A referendum on making Russian an official language in Latvia has raised the dim possibility of it also becoming an official language of the EU. The country’s Central Election Commission (CEC) itself predicts the poll, on 18 February, will be a non-starter. A CEC spokeswoman, Kristine Berzina, told EUobserver on Tuesday (14 February) that “the level for the vote is so high it will never happen.” According to the rules, half of all eligible voters in Latvia – 1.5 million people – must turn out in order to make a quorum, and half of all 1.5 million must vote Yes to get a positive result. Around one third of Latvians are Russian speakers. But in some rural communities the figure is 60 percent. If the bid comes through, it will put pressure on Riga to take steps at EU level.
The maximalist option would be to seek consensus among the other 26 EU countries to make Russian a fully-fledged official EU language, with EU funds used to translate all EU documents and provide interpretation at all meetings. The mini-option would be to make it a “co-official” EU tongue, with Latvia paying the EU to use Russian on selected papers and events.
Dennis Abbot, a Europan Commission spokesman, noted that member states have never turned down a request by one of their peers to add a new official EU language. Whatever happens in Latvia at the weekend, the vote has stirred debate.