As known, Russian language is widely spoken in states of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, which are EU members, and Ukraine, which has signed the association with EU, being native up to 50% of citizens by various statistics. Why wouldn't EU recommend to give it the official status like it's done in Belgium (which is one of the founding states) with French, Dutch and German, or Finland, where Swedish is 2nd official language with only 5.3% of Swedish-speakers (and despite 600 years of Swedish rule), or at least regional, like in dozens of EU member states?

Chapter III of Charter of Fundamental Rights of European Union says "The Union shall respect cultural, religious and linguistic diversity" (Article 22). I suppose, when Russian language and culture are native to 25-40% of Baltic population and 5 largest cities in Ukraine, this article should have provided Russian language at least regional recognition.

Are there purposeful political reasons behind this?

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    Why should it? Are you referring to some law or provision that regulates a single language policy for all EU members and non-members? Mar 25, 2018 at 2:16
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    @bytebuster "Charter of Fundamental Rights of European Union: Chapter III Article 22 - The Union shall respect cultural, religious and linguistic diversity". I suppose, when Russian language and culture is native to 25-40% of Baltic population and native to 5 largest cities in Ukraine, it should have had some discussion, especially after rise of rebellions and clashes in southern & eastern Ukraine due to nationalistic forces coming to power.
    – Rurik
    Mar 25, 2018 at 8:30
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    @Rurik you should place that clarification into the body of your question. And maybe some explanation of the logical gap between the "respect the diversity" and "official status" of the language. As is, this logic is hard to follow. Mar 25, 2018 at 8:30
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    The EU won't even ask Ireland to admit the reality on the ground and make English their first language. They certainly wouldn't ask the Ukraine to do so. Mar 26, 2018 at 1:57

4 Answers 4


This is a matter for the individual countries. For example, in Ireland the official Language is Irish, The majority language, English has a Secondary status.

Other countries, such as the UK, have no official language, but, of course, the UK uses English for communications with the EU.

The EU has an interest in preserving minority languages. As part of its cultural programme, it may support languages that are under threat, such as Basque, Galacian or Catalan. There is no suggestion that Russian is a threatened language.

Ukraine is not a member of the EU. So the number of Russian speakers is irrelevant. It has no representation in European institutions. The Baltic states, or their representatives in the European Parliament have not asked for Russian to be recognised as a language of the EU.

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    Perhaps the comparison with Ireland goes even further: even though English is the majority language, to the point where a good many people only learn a bit of Gaelic in school (if that), it is still the language of a historically oppressive invader. Likewise with Russian in the Baltic states &c: accepting it as an official language would legitimize the Russian occupation.
    – jamesqf
    Mar 25, 2018 at 6:09
  • @jamesqf that has some logic. Although, this way, Russian-speakers' rights are being neglected, and rebellions and clashes in Russophone regions may appear further on. What would be the solution for this?
    – Rurik
    Mar 25, 2018 at 7:34
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    Comments are not for general discussion
    – James K
    Mar 25, 2018 at 7:43
  • @jamesqf Acording to your logic acepting English in Ireland is like acepting english occupation.
    – convert
    Feb 3 at 22:13
  • "There is no suggestion that Russian is a threatened language" - Russian is a threatened language in the Baltic states.
    – Vikki
    Feb 15 at 9:32

Russian is not an official language of any EU country.

Latvia held a referendum in 2012 to decide if Russian would be given the status of official language, and guess what 74.8% votes were cast against the language.

Had the Russian language succeeded the referendum, Russian could have become one of the EU languages.

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    Note that after the UK leaves the EU, English will not be an official first language of any EU member.
    – James K
    Mar 24, 2018 at 20:44
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    That's partially false, as Ireland decided to use english instead of irish as oficial language for eu
    – roetnig
    Mar 24, 2018 at 21:40
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    @JamesK English is an official language of Malta.
    – MauganRa
    Aug 20, 2019 at 19:59
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    @MauganRa That is a good point.
    – James K
    Aug 20, 2019 at 21:04
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    When tallking about Latvia should keep in mind, that russian minority has no right to vote, so the result was predictable.
    – convert
    Feb 3 at 22:16

Ukraine should be completely left out of this question as it is not a member state or strongly tied to the EU. (In the context of the previous sentence, ‘strongly tied’ is implied to be a Switzerland or Norway-like relationship.) The question may still be asked about the Baltic states.

The European Union, however, does not regulate the individual member states’ language policies in any way. Whether or not member states designate an official national language, of if they designate one whether they designate more than one, and if they designate more than one whether they define a ranking between these languages is entirely up to the member states. Thus, the United Kingdom has no official de jure language at all, France has one official national language, Finland has two of which one is dominant in almost all areas of the country, Belgium has three of which two have an almost 50 % population share and so on. Germany has two designated regional minority languages, Finland has one, and Cyprus has two minority languages in addition to its two official languages. This principle is known as subsidarity and is one of the core principles of the EU: what can effectively be regulated at a national or regional level need not be regulated by the supranational EU.

In addition to what was said in the paragraph above, the EU 24 has official languages of which three are procedural languages and one (Irish Gaelic) is temporarily derogated due to the difficulty of finding translators. While it may seem as if these 24 languages were the de jure (or de facto where the former are lacking) national languages of the member states, that is in fact not the case. Turkish is an official language of Cyprus and Luxembourgish is the official language of Luxembourg yet neither are official EU languages.

Let me take a second to quickly break down your examples. Belgium was one of the founding states of the EU predecessor institutions, alongside the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Germany, France and Italy. Back then all three Belgian languages were already de jure or de facto languages of at least one further member state and two languages in general use in Luxembourg (German and French) were as well. There was no need for any special, specific regulation. When Finland joined the EU in 1995, it did so alongside Sweden and Austria. With Finnish being the vastly dominant language in Finland—as you note—it would obviously become one of the official EU languages. But so would Swedish because of Sweden where it is almost exclusively spoken.

On the other hand, when Ireland (and the UK) joined the EU’s predecessors in 1973, English obviously became official language but Irish was only granted the status of treaty language; meaning that it would be usable as a spoken language in the European Parliament and secondary legislation (i.e. not treaties) would not be translated into it. This was despite Irish enjoying the status of first official language by the constitution of Ireland. It was not until 2007 that the EU (more precisely: the foreign ministers) agreed to elevate Irish to an official language at the Republic’s request. Thus, in the European parliament where the languages are listed in a specific order (basically alphabetical by date of accession with caveats), Irish follows Greek (1981), Portugese, Spanish (both 1986), Finnish, Swedish (both 1995), Czech, Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Hungarian, Maltese, Polish, Slovak and Slovene (all 2004).

As the case of Irish shows, becoming an official EU language is a matter of a member state requesting and the other member states accepting. As of now, no EU member state has a Russian majority, none have designated Russian as an official (co-) language and whether Russian is a regional minority language (such as Basque, Sami or Catalan) is largely irrelevant for EU official procedures.

Finally, I would like to point out that the Finnish and Belgian language situations have been a thing decades prior to the establishment of any EU predecessor. The Finnish language law practically dates back to its independence from Russia in 1917. So again, these are not issues where the EU said anything whatsoever.


Here is a completely unofficial rationale for Western powers to not push Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia to make Russian an official language:

This policy is a continuation of the West's Cold War policy of refusing to recognize the Soviet Union's annexation of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.

There are three primary categories of Russian-speakers in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia:

  • Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians who were forced to learn Russian under the Soviet-era school system. (I doubt that the original poster has these people in mind when discussing Russian-speakers.)
  • Russians who moved to Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia after the Soviet Union conquered those countries.
  • Descendants of the Russians who moved to Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia after the Soviet Union conquered those countries.

Russia is the successor state to the "Empire of All the Russias". It has a long history of occupying and/or annexing territories where Slavs (especially Russian-speakers) live -- and using the "Slavic-speaking" and "Russian-speaking" populations as an argument for the occupation and/or annexation.

Pushing Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia to recognize Russian as an official language could be seen as either legitimizing the Soviet Union's colonization of these countries, and/or legitimizing potential future claims by Russia to parts (or all) of the territory of these countries.

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    Finland has Swedish language as 2nd official with only 5.3% of population and despite 600 years of Swedish rule. India has English language as 2nd official despite British rule in 19-20 centuries. Israel has Arabic language as 2nd official despite absolutely hostile relations with Arab states through millenniums. I greatly suggest it is respect to own citizens.
    – Rurik
    Mar 26, 2018 at 11:33
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    @Rurik -- Sweden does not seem to have any desire to annex Finland, so it makes no difference to Finland whether it recognizes Swedish as an official language. Ditto for India and English. At the other extreme, Syria and the PLO's territorial designs on Israel are completely unaffected by whether Israel recognizes Arabic as an official language.
    – Jasper
    Mar 26, 2018 at 18:48
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    @Rurik -- Whereas the West's refusal to recognize the Soviet conquest of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia was surprisingly effective at helping restore these countries' independence, and helping to break up the Soviet Union. For more details, see Autopsy on an Empire, by Jack Matlock. Furthermore, Russia (both historically and currently) has demonstrated a willingness to occupy and/or annex territory of other countries, and has argued for these moves based on previous official recognition of language(s) spoken by the people who lived in such territory.
    – Jasper
    Mar 26, 2018 at 18:55
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    Russia hadn't occupied/annexed any territories since WWII, except for Crimea, which was transited to Ukr.SSR in 1954 due to economical considerations, and refused to subordinate to Euromaidan. S.Ossetia, Abkhazia & Transnistria experienced long-lasting ethnic conflicts with Georgian and Moldovan nationalist powers, same as Donetsk & Lugansk do now (they haven't even belonged to claimed territory of Ukrainian People's Republic in 1917), and if Russia didn't help them, we all know what happened in Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Libya. Of course, unrest in Baltics may follow if this xenophobia continues
    – Rurik
    Mar 28, 2018 at 19:09
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    @Rurik: you can multiply examples, it doesn't really matter. Choosing the official language(s) is a decision that belongs to a sovereign state and is a matter of inner politics. If Estonians decide to promote Russian as an official language, that's their right. If they choose not to do so, that's also their right. Pushing a country to adopt an official language is also a political choice and there is no "right" choice. The EU doesn't push Baltic states to adopt Russian as an official language since it seems it would benefit no one (neither the EU nor the Baltic states).
    – Taladris
    May 12, 2019 at 17:20

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