The European Commission’s report, which states that the EU has already done everything in its power to protect Europe’s indigenous and national minorities, is “cynical,” Loránt Vincze, the president of FUEN and MEP of Romania’s ethnic Hungarian RMDSZ party, who coordinated the Minority SafePack European Citizens’ Initiative, said at an online event on Monday.
In the latest webinar on the protection of minorities in Europe organized by Hungary Today’s publisher, the Friends of Hungary Foundation, Loránt Vincze spoke about the situation and challenges of national minorities and the European Commission’s recent controversial decision on the subject.
EC “living in a parallel reality”
In his presentation, Loránt Vincze slammed the European Commission for its January decision not to initiate legal acts for the protection of national and linguistic minorities under the Minority SafePack European Citizens’ Initiative.
The Commission “is living in a parallel reality,” said Vincze, as the adopted document notes at the very beginning that the protection of indigenous minorities is not under the purview of the EU, but then quickly added that the EU may adopt measures to promote linguistic and cultural diversity, while also claiming that the European Commission has already done its utmost in this regard.
Meanwhile, ”we can see that the rights of minorities are regularly violated in the EU, while indigenous languages are not recognized in several Member States,” the European lawmaker emphasized.
The arguments used by the Commission in support of its own position “would not hold water in a simple debate club,” Vincze stated.
Another major problem is that the EC rejected a European Citizens’ Initiative that was surrounded by unprecedented support, backed by several national parliaments – the German Bundestag, the Dutch Parliament, the Hungarian National Assembly, even the European Parliament approved it by an overwhelming 3/4 majority.
Vincze called the continuous setback in the enforcement of civic interest a serious democratic deficit.
The Treaty of Lisbon gave European citizens a tool: they believed that if enough people – at least 1 million – were in favor of an issue, it would be followed by legislation.
Meanwhile, the EC is relieving itself of responsibility at the last moment, when it would be its turn.
“We are past five successful citizens’ initiatives, but not in any of the cases has the EU initiated legislation,” Vincze highlighted.
Citizens, therefore, find that the EU is moving further and further away from them instead of getting closer. This practice will have consequences beyond minority rights, Vincze believes.
The most important thing now is to strengthen the institution of the citizens’ initiative and to bring about change in the field of minority protection.
Talking about another initiative launched by the Szekler National Council aimed at ensuring European Union protection for ethnic regions, which just a month ago met the requirements to be brought in front of the European Parliament, Vincze said it provides the EU a great opportunity to show that it takes European citizens seriously.
Minority protection has decisive relevance in European integration
The former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Hungary also shared his thoughts about the EC’s decision at the event, thanking Loránt Vincze for his work in the protection of minorities.
János Martonyi, member of the Friends of Hungary Foudation’s board of trustees, called the committee’s decision incomprehensible because it sharply goes against not only several national parliaments but also a significant portion of public opinion.
He deemed the subject of the initiative imperative not only in regard to Hungarian national policy and the national communities outside Hungary, but in addition plays a decisive role in the process of European integration.
“If the European institutions are unable to grasp the exceptional importance of the issue of minority protection for the future of European integration as a whole, then we have a problem,” Martonyi stressed.
According to the former foreign minister, challenging the Commission’s decision in court could succeed.
Asked what might be the reason the European Commission rejected all European Citizens’ Initiatives so far, Vincze said it is likely that the EC feels from the beginning that legal force has been used, as it was previously the European Parliament and the Council that insisted on the introduction of the legal institution into the Treaty of Lisbon.
The head of FUEN said that despite the rejection, the work would continue as “the issue of minority protection must succeed.” Whether it will be a citizens’ initiative or using another means is still an open question.
However, he also stated that they would challenge the decision and initiate an action for repeal in the case.
In the featured photo illustration: FUEN president Loránt Vincze. Photo by Zoltán Balogh/MTI