Minority SafePack: An initiative to protect European minorities

, by Veronika Snoj

All the versions of this article: [Deutsch] [English]

Minority SafePack: An initiative to protect European minorities
Activists carrying a box of signatures for the European Citizens’ Initiative. Photo courtesy of the Federal Union of European Nationalities.

In the EU, home to over 500 million citizens, it is estimated that about 50 million people belong either to an autochthonous national or a language minority. Many of these struggle to have access to education and other public services in their mother tongue.

That is what the Minority SafePack Initiative, launched by the Federal Union of European Nationalities (FUEN), wants to change. Signed by over 1,1 million supporters, it proposes a package of legal proposals to protect minorities, their languages and cultures within the EU.

Over 1 million Hungarians in Romania without a proper legal framework

“The difficulties are not so much on a personal level as on the community level,” says Loránt Vincze, president of FUEN and a freshly elected member of the European Parliament, about his experience as a member of a Hungarian minority in Romania. “We are considered Romanian citizens, individually speaking the Hungarian language. This is a narrow-minded view, since the 1,300,000 Hungarians in Romania are not only individuals, but they sum up one of the biggest minority communities living in one country.”

As a consequence, discrimination is common and education in Hungarian scarce. Establishing a Hungarian Catholic school and a Hungarian medical faculty was by no means an easy task, he adds. There is no proper legal framework considering the Hungarian minority, and even if some laws exist, they are not respected.

From additional funds to a single European copyright law

The initiative tackles exactly these barriers. Among other things, it calls for an EU recommendation on the protection of the cultural and linguistic diversity, for funding programmes for small linguistic communities, for more extensive research on European minorities, for blocking the exemption of state support for the conservation of minorities, and for a single European copyright law to make broadcasting easier and more accessible in the minority languages.

The website of the initiative can be read in 16 European languages, and the campaign embraced minority languages as well, such as Basque or Frisian. However, the language of communication is most often English. As Vincze says, there are no resources to constantly translate between nearly 50 languages.

Models to follow

Especially Eastern European countries still have a lot of work to do, says Vincze, in particular Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece and the Baltic states. That, however, does not mean that it is all shiny in the Western EU countries. He points to France which does not, for instance, recognise regional language groups.

But the picture is not that grim everywhere: within the EU, there are already some examples of preservation and promotion of minorities that can be looked up to when solving minority issues in other regions around the continent.

One of the most oft-cited examples is the German-speaking Alpine region in the South Tyrol which nowadays belongs to Italy. In the region, the rights of the German-speaking population are widely respected, as is the autonomy of the region. Another successful solution was devised on the border between Germany and Denmark, where there is even a commission for minority affairs in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein, as well as a German-Danish political party. Other models to follow are, according to Vincze, the model of the Swedish minority in Finland and that of the German-speaking community in Belgium.

And what is coming next?

The petition campaign was successful and in May, the signatures were handed over to the national authorities of the EU member states. Authorities now have three months to verify the signatures which will be presented to the European Commission. After that, the Commission has three more months to organise a hearing the European Parliament. And this is only the beginning: the goal is, after all, to work on concrete legal proposals that will safeguard minority rights around the Union.

“We believe it is going to be a long process,” says Vincze. “The hardest part will be to get past the obstruction of the states who were against our initiative from the beginning.”

The initiative counts particularly on European political groups which have expressed their support. “As a new MEP my primal duty is to make this work,” Vincze adds. “Supporting autochthonous national minorities the EU is defending and promoting European identity.”

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