ECMI Minorities Blog. Why Scottish and Welsh Speakers Will Miss European Structural Funds

A blue EU European Regional Development Fund sign. Image courtesy: Wozzie/

Author: Craig Willis  |

Previous concern of a post-Brexit funding gap had been expressed in the context of the UK’s minority language speakers, particularly from programmes such as Erasmus Plus, Creative Europe and Horizon 2020. However, European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) have also had direct and indirect links to speakers of Scottish Gaelic and Welsh, as well as their broader communities.

The ESIF constitute one of the largest pools of European Union (EU) funding and are aimed at reducing economic disparities between its regions through job creation and “forming a sustainable and healthy European economy and environment”. Comprised of five funding areas, the two most prominent are the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the European Social Fund (ESF), with both being the subject of a growing body of literature on the effects of such funds on the EU’s lesser developed regions. However, within the available literature and policy evaluations, the national or linguistic minority context remains severely under-researched even though many of Europe’s officially recognised minority communities live in geographically and economically peripheral areas, including the two Celtic linguistic minorities of Scottish Gaelic and Welsh.

As part of a larger research project comparing also Breton and Irish, my co-author (Romain Herault) and I investigated the links between ESIF and Celtic languages in a recent Working Paper titled ‘European Union Structural and Investment Funds and Celtic Language: An analysis of the 2007-2020 funding period in relation to Breton, Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Welsh’. Our aim was to examine ESIF projects from 2007-2013 and 2014-2020, in order to ascertain direct and indirect links to the four Celtic languages mentioned above. The context of this was following the separation of cultural funds from the ESIF into Creative Europe and Erasmus Plus from 2007 – these two have been highlighted as beneficial for minority languages, for example in relation to education. Following this separation however, the ESIF remain under-researched in comparison to the creative or educational funds when it comes to the context of minority languages, despite constituting much larger numbers of projects and funding totals.

Whilst language projects do most often come through cultural or education funds, the speakers of such languages often reside in economically peripheral areas (at least in higher percentage terms) and thus the livelihoods and everyday culture in the traditional speaking areas (even for non-speakers) might also be affected by availability of structural funds. Alongside this, and the core reason why this blogpost just focuses on Scottish Gaelic and Welsh, is the fact that since the end of the implementation period of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, Scotland and Wales are no longer eligible for ESIF. These two regions in 2007 were below 75% of the EU average GDP and thus qualified for the largest amounts of ESIF. Our research intended in part to determine whether the Scottish Gaelic and Welsh language speaking areas might be missing out post-Brexit. Below I outline the projects that were found to have direct links to language, before summarising those with indirect links through investment into areas where the number of speakers is most concentrated, to demonstrate ways in which ESIF can contribute to language preservation.

Unsurprisingly, the number of explicit links between ESIF projects and minority language was quite seldom overall. However, there were a few notable examples in both Scotland and Wales involving primarily the education and media sectors. In the case of Scotland, the ERDF provided £2.6m for a project that built office space for the Scottish Gaelic media production company MG Alba in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, completed in 2012. Another project with a clear link to language was ERDF funding for the Sabhl Mor Ostaig campus – a part of the University of the Highlands Islands, situated on the Isle of Skye and operating entirely in Scottish Gaelic. The campus received ERDF funding to expand its physical infrastructure and house more students who come to the college for language learning of Scottish Gaelic and other subjects taught in this language. In the case of Wales, four ERDF projects with direct links to the Welsh language were identified, within the region of West Wales and the Valleys. They are: an arts centre at Bangor University which hosts regular Welsh language events; a new building at Coleg Gwent  used for Welsh language classes; renovating the adult Welsh language learning centre, Ymddiriedolaeth Nant Gwrtheyrn.

The ESF also provided funds for a degree programme in Advanced Media Production at Aberystwyth University, teaching many modules in Welsh and having the stated aim of boosting Welsh media’s contribution to cultural heritage and creative industries. These examples offer clear evidence of ESIF funding that has been used directly for projects which use Scottish Gaelic or Welsh and thus serve as a reminder that ESIF should also be considered by language planners.  

In addition to the above, both regions had a number of projects with (what we term) indirect links to language by contributing to regional culture more broadly or being of benefit to areas with speakers of Scottish Gaelic or Welsh. Two prominent examples of ESIF supported projects in Scotland are: the Harris Tweed Investment Fund, a traditional industry where Gaelic is seen as an inherent part and is an employer of Gaelic speakers and the Loch Carnan Community Wind Farm, in the community of South Uist – 66% of which are Gaelic speakers. In the case of Welsh, the noteworthy projects are: the Welsh Menai Science Park - a Bangor University Office space for small-medium sized businesses, including companies operating in Welsh; the Llŷn IVeragh Ecomuseums Interreg project cooperating with Irish, aimed at developing tourism through natural and cultural capital assets.

These examples show how the ESIF contribute indirectly to language preservation by funding projects which improve the socioeconomic situation for speakers of Scottish Gaelic or Welsh or areas with a large percentage of those with attachment to Celtic culture. On this latter aspect, there are dozens more projects which are sponsored by local county councils for areas such as Comhairle nan Eilean Siar in Scotland or Gwynedd, Isle of Anglesey, Ceredigon and Carmathanshire in Wales. Finally, projects implemented in Wales also featured Welsh language in their websites and publications, adding another layer of indirect link to language maintenance. All these add extra evidence alongside the direct ones that ESIF have played a role in language preservation which now needs to be filled post-Brexit. However, in the broader context of the EU it shows other minority language spheres that ESIF is a tool for language planners to utilise, alongside more targeted cultural or educational funds.

Whilst our research does not demonstrate a quantitative correlation between the ESIF and projects with links to Scottish Gaelic or Welsh, it does identify a number of case studies through a qualitative approach. It is also likely that there are more projects with less obvious links to language which may not have been identified in our research. Overall, our findings shed light on an under-researched pool of funds in the context of minority languages, which seem relevant to the field of minority studies. At this early stage, the research is not able to suggest any causation or consequent effects on language maintenance or revitalization efforts. Moreover, it is evident that existing minority language policy is a prerequisite, yet the ESIF potentially have offered an additional revenue stream for projects related to language or economic development in areas where a large percentage of minority language speakers live. It is a timely assessment in the context of the UK’s departure from the European Union and adds to the concern that EU funding needs replacing with national level funds.

This post was developed from research with my co-author Romain Herault, which also compared two further Celtic languages – Breton and Irish. This was presented at the International Conference of Minority Languages (ICML) in March 2021. The full working paper has been published in the Munich Personal RePEc Archive at Munich University and can be viewed here:

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