The present state of indigenous minorities in the European Union is far from satisfactory. Generally, the EU’s decision-making bodies commonly argue that the bloc’s lack of regulations protecting minorities stems from the fact that this is an issue that is delegated to member states. However, FUEN (Federal Union of European Nationalities), a non-governmental organization representing minorities within Europe, is determined to change this, with their recently successful Minority SafePack Initiative. Despite this, there is still a long way to go to be truly successful in order to reach their ultimate goal.
The European Commission’s 2013 ruling stated that respect for the rights of persons belonging to minorities is a core European Union value, that institutions must respect cultural and linguistic diversity and must avoid any discrimination based on belonging to a national minority. However, at the same time, the EC refused the registration of the European Citizens’ Initiative the first time around, because it considered Minority SafePack – with its primary goal of preserving diversity in Europe – as not belonging to the bloc’s legislative competence. After many years of legal dispute, however, FUEN managed to push the initiative through the bureaucratic system of the Union.
But is it possible to force the Commission into passing legislation, and if so, what kind of changes can be expected by the organizers? Lóránt Vincze, president of the FUEN, weighed in and told our journalists that
“the European Citizens’ Initiative does not require any acts of legislation to be undertaken by the European Commission, but at the same time, in the past few months, we have seen that the Minority SafePack Initiative has evolved into a real European movement, which has been supported by countless communities from Denmark to Romania and from Italy all the way to the Baltic States. Quite a considerable amount of attention is devoted to this subject, which, when it reaches critical mass, will truly become unavoidable. “
The European Citizens’ Initiative is a kind of petition, and one of the main innovations of the Treaty of Lisbon. Its goal is to increase democracy in the European Union and to reduce the bloc’s so-called “democratic deficit”. The Citizens’ Initiative makes it possible for at least one million citizens, living in significant regions of the Member States, to put forward legislative changes that lie within the competence of the EU and affect them directly, to the European Commission (EC). With this new tool, European citizens get a say in European affairs for the first time. Proposed Citizens’ Initiatives must remain within the boundaries of the European Treaties’ European Commission’s legal portfolio.
The European Citizens’ Initiative program has existed for six years; of over seventy initiatives, just four have managed to collect one million signatures so far (Minority SafePack being the fifth), but of these, none have yet begun the legislative process. In other words, there is still a long road ahead before the Union will begin to take the status of minorities in the EU, or even the Citizens’ Initiative program as a whole, seriously.
In the wake of a successful signature drive, however, FUEN’s president remains confident about Minority SafePack’s future. Lóránt Vincze believes that
“the European Commission will slowly be forced to make a move, and if it wants to demonstrate that it is not just a mockery of European citizens’ democratic influence on the European Union’s legislation, then in merit they will have to deal with our initiative. Thus, the Commission has no obligations, but we will do our best to ensure that there are concrete provisions implemented in each of the nine points included in the standard package. In fact, legal experts are working to put concrete recommendations and proposed legislation on the Commission’s table, to show how it can be done in practice.”
FUEN has put forward concrete proposals on language rights, such as providing support programs for linguistic communities or creating a linguistic diversity center. According to Vincze, if the legislation mechanism is introduced, regions with significant minority populations may see funding from the EU increase as well. Amongst other things, FUEN has asked the Commission to amend the common provisions of the regional funds in such a way that the protection of national minorities and the promotion of cultural and linguistic diversity are included among the bloc’s thematic objectives.
By Gábor Sarnyai
Translated by Gergely Edward Nagy
(featured image via szabadsag.ro)