Although the European Citizens’ Initiative on protecting national regions successfully reached 1 million signatures last year in May when the first deadline was extended, another important criteria was missed: the signatures had to come from seven different EU countries. By then, the threshold was only met in Romania, Slovakia, and Hungary. However, the situation and the fate of the initiative changed significantly as the European Commission agreed to extend the deadline. Recently, Ireland reached the threshold in support of the initiative, becoming the 10th European country to do so.
There are about 50 million people who belong to a national minority in the European Union. Significant documents ratified by almost all EU countries make it explicit that Europe has a responsibility to protect the rights of national minorities. However, in some European countries these ethnic groups are still struggling for their survival.
FactThe European Citizens’ Initiative, established in 2012, is a unique way for citizens to shape the EU’s future by requesting the European Commission to submit legislative proposals. The initiative was started by the Seklers of Transylvania, though it concerns not only them, but many other national regions of the EU.
The aim of this particular initiative is to give national minorities the opportunity to access EU funds directly. They particularly emphasize that the cohesion policy of the EU should pay special attention to regions with national, ethnic, cultural, religious, or linguistic characteristics that are different from those of the surrounding regions. Since nearly all EU cohesion funds are routed through national governments, and in some cases, especially in places where there is a history of conflict with national minorities, funds can be withheld from these regions by the government. Therefore, in order to prevent discrimination, it is vital for minorities to be able to access EU funds directly.
The official deadline expired in May 2020; however, the president of the Szekler National Council (SZNT), Balázs Izsák argued that in-person collection of signatures had become impossible due to national lockdowns in fear of the virus, which is why they requested to extend the deadline. Furthermore, the petition’s campaign chief, László Pesty contended that they had also discovered a digital error on the petition’s website which could have caused signatures to have been lost.
The European Commission eventually granted a new deadline for the initiative and gave the SZNT until February 7, 2021. Since then, apart from Hungary, Slovakia, and Romania, other countries have crossed the threshold and officially declared their support, such as: Croatia, Spain, Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Sweden. All together, nine countries crossed the threshold before the deadline, thereby making the initiative launched by the Szekler National Council and its European partners the only successful civilian initiative during the coronavirus pandemic.
However, on February 19, 2021, the press service of the Szekler National Council reported that Vera Jourova, Vice-President of the European Commission, informed the leaders of the initiative in an official letter that the deadline has been extended again, this time until May 7, 2021.
With the new deadline, the SZNT’s first success in the final phase of the extension to collect signatures was Ireland – the tenth member state which managed to cross the threshold of signatures needed. According to the initiators, the unprecedented cooperation in Ireland was partially facilitated by István Manno, the Hungarian ambassador to Dublin. Together with his colleagues, they managed to notify local Irish organizations about the campaign which eventually passed with 145% over the threshold according to the latest update on March 1st.
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