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Tackling the language gap in a central Romanian city

Cristian Gherasim, Bucharest correspondent

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Bridging the multicultural divide is never an easy tasks. But Antal Arpad, the mayor of Sfântu Gheoghe set out to do just that. He looks to pioneer a program that will help ethnic Romanians and Hungarians to learn each other’s language, writes Cristian Gherasim.

During a recent press conference the mayor announce 1,000 scholarships worth around €200 each to Romanians and Hungarian who want to take part in the language learning programme.

"I promised during the election campaign that in this term I will initiate programs for Hungarians to learn Romanian, and for Romanians to learn Hungarian, and I am very excited that I can solve this problem in collaboration with Babeş-Bolyai University. This year, in the budget of Sfântu Gheorghe municipality we will allocate an amount of 1 million lei, of which we will support a thousand people with 1,000 lei each. We want these people to increase their level of knowledge of the language of the other community by one level, so those who are at the base to advance by one level, and those who are at the intermediate level to reach an advanced level. I think this is very important, and here students will be able to obtain funds, but also those who return to the city after completing their university studies in other cities, or maybe abroad, and can learn Romanian and Hungarian, respectively,” explained Mayor Antal Árpád (pictured).

The city of Sfântu Gheoghe located in central Romania, in the historic region of Transylvania, has a mostly Hungarian population. Following the census of 2011, 41,233 (74%) of the city's 56,006 inhabitants classed themselves as ethnic Hungarians, 11,807 (21%) as Romanians, with the remaining inhabitants belonging to other ethnicities.

Arpad said that the idea for a language learning program to help end the communication barrier that exists in Sfântu Gheorghe started to take shape a few years back following a local essay contest.

The mayor hopes that the program will bring the community closer together and reap economic benefits as well. The local university will be hosting the language lessons which are aimed at both students and people who return to the city after completing their studies in other cities or countries.

Students will take a test at the beginning and at end of the program. Financial support from Sfântu Gheorghe City Hall will be conditioned by working towards bettering language skills, Mr. Arpad explained.

Examples from around the world

Melbourne’s neighbourhoods are home to one of the world’s most culturally diverse communities. In Australia’s second-largest city, you can find most of the world’s major cultures, more than 100 nationalities and as many languages. Bilingual teaching was started in Melbourne in 1974, with schools such as Footscray Primary School, Richmond west primary school, Fitzroy Primary School providing bilingual programs where in addition to English the curriculum is taught in Vietnamese and Mandarin.

The National Statement for Languages Education in Australian Schools, introduced in 2005, also explicitly recognizes the importance of learning languages other than English. Some of these programs are taught in mainstream schools, while others are offered through ethnic or community languages schools.

In Europe, Belgium has a longstanding history in supporting bilingualism. In addition to its three official languages, many other mother tongues are provided funding. For example, minority language instruction has been available in Flanders since 1981. In the Flemish community, while Dutch is the official language of education extra resources are allocated under the Ministry of Education and Training's program "equal opportunities for all" to teach non-Dutch-speaking people.

In Spain, while Spanish is the only language with official status for the whole of the country, many other languages have co-official or recognised status in specific regions, and a number of unofficial languages and dialects are spoken in certain parts of the country. Spain’s National Action Plan for Social Inclusion aims to promote agreements with the autonomous regions to develop bilingual and trilingual teaching programs.

Across the European Union, from the likes of Erasmus+ and Creative Europe funding programs there are various EU-funded initiatives aiming to support the teaching of regional or minority languages in schools in Europe.

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EU has not yet ordered more AstraZeneca vaccines, says internal market commissioner

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Syringes are prepared to administer the AstraZeneca coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at a new mass vaccination centre in WiZink sports arena in Madrid, Spain, April 9, 2021. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

The European Union has not yet made any new orders for AstraZeneca (AZN.L) vaccines beyond June when their contract ends, European Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton (pictured) said on Sunday (9 May).

Breton also said he expected that the costs of the EU’s recent order for more doses of Pfizer-BioNTech (PFE.N) vaccines would be higher than the earlier versions.

The Commission last month launched legal action against AstraZeneca for not respecting its contract for the supply of COVID-19 vaccines and for not having a “reliable” plan to ensure timely deliveries.

"We did not renew the order after June. We’ll see what happens," said Breton, adding that it was "a very good vaccine".

Concerns has risen on potential side-effects of the Anglo-Swedish COVID-19 vaccine.

Europe's medicines regulator said on Friday it is reviewing reports of a rare nerve-degenerating disorder in people who received the shots, a move that comes after it found the vaccine may have caused very rare blood clotting cases. Read more.

Breton said an increase in prices for second generation vaccines could be justified by the extra research required and potential changes to industrial equipment.

The European Union signed a new contract with Pfizer-Biontech to receive 1.8 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines for 2021-2023, to cover booster shots, donations and reselling of doses, the European Commission said on Friday (7 May). Read more.

“There may be a little extra cost but I will let the competent authorities unveil it in due course,” he told France Inter radio.

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Conference on the Future of Europe: Make your voice heard

EU Reporter Correspondent

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The Executive Board approved on 9 May the Rules of Procedure that set out the composition of the Plenary of the Conference on the Future of Europe, and how it will work.

The text approved on Europe Day 2021 will complete the rules determining how the Conference Platform, Panels and Plenary can transform citizens' priorities, hopes and concerns into actionable recommendations. It adds to the rules previously adopted concerning the working methods of the Executive Board and those related to citizens' participation.

On the same day, the European Parliament in Strasbourg hosted the inaugural event of the Conference on the Future of Europe. Watch it here.

Ensuring that citizens' input will be taken into account

The Conference Plenary will be composed of 108 representatives from the European Parliament, 54 from the Council (two per member state) and three from the European Commission, as well as 108 representatives from all national Parliaments on an equal footing, and citizens. 108 citizens will participate to discuss citizens' ideas stemming from the Citizens' Panels and the Multilingual Digital Platform: 80 representatives from the European Citizens' Panels, of which at least one-third will be younger than 25, and 27 from national Citizens' Panels or Conference events (one per member state), as well as the president of the European Youth Forum.

Some 18 representatives from both the Committee of the Regions and the European Economic and Social Committee, and another eight from both social partners and civil society will also take part, while the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy will be invited when the international role of the EU is discussed. Representatives of key stakeholders may also be invited. The Conference Plenary will be gender-balanced.

Their exchanges will be structured thematically around recommendations from the Citizens' Panels and input gathered from the Multilingual Digital Platform. The Platform is the single place where input from all Conference-related events will be collected, analysed and published. In due course, the Plenary will submit its proposals to the Executive Board, who will draw up a report in full collaboration and full transparency with the Plenary and which will be published on the Multilingual Digital Platform.

The final outcome of the Conference will be presented in a report to the Joint Presidency. The three institutions will examine swiftly how to follow up effectively to this report, each within their own sphere of competences and in accordance with the Treaties.

Parliament's Co-Chair of the Executive Board Guy Verhofstadt said: “We want to create real momentum from the bottom up. The Conference will be much more than a listening exercise, but a way to truly include citizens in mapping out our shared European future. The foundations have been laid: digital and deliberative democratic experiments that have never been tried on an EU-wide scale. We will guarantee that their concerns and proposals will then get a political answer. It's new and exciting, and it starts today.”

The Portuguese Secretary of State for EU Affairs and Co-Chairwoman from the Presidency of the Council of the EU, Ana Paula Zacarias, said: “Coming from Porto to Strasbourg, to celebrate Europe Day and the launching of the Conference on the Future of Europe, the words of President Mario Soares came to my mind when back in 1976 he defended: ‘to rethink Europe and its future is a permanent duty of all Europeans. A joint endeavour that needs to be taken forward with humbleness facing the historic relevance of our common goals."

Commission Vice President for Democracy and Demography and Co-Chairman Dubravka Šuica, said: “This Conference is an unprecedented exercise for the EU. We are creating a space where citizens can debate on a par with elected representatives to spell out the future of Europe. This has never been tried before, but we are confident that this will strengthen both our European Union and our representative democracy. And there is no better date to celebrate that than on 9 May.”

Next steps

The Executive Board will soon set the date for the first Conference Plenary meeting. Preparations for the Citizens' Panels are underway, while the number of participants and events on the Conference's Multilingual Digital Platform continue to grow. The Conference is committed to give maximum space to young people and in this vein, preparations for the European Youth Event organised by the European Parliament in October also continue.

More information

Digital Platform for the Conference on the Future

Questions & answers on the multilingual digital platform for the Conference on the Future of Europe

Charter of the Conference on the Future of Europe

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EU calls on US and others to export their vaccines

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks during the opening ceremony of an EU summit at the Alfandega do Porto Congress Center in Porto, Portugal May 7, 2021. Luis Vieira/Pool via REUTERS

The European Commission called on Friday (7 May) on the United States and other major COVID-19 vaccine producers to export what they make as the European Union does, rather than talk about waiving intellectual property rights to the shots.

Commission head Ursula von der Leyen told a news conference on the sidelines of a summit of EU leaders that discussions on the waiver would not produce a single dose of COVID-19 vaccine in the short- to medium-term.

"We should be open to lead this discussion. But when we lead this discussion, there needs to be a 360 degree view on it because we need vaccines now for the whole world," she said.

"The European Union is the only continental or democratic region of this world that is exporting at large scale," von der Leyen said.

She said about 50% of European-produced coronavirus vaccine is exported to almost 90 countries, including those in the World Health Organization-backed COVAX program.

"And we invite all those who engage in the debate of a waiver for IP rights also to join us to commit to be willing to export a large share of what is being produced in that region," she said.

Only higher production, removing exports barriers and the sharing of already-ordered vaccines could immediately help fight the pandemic quickly, she said.

"So what is necessary in the short term and the medium term: First of all vaccine sharing. Secondly export of vaccines that are being produced. And the third is investment in the increasing of the capacity to manufacture vaccines."

Von der Leyen said the European Union had started its vaccine sharing mechanism, citing delivery of 615,000 doses to the Western Balkans as an example.

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