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“National Minorities Remain Stepchildren in the EU” – Interview with FUEN President Loránt Vincze

Péter Cseresnyés 2021.01.19.

The European Commission’s rejection of the Minority Safepack Initiative has clearly shown that diversity is only a nice slogan in the EU and there is no real aim or the necessary courage to put content into supporting it, Loránt Vincze, the president of FUEN and MEP of Romania’s ethnic Hungarian RMDSZ party, told Hungary Today. The European lawmaker believes the situation is the failure of the Commission itself, as it ignored the voice of more than one million EU citizens and that of the European Parliament.

Last December, a large majority of the European Parliament voted in favor of a resolution in support of the Minority Safe Pack Initiative (MSPI). However, the European Commission swept it off the table a few days ago and announced that it would not initiate legislation. Were you surprised by the decision?

We were not naïve. We knew from the beginning that there was a possibility of the Commission saying no. After all, the same happened with the four successful European Citizens’ Initiatives that came before us. Still, we were hopeful and thought we would have a better chance.

Fact

The Minority SafePack initiative, launched by Romania’s ethnic Hungarian RMDSZ party and coordinated by the Federal Union of European Nationalities (FUEN), contains a comprehensive set of measures to protect and promote the cultural and linguistic diversity of autochthonous national minorities in a sustainable way. Last week, the European Commission rejected the Minority SafePack, arguing that existing legislation and policy measures, if fully implemented, will guarantee the sufficient protection of minorities in the EU regardless.

Firstly, because we were the first to develop concrete legislative proposals based on our proposals, which are compatible with the current legislative framework of the EU. None of the proposals were outside of the competence of the Commission.

Secondly, because we had unprecedented political support. Many regions, political parties, governments, and parliaments supported us – the most recent being the Bundestag, the parliament of the arguably most influential member state. Moreover, we added the support of the European Parliament, which voted for a resolution in favor of the MSPI with an overwhelming majority.

Uproar Follows EC's Rejection of Minority Safepack Initiative
Uproar Follows EC's Rejection of Minority Safepack Initiative

Despite more than one million signatures collected across Europe, the European Parliament’s and the Bundestag’s backing of the Minority SafePack citizens’ initiative urging EU protection for indigenous national minorities in the bloc, the European Commission eventually rejected it.  According to the EC’s Friday statement, a wide range of measures had been taken to address the […]Continue reading

Thirdly, because this was the first ECI for the new Commission, and both Ursula von der Leyen and Commissioner Vera Jourová made promises at the beginning of their mandate to take the institution of participative democracy more seriously than their predecessors did. It turns out it was not the case, after all.

What do you think of the decision?

We are very disappointed by the European Commission’s decision. We consider it not a failure of the MSPI, but the failure of the Commission itself, as it ignored the voice of more than one million EU citizens and that of the European Parliament.

With its deeply flawed decision, the Commission let down the approximately 50 million citizens of the Union who belong to national and linguistic minorities.

The decision discredits the instrument of the European Citizens’ Initiative, the only instrument of participatory democracy of the EU, by refusing to initiate legislation in the case of the fifth successful initiative in a row. The Commission also rejected the European Parliament’s call as co-legislator to initiate legislative acts, despite the fact that the vast majority of members from all political groups in the Parliament supported the initiative.

In its statement, the European Commission emphasizes that diversity is still one of the core values of the EU, and that the EC supports it in many ways. In practice, however, this means refugees and sexual minorities rather than indigenous nationalities. Do you think the Commission does not see this difference?

Our initiative makes it very clear that its subject is the people belonging to autochthonous, traditional national minorities and language groups. It is impossible not to see the differences.

To me, the whole reasoning behind their refusal is nothing more than looking for excuses. In our European home there should be a place for everyone, unfortunately national minorities seem to remain ‘stepchildren.’

Protecting their rights is not as important as that of other minority groups; the value their languages and cultures represent are not worthy enough to stand up for.

Minority Safepack Initiative Garners Two-Thirds Majority Support in EP
Minority Safepack Initiative Garners Two-Thirds Majority Support in EP

On Thursday, the European Parliament supported by a large majority a resolution on the Minority SafePack based on the European Citizens’ Initiative that aims to protect the rights of indigenous minorities at the EU level. Yesterday, the European Parliament, with broad support, called on the Commission to propose legal acts to protect minority languages ​​and […]Continue reading

Don’t you think it’s possible that the Commission simply did not want to go into a divisive issue due to the major problems Europe is currently facing (coronavirus crisis, Brexit)? After all, France and Spain, for example, would certainly not have supported such an initiative, and the Council, representing Member States, would also have to give the go-ahead for possible legislation.

I think the decision was more about maintaining the status quo. Meaning, the Commission does not want anybody to mess with their status of initiators of legal acts. The simple fact that the people would like to have some initiative seems to be outrageous to them.

It is never the right time for minority protection, it is a historically sensitive matter, a citizens’ initiative was needed to put it on the European agenda. It is the first time the EC has a communication on minority rights, it clearly shows that diversity is only a nice slogan and there is no real aim and the necessary courage to put content into supporting it.

Does the Federal Union of European Nationalities plan to do anything about the decision; do you or any EU institutions even have the means to get the Commission to reconsider its decision?

We are in the process of discussing and analyzing our options. There are several ways of action that can be taken, and we need to decide what the best option is in order to achieve our goals.

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Ethnic Minority Representation in Politics: Why Does It Matter?

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What else can they do to ensure that even if there is no uniform EU regulation, the objectives of the Minority SafePack apply in as many Member States as possible – and especially in those where indigenous Hungarian minorities live?

The Bundestag resolution contains a part in which its members call on the Federal Government to implement the proposals of the MSPI, regardless of the Commission’s decision. This is a good starting point, and in the last few days, we got several invitations and similar proposals from different Member States. This is definitely something we will rely on in the future.

To receive such an invitation from Romania or Slovakia? Honestly, I do not see this coming in the immediate future, but I would not say it is totally out of the question in the long-term.

I have this theory of an overwhelming majority: when there are enough supporters for a cause, then the ones who were against it tend to change their opinion, because they do not want to be on the losing end.

This clearly happened at the vote in the European Parliament, the large majority of Romanian MEPs did not vote against the MSPI. If enough Member States choose to adopt legislation based on the MSPI, then I can see a moment coming when even these countries could come to the decision to follow suit.

Do Ethnic Groups Imply a Burden, or an Enrichment for Europe?
Do Ethnic Groups Imply a Burden, or an Enrichment for Europe?

Recently, the Szekler National Council’s initiative calling on the EU to directly fund the so-called national regions in Europe, has reached the 1 million goal, yet the necessary threshold has been fulfilled only in 3 countries until now. To successfully reach the finish line, the threshold must be reached in 4 more countries by 7 […]Continue reading

Since its introduction in 2012, the European Citizens’ Initiative has been the subject of significant criticism for failing to live up to its promise to meet one of its key objectives of bringing citizens closer to the EU. The Minority Safe Pack Initiative also seems to reinforce this view, as it is the fifth rejected European Citizens’ Initiative in a row. In light of the EC’s current decision, what do you think: does this legal institution have any point at all?

I would debate this issue from another perspective: is it necessary to offer everyday citizens a chance to be involved in the European decision-making process? There is only one good answer to this question: yes, the ECI’s clearly have a role. The real question is: how can we make them effective? I think a change of mentality is required here from the Commission.

The rejection of the Minority Safe Pack Initiative could be a warning sign for another initiative affecting European minorities. The gathering of signatures aimed at ensuring European Union protection for ethnic regions is still ongoing. In your view, what are the prospects for the initiative of the Szekler National Council if the required number of signatures is collected?

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, and concentrate on the task at hand. This initiative still needs to collect a few thousand signatures in a seventh member state before taking the next step. I hope that it will manage to pass the threshold in Spain before the February 7 deadline. If you have friends over there, please ask them to help this initiative with a signature.

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The deadline of the Szekler National Council’s (SZNT) signature drive, aimed at ensuring European Union protection for ethnic regions, has been extended by three months. As there are still thousands of signatures to be collected, the pandemic- related prolongation might be beneficial for the initiative. The European Commission has recently decided to extend the deadlines […]Continue reading

If everything goes according to plan, we can expect to have a decision on that initiative in the autumn at the earliest. A lot could happen until then, and I am no clairvoyant, nor do I want to pretend to be one.

Featured photo by Ildikó Baranyi/MTI