of the Autonomy Statute dealing with minorities).
A multilingual region
In a Europe that is making linguistic diversity and multilingualism one of its strategic objectives – as shown, inter alia, by the establishment of an ad hoc “European Commissioner for Multilingualism” – the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region can play a key role thanks to a linguistic situation that is unique in Europe. In fact, only Friuli can boast a centuries-old coexistence on the same territory, still alive, of the three language branches of the Old Continent: Latin (Friulian and Italian), Germanic (German and German-speaking communities) and Slav (Slovene and local Slovene dialects). The phenomenon partly affects also Venezia Giulia where autochthon communities of Latin and Slav origins have cohabited for many centuries, though strongly influenced by German culture for historical reasons.
In recent years many actions have been undertaken, whether legislative or administrative, aimed at protecting the linguistic and cultural heritage that is particularly complex and diversified in terms of history, number of people speaking the language and protection needs. The largest community is Friulian, present in 178 municipalities in the provinces of Udine, Gorizia and Pordenone which will be dealt with in some detail in the following chapters.
On the border between Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Slovenia, there are 32 Slovene-speaking municipalities. In the last decade, this national minority (already protected by the London Memorandum of 1954) has obtained great forms of juridical recognition by regional and state institutions, starting from Law no. 482/99. Soon after, a law on the Slovene minority was also approved (Law no. 38/2001) which contains “global” measures that regulate it. In particular, the law guarantees the right to one’s own name or its reinstatement in Slovene, it develops the right to use the language in relationships with the public administration, in toponymy and in schools, it sets up a “Joint Institutional Committee for the problems of the Slovene community” and promotes the collaboration of cross-border populations, the minority and its cultural institutions, in a climate of mutual help, to encourage and implement joint policies on adjacent territories. More recently, Law no. 26/2007 integrated the state law, defining the key lines of the action policies of the Region in favour of the minority.
Finally, the German communities of Friuli-Venezia Giulia are present in five municipalities of the province of Udine: Sauris, Paluzza, Pontebba, Malborghetto-Valbruna and Tarvisio. Through Law no. 4/99, the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region has promoted specific actions aimed at protecting and enhancing the value of Germanic communities, providing for the granting of loans for cultural activities, but especially linguistic ones, of both cultural clubs and associations and of the five Municipalities with German-speaking citizens. The recognition route of autochthon Germanic communities present on the regional territory was completed in 2009, with the approval of the comprehensive legislative protection text: Regional Law no. 20/2009 entitled “Legal regulations for the protection and promotion of German-speaking linguistic minorities of Friuli-Venezia Giulia”.
Regional Law 29/2007 on the protection of friulian language
Brief historical and juridical background
The official recognition of the Friulian linguistic minority is quite recent and underpinned by three laws: Regional Law no. 15 of 1996, State Law no. 482 of 1999 and more recently Regional Law no. 29 of 2007. Previously, the only references to the Friulian language that could be found in legal texts, both State and Regional, were purely incidental, or inserted the protection of the language in a broader cultural promotion plan (Regional law no. 68 of 1981, though advanced, falls within this scope). Thus they were provisions that rather developed article 9 of the Italian Constitution (protection of cultural heritage) than the specific principle of minority protection, laid down by article 6, according to which “The Republic protects linguistic minorities by appropriate regulations”.
Regional Law no. 15/96 was the first legal measure that officially recognised Friulian as a “language” and to explicitly establish the possibility for local entities to provide for its use in their committees, toponyms and, more generally, in their relationships with the citizens. The regional law has also identified an ad hoc linguistic policy body – the Osservatori pe lenghe e pe culture furlanis – in 2005 replaced by an autonomous agency: Agjenzie regjonâl pe lenghe furlane (ARLeF) – and outlined the first actions to be undertaken in the public education and radio-television system sectors.
Though enforced with some delay, Law no. 482/99 enabled to complete and extend the scope of protection already defined by regional legal provisions. State law, in fact, contains more specific provisions on teaching minority languages in school and provides for a general right to use such languages in all public administration offices located in a given territory. The legal regulations governing the planning of public radio and television are quite significant although, at present, basically not yet implemented.
The reasons behind a new law
After 11 years since the approval of Law no. 15/96 and eight years after the approval of the State law, the Region felt the need to “handle” the linguistic law on Friulian. This choice was especially dictated by the need to overcome some evident limits set by the aforesaid legal regulations as well as based on the new competences accepted by the Region following the reform of Title V of the Constitution, as well as the approval of Law Decree no. 223/2002 (a specific implementation decree of the Autonomy Statute dealing with minorities). Thus, in December 2007, the Region enacted the new regional protection law, Regional Law no. 29/2007, “Legal regulations for the protection and value-enhancement and promotion of the Friulian language”, drawing upon four different law proposals submitted during the 9th Regional Legislature including Bill no. 257 proposed by the Regional Council on 18 June 2007 (“Legal regulations for the protection, value-enhancement and promotion of the Friulian language”) that represented the starting text adopted at the Council Committee meeting.
According to the bill of the Regional Council the new legal regulations were supposed to be underpinned by five “principles”: 1) respect of autonomies (local entities and other public entities are expected to be obliged to adopt a linguistic policy plan, but the choices to include in the plan fall within the jurisdiction of the entity itself); 2) respect of citizens’ free choices (public entities will guarantee services in Friulian, but for the citizens these will always represent a mere opportunity, never an obligation); 3) the identification of the Agjenzie Regjonâl pe Lenghe Furlane as the entity in charge of the guidelines for the planning and coordination of the application of the law; 4) the flexibility of actions (the law is complete from a systematic and structural point of view, but does not strictly fix its parameters); 5) the verifications (administrative and accounting controls are envisaged, but also assessments on the effectiveness of any action undertaken). The text approved by the Council Committee meeting has basically complied with the five principles set out above although in some cases it departed from the Council’s proposal, either to restrict its scope or to extend it, in other cases to introduce completely new legal instruments. The content will be dealt with in detail in the next paragraphs, whereas the declaration of constitutional illegitimacy and some parts of the text under review will be examined in chapter 3.
General provisions and territorial delimitation
The law, subdivided into 8 chapters, has 34 articles. Chapter I (articles 1-5) is dedicated to general provisions. Article 1 defines the objectives pursued by the law, that is, above all, the protection, value-enhancement and promotion of the Friulian language, in its different expressions; in addition, the Region is committed to embrace an active policy for the preservation and development of the culture and traditions of the Friulian community. For the first time a piece of legislation defines Friulian as “the language” of the Friuli region. Article 2 mentions the fundamental juridical references (international, state and regional) of the law: at an international level, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedom, the Tool of the Central European Initiative for the protection of national minorities, the OECD documents, signed by Italy, the European Chart for regional and minority languages, the European Union Constitutional Treaty; at state level, Law no. 482/1999; at regional level, Law no. 15 of 22 March 1996. Strangely, no reference is made to the Framework Convention for the protection of national minorities of the European Council, although ratified by the Italian state. Article 3 defines the territorial scope of the law, i.e. the one delimitated pursuant to Law no. 15/96 (any change in the territorial delimitation is regulated by the “Final regulations” of article 32 according to which a change can be made within 2 years of enforcing the law by Decree of the President of the Region, based on compliant and motivated resolutions passed by the single Municipal Committees). Still article 3 provides for initiatives for the knowledge of the language in the rest of the region as well as measures for Friulian emigrants and, through conventions, for Friulian-speaking people of the Veneto region. Article 4 provides for the possibility of collaborating with the institutions of the different Ladin-speaking communities in Veneto, Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol and the Canton of Grisons, as well as between internal linguistic minorities (Slovene, Friulian and German). Article 5 confirms the official spelling of the Friulian language (art. 13 of Regional Law no. 15/96), providing that it can be amended by Decree of the President of the Region, upon proposal by ARLeF and in agreement with the Universities of Udine and Trieste. The deeds and documents in Friulian of the Region, local entities and their operating units as well as concessionaries of public services are drawn up using the official spelling.
Public uses and toponymy
Chapter II (articles 6-11) deals with the public uses of the Friulian language.
Article 6 regulates the public uses of the Friulian language organizing what had already been provided by Law 482/99 and the jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court and extending its protection. The provisions apply to all Local entities, offices and entities of the Regional administration, as well as to the concessionaries of public services operating in the delimitated municipalities. However, the scope of the provision was reduced, by the last paragraph (introduced, at the last minute, in the Meeting Room to guarantee the majority of votes) which states that “the concerned entities are responsible for the gradual application of the provisions according to the annual planned projects, as part of linguistic policy plans”. Article 7 provides that the knowledge of the Friulian language should be certified by a “language certificate”. This action is necessary both to establish a single modality and in line with European directives to evaluate the knowledge of Friulian, and to allow for the application of some legal regulations already in force. Article 8 provides that any deeds communicated to all citizens, as well as other general information (i.e. institutional communications and advertisements) must be drawn up also in Friulian. As for art. 6, here too the application of the provision will be gradual. Article 9, as laid down in article 7 of Law 482/1999, reiterates the right to use the Friulian language at City Council meetings and other governing bodies of the Municipalities that fall within the territorial delimitation, entrusting the single entities with the responsibility of regulating the modalities that guarantee an adequate translation in Italian to those who do not understand Friulian. Article 10 introduces, only as far as the delimitated territory is concerned, the visual use of the Friulian language, beside the Italian one, in road signs, in any other signage for the general public (still with uncertainties linked to the “progressive application”). The Chapter ends with a specific provision (article 11) dedicated to toponymy in Friulian. To guarantee the uniform use of toponyms – and especially as far as road signs are concerned, that is quite widespread on the territory – the responsibility for assigning official names in Friulian rests with ARLeF, in agreement with the Municipalities concerned. In any case, based on the provisions of Law Decree no. 267/2000, local entities can decide to make the use of Friulian toponyms official.
Teaching system and list of qualified Friulian teachers
Chapter III (articles 12-18) defines the actions required in the education sector. Article 12 inserts the learning and teaching of the Friulian language in a multilingual educational process in nursery, primary and lower secondary schools located in the delimitated municipalities. The provision also provided, at the enrolment stage, for the “informed objection” of parents, according to which “without prejudice to the schools”, the parents, subject to receiving adequate information and written request from the school, communicate their decision to not opt for the teaching of the Friulian language. Thus the provision added a minor favor compared to the linguistic option system that had been applied till then, according to which parents were expected to opt for their children to attend Friulian classes; a favor that, as we will see later on, was nullified by the decision of the Commission. Article 13 defines the framework of the relationship between the Region, the Regional Education Office and the School Authorities in general for the purpose of implementing the provisions contained in the law, whereas the articles 14 and 15 that follow outline the application and financial framework within which the Region must build (through an appropriate regulation) the Regional system of Friulian language teaching. In brief, the Region, complying with the autonomy of school institutions, is required to define a structural system for implementing the law, overcoming the fragmented logics of allocating funds by project and adopting a “System application plan” that gradually introduces the teaching of Friulian in schools. The law also provides for Regional support with the production of teaching material (art. 16). The “Permanent Commission on Friulian Language Teaching”, the technical and scientific body responsible for sustaining the competent Regional Department in supporting schools and defining a framework of criteria for assessing teachers’ skills, plays a key role in this process. Article 17 deals with the problem associated with securing the supply of Friulian teachers; to this end, it provides for adequate training courses but also for establishing a “List of qualified teachers of Friulian”. Through article 18 the Region commits itself to undertake training and information initiatives aimed at disseminating the plan for the introduction of Friulian in schools among families; furthermore, the Region sustains and promotes Friulian teaching initiatives for adults, immigrants and schools located in the non-delimitated territories. The Chapter ends (article 19) with “language volunteering” activities, along the lines of the programme promoted by the Generalitat de Catalunya “Voluntaris per la llengua”. By Decree of the President of the Region no. 0204/Pres. of 23 August 2011, the Region has adopted the regulation provided by articles 14, paragraph 2, 17, paragraph 5 and 18 paragraph 6, of the Law. It sets out the provisions for implementing the rules of Chapter III of the Law, and more specifically of articles 12, 14, paragraphs 1 and 4, 15, 17, paragraphs from 1 to 4 and 18, paragraphs from 1 to 4 as regards the Plan for the implementation of the Friulian teaching system, access to the Regional list of teachers and use of the same to teach Friulian and promotional activities for the use of Friulian on the regional territory.
Media, membership and language planning
Chapter IV (articles 20-23) deals with the actions in the media sector, without introducing major changes, except for the provision of a specific regulation to govern contribution activities. The same can be said of Chapter V (article 24) on the activities carried out by cultural associations.
Conversely, Chapter VI (articles 25-27) which deals with planning is very important and innovative. Article 25 provides that, every five years, ARLeF proposes a General linguistic policy plan (PGPL) approved by Decree of the President of the Region, after hearing the Council Committee. Based on the PGPL and taking account of the funds available, the Regional Council, upon proposal by ARLeF, every year adopts the Priority Action Plan (article 26), which sets out the objectives to be achieved in the year. Article 27 provides that every five years the Local entities and public service concessionaires approve a Special Linguistic Policy Plan (PSPL) to establish the objective-projects to be achieved every year in each action area. The approval and a law-compliant application of the Special linguistic policy plans represent, for local entities and public service concessionaires, the conditions for obtaining the financings envisaged by the law. Chapter VII (articles 28-30) concerns implementation and verification. Article 28 sets out the role of ARLeF (the body in charge of defining the linguistic policy guidelines for Friulian) and establishes its duties. Article 29 introduces the evaluation clause, assigning to the Regional Council the responsibility of submitting to the Council a yearly report on the implementation stage of the law. Furthermore, every five years, before presenting the PGPL for the following five-year period, the Council must submit to the Committee a relationship on the results obtained in terms of the increased use of the Friulian language. Article 30 entrusts the President of the Committee with the duty of convening, once every five years, a Conference to verify and propose the implementation stage of the law. The law ends with Chapter VIII dedicated to temporary and final legal regulations.
Decision no. 159/2009 by the Constitutional Court
Appeal by the Government
As it is known, the Italian Government has decided, by appeal no. 16 of 18 February 2008, published on the Official Gazette of 2 April 2008, to challenge the regional law in question objecting to seven points (articles: 6, paragraph 2; 8, paragraphs 1 and 3; 9, paragraph 3; 11, paragraph 5; 12, paragraph 3; 14, paragraphs 2, last sentence, and 3; 18, paragraph 4). First of all, according to the Government, the general obligation of all regional offices, also those operating in the areas excluded from the settlement area of the Friulian-speaking group, to reply in Friulian and also write in Friulian all legal communications made to the citizens, as well as making institutional communications and advertising in that language, would be at odds with Law no. 482/99 that restricts the use of the minority language to the municipalities where the related linguistic group resides. Moreover, by establishing that “to guarantee the translation to those who do not understand the Friulian language, it could be provided that the same documents be drawn up in Italian and filed in that form”, the regional law does not guarantee sufficient protection to those who do not speak the Friulian language. In that point the regional law would also be at odds with the “exclusive value of the records in the text drawn up in Italian” provided by Law no. 482/99. Another instance of conflict is the article that provides for the use of toponyms also “in Friulian alone”, at odds, according to the Government, with Law no. 482/99 and even with the constitutional principle of equality of citizens. Article 12, on the learning of the minority language at school, by providing for the so-called “informed objection” basically implies – according to the Government – the obligation for schools to teach such a language, thus challenging the principles of autonomy of the institutions themselves and, here too, the constitutional principle of equality. Also article 14 allegedly violates the same principle and article 117 of the Constitution on the allocation of duties between the State and the Region, establishing that the teaching of the Friulian language is guaranteed for at least one hour a week. Finally, the envisaged support of Friulian also in regional schools located in non-Friulian areas according to the Government – I quote verbatim – “can cause severe risks of discrimination for teachers and students of public schools, and similar risks for citizens in their relationship with local public administrations, and consequently and inevitably also for the employees of those administrations”.
Declaration of constitutional illegitimacy
By decision no. 159/2009, published on the Official Gazette of 27 May 2009, the Constitutional Court upheld the Government complaint declaring all the challenged articles, except for art. 18, as constitutionally unlawful. A similar defeat by the Region is due to the fact that the Court used Law no. 482/99 as the sole parameter to establish the lawfulness of regional regulation, almost as if it were a constitutional law or, in any case, stronger than regional law, whereas Law no. 482/99 itself leaves free rein to more favourable rules approved by the Regions. But there is more: Law no. 482/99 provides that the laws approved by Regions governed by Special Act prevail within the scope of their jurisdiction, so much so that the provisions set out in Law no. 482/99 “only” apply where the subject matter is not dealt with by regional laws (see art. 18 of Law no. 482/99). In the past, instead, the Constitutional Court had stated more than once (since 1983) that the protection of linguistic minorities is not a subject-matter in itself, but a principle that all public subjects must comply with in performing their competences. It should ensue that, if on one hand, Law no. 482/99 represents a basic rule for current legal regulations, on the other hand, it cannot provide any obligation for matters that are the sole jurisdiction of the Region (e.g. the legal framework of local entities and the Region). The issue concerning teaching activities is more complex, as can be seen in the next paragraph. However, it would be a mistake to concentrate solely on the negative elements of the decision. There are many positive aspects, both general and specific, that should be appreciated. First of all the Commission reiterated that Friulian is a language in its own right and, therefore, that Friulians are a “recognised linguistic minority”. Furthermore, for the first time, it is clearly stated that article 3 of the Autonomy Statute – the one dealing with the languages of the region – also refers to Friulian. Finally, the Court, as seen further on, has clearly indicated in the provision the modalities that the legislator can use to achieve the same results pursued through the contested legal regulations.
Consequences of the decision on the education sector
The Commission, as stated earlier on, cancelled the provisions of the law that set the time for teaching the mother tongue to one hour per week (for applicants alone) and the system of the so-called “informed objection” to collect the linguistic options expressed by the parents. According to the Court, such legal regulations have more than compressed the school autonomy principle laid down by the Constitution. Without judging the merits of the decision – already criticised by some constitutional law experts – it becomes difficult to understand the meaning of “regional share of the curriculum”, deriving from the Reform of Title V of the Constitution, if one Region (responsible for “coordinating” the schools in the linguistic minority area, pursuant to the aforesaid Law Decree 223/2002) cannot even envisage one hour of teaching of a regional subject per week and for the applicants alone. It is however important to stress that the decision did not amend any of the principles provided for in Regional Law no. 29/2007 on the right to teach the language in school. The Court contested the modalities for the implementation of these principles. In fact, in the decision, it goes as far as describing the legal route that the Region and the State must take to lawfully adopt the same legal regulations, i.e. through implementation decrees of the Autonomy Statute. In conclusion: according to current legal regulations, it is necessary to fully implement the provisions of Regional Law no. 29/2007 that govern the teaching of the Friulian language in schools as part of the normal curriculum, the training of teachers and the establishment of a list of teachers in and of Friulian (a route already undertaken by the Region through the Regulation pursuant to Decree of the President of the Region no. 0204/Pres. of 23 August 2011; as for legal regulations in the pipeline (de iure condendo), it is necessary to complete the adoption process – already started on the occasion of the Joint State-Region Committee meeting following a positive and proactive action by the Committee for the autonomy and the revival of Friuli, agreed by most of the political majority and the opposition forces – of ad hoc regulations implementing the Special Statute aimed at reforming the contents of Law Decree 223/2002 according to the suggestions formulated by the Commission. This is the only way possible for the Region to overcome the unavoidable difficulties of operating in a sector that the Constitution includes among the competing skills, but that in fact is still under the jurisdiction of the central State.