European Commission’s slap in the face for Europe’s indigenous minorities

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In another sign of disregard for Europe’s indigenous minorities, the European Commission has rejected the recommendations of the Minority Safepack initiative (MSPI), that was designed to safeguard the rights of people who are indigenous to Europe, but for historic reasons are members of linguistic, national or religious minorities in their own countries. The initiative was started by the Federal Union of European Nationalities (FUEN) that has more than 100 member organizations in 35 European countries, and is the largest European umbrella organization of autochthonous, national minorities in Europe.

The main impetus for the initiative had originated in long-standing grievances of some ethnic groups living within European Union member states, as well as EU candidate countries. The worsening situation of some of these national minorities means that they are today facing targeted discrimination and in some cases, threats and acts of violence.

As the MSPI proposal states “despite the fact that, of all international bodies, the European Union has by far the biggest influence on the daily life of European citizens…, a consistent minority protection policy at EU-level is still lacking… While the respect for the rights of national minorities is a part of the set of political criteria an accession-candidate must fulfill at the time of accession, no such criteria apply for states that are already members of the EU. This results in a situation of double standards.”

Although the initiative has gathered 1,123,422 validated signatures of support, the European Commission flatly rejected any changes to its currently valid legal protection of native minorities. In a statement Vera Jourová, the vice president of the European Commission, had showered words of praise at the initiative, yet the Commission’s conclusion is that “no further legal acts are proposed”.

Over 10 percent of Europe’s population belongs to a national or linguistic minority, thus over 50 million people could have benefited from the new protective measures proposed by the Minority Safepack initiative. It is no secret that the Hungarian government was particularly active in promoting the initiative in view of the worsening situation of Hungarian minorities especially in Romania and Ukraine, where they face institutional discrimination resulting in financial penalties, ban on using their language in public, and in some cases violence and arson.

FUEN had reacted in a press release stating that “the EC had rejected the petition of those for whom the preservation of European linguistic and cultural heritage is not merely a slogan but an everyday challenge. The shoulder-tap reply from the EC is not enough, the 1,123,422 citizens who have signed the initiative expect deeds…”

According to FUEN, the European Commission’s decision discredits the institution of European civic initiatives, as this is the fifth time that it has failed to accept the recommendations of a successful civic initiative. Instead of drawing closer to its citizens, it ignores initiatives coming from its rank, which is a sign of the EU’s democratic deficit. The European Commission also ignores the European Parliament’s call for a change in legislation that has been accepted by a three quarters majority, stated the press release.

Former Hungarian MP and the special envoy to the Hungarian Prime Minister, Katalin Szili, had reacted to the statement by saying that the European Commission had shown its true colors by rejecting the Minority Safepack. She had pointed out that the Commission’s decision refers to generic rules protecting gender, Romani or LGBTQ rights, rules that are too flexible and are thus difficult to enforce, while they are entirely inadequate for the protection of indigenous minorities. The Minority Safepack initiative was meant to remedy precisely this deficit, said Szili.

Lóránt Vincze, MEP for the Romanian-Hungarian Democratic Union, had also stated that the “EC had turned its back to Europe’s autochthonous minorities, among them the Trans-Carpathian Hungarian community… Sadly it was not elected officials who have made the final decision in our cause but Brusselite Euro bureaucrats, who have in fact put obstacle after obstacle in our way right from the outset,” said the MEP.

Balázs Hidvégi, MEP at the European Parliament for the Hungarian Fidesz Party, had stated that “when it comes to the rights of other minorities such as migrants or those that are only a minuscule part of European societies, Commissioner Vera Jourová is the loudest protector of minorities and constantly lectures member states as well as other MEPs. However, when it comes to such a significant question that affects over 50 million people, and when she should make a decision with regards to an initiative signed by over 1.1 million people, she simply says ‘no’.”

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