The recent European Citizens’ Initiative on national regions is nearing the end of the signature-collecting period. Many hundreds of thousands of individuals have signed it, mostly from Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia. Romania and Slovakia coincidentally both have large Hungarian minorities, making it much less of a coincidence. The aims of the Hungarian community, the Székely National Council that started the initiative, are pretty straightforward. They simply want their minorities in other countries to be given the opportunity to access EU funds, which would increase their ability to build their communities and preserve their culture.
However, this is not just a Hungarian issue, Europe has a long list of historical ethnic minorities who would benefit from this citizens’ initiative.
In Spain, the Basques and the Catalans are the obvious groups one would think of. The Basques have experienced centuries of discrimination in both France and Spain, and the story of the Catalan independence movement has made its way into the mainstream of European politics. In addition, there are the Galicians in the northwest of Spain, who tend to receive much less attention. France is a rather centralized state, and does not collect census information about ethnicity, however, there are still many historical ethnic minorities that exist within its borders. Other than the aforementioned Basque community, you have Bretons in the northwest, and Corsicans in the Mediterranean. Austria has a large community of Croats and Slovenes within its borders, the southwest of Finland speaks Swedish, and the region of South Tyrol in Italy is majority Austrian-German. Then you have countries like Belgium and Switzerland that are completely heterogenous states made up of different national groups. This list could go on further, but I think the point is clear, Europe has plenty of historical minority groups, many of whom continue to experience discrimination to this day.
‘If you want a future for your community and culture in Europe, you should sign this European Citizens’ Initiative’ – interview with Attila Dabis, the Szekler National Council’s foreign affairs officer
Some of these states have extensive and robust systems of autonomy in place for their different historical ethnic groups, but many do not, especially in Eastern Europe.
If we are to build a Europe that stands on values of equality between different European peoples, then we must implement European systems that will support our historical minorities.
The European Citizens’ Initiative for national regions has the potential to be such a system, and its success would open the door for further European solutions to shared problems.
Featured photo illustration by Nándor Veres/MTI