Fruitful discussions at the presentation of the Minority SafePack Initiative to the European Commission
„It is the first time that we had an eye level meeting with the European Commission on our Minority SafePack Initiative since its launch in 2013. We witnessed genuine interest on behalf of Vice President Jourova, Commissioner Gabriel and EC officials. We made clear that we aim to strengthen existing EU policies to support linguistic and cultural diversity and to protect autochthonous minority communities and language groups as part of our European heritage. We are hopeful that the upcoming six months will bring the necessary support and conviction and in the end the EC will decide to start legislative action based on our proposals” – stated Loránt Vincze, President of FUEN and Member of the European Parliament during a press conference organised at the European Parliament, following the meeting at the European Commission.
The legislative proposals based on the nine points of the Minority SafePack European Citizens’ Initiative were presented on Wednesday, the 5 February 2020 to the European Commission. The MSPI delegation met Věra Jourová, Vice President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency, Responsible for the European Citizens’ Initiative system, Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner Responsible for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth and several representatives of the Secretariat General and Directorate General.
“The European Union has by far the biggest influence on the daily life of European citizens and is today one of the most important guarantors of the respect of the rule of law and fundamental rights, but policy at EU-level for the protection of national and linguistic minorities is still lacking. We initiated the Minority SafePack to fill this void” – said in his presentation FUEN President, MEP Loránt Vincze. He cited four reasons why this void needs to be filled. The first is the Copenhagen dilemma: while respect for the rights of national minorities is a part of the set of political criteria an accession-candidate must fulfil at the time of accession, no such criteria applies for states that are already members of the EU. The second is that while the Commission has scrutinised the respect for democracy and the rule of law in Member States, it has so far never done so with regard to the rights of minorities. The third is that political, economic and social forces and globalisation all contribute to an accelerating trend of assimilation and language loss. The last is the institutional point of view, as it would be great to finally see a citizens’ initiative that arrives in a fully successful stage with legal acts adopted by the EU on the request of the citizens.
Representative of the Citizens’ Committee of the MSPI and FUEN Honorary President Professor Hans Heinrich Hansen presented the history of the MSPI. The first discussions started in 2009 on how to use the tool of the European Citizens’ Initiative, in 2013 the Initiative was presented to the European Commission led by Jose Manuel Barroso, that refused to register it. Once the Citizens´ Committee appealed the refusal, the proceedings in the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg started. Once in 2017 the MSPI won in Luxembourg, the European Commission accepted after negotiations 9 out of 11 proposals to be registered. The successful signature collection campaign ended in 2018 with 1 128 385 certified signatures, and achieved the minimum national threshold in 11 Member States. As Romania attacked the Commission’s decision to register the MSPI the EU General Court rendered its decision in late 2019: “The decision makes it clear that EU diversity means not only diversity between Member States, but also diversity within those Member States, and that the EU has a duty to protect this diversity” – he pointed out.
The legislative proposals of the MSPI were presented by Citizens’ Committee members Anke Spoorendonk, Dane from Germany, Member of the Bureau of European Free Alliance, Valentin Inzko Carinthian Slovene, UN High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, FUEN Vice Presidents Daniel Alfreider, German speaking community in Italy, Deputy Prime Minister of South Tyrol region and Giuanna Beeli, Romansch from Switzerland, President of the Youth of European Nationalities, and minority rights expert Frank de Boer. Thomas Hieber, Attorney of Minority SafePack, FUEN staff members, Secretary General Éva Adél Pénzes, Legal Advisor Roman Roblek, Policy Advisor Johan Häggman, Policy Advisor on Minority SafePack Dénes András Nagy, Head of Communication Előd Balázsi-Pál were also present at the meeting, alongside FUEN European Dialogue Forum member Dóra Szilágyi and István Virág from Loránt Vincze’s MEP office.
The legislative proposals of the Minority SafePack Initiative
The Minority SafePack Initiative aims to promote the rights of national and linguistic minorities and ensure their protection at EU level and calls on the EU to use the tools at its disposal in this regard. Although the EU Treaty lists the respect for rights of persons belonging to minorities as an EU value, EU action and EU legal measures for protecting national and linguistic minorities are absent.
The first chapter of the legislative proposals is a Council Recommendation on the protection and promotion of cultural and linguistic diversity in the Union through effective language, education and culture policies for national and linguistic minorities in the Member States. The document asks
-for effective policy measures regarding education in regional or minority language in educational institutions, special curricula and textbooks,
-access to cultural life in regional or minority languages,
-funding to media which publish or broadcast in regional or minority languages;
-for the promotion of cultural diversity through giving access to culture and funding;
-for publishing official documents in minority languages, promoting the use of regional or minority languages in public administration, public services and the judiciary, in commerce and consumer protection.
It recommends the EC
-to monitor Member State action on the implementation of their national strategies, action plans or sets of integrated measures for the protection of minorities;
-to establish a strong cooperation between the EU and the Council of Europe;
-to finance the promotion of regional or minority languages through new or existing funds and programmes.
The document asks for the cohesiom policy to be adjusted in order to take into account the situation of national minorities and the role of cultural and linguistic diversity.
It proposes special attention to areas inhabited by national and linguistic minority communities during the cycle of programming and performing expenditures from the European Structural and Investment Funds.
It also proposes programme rules to promote projects that benefit such communities through better integration in innovation and economic transformation, promotion of multilingualism and tailored measures to improve the skills and employability of persons belonging to a minority, equal opportunities and the effective inclusion of minorities and their perspectives in the elaboration and implementation of integrated territorial strategies.
The document also contains a proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on establishing a European Language Diversity Centre, which would provide expertise and support to the EU institutions, bodies and agencies and to Member States on the promotion of linguistic diversity within the EU and the protection and promotion of the use of regional or minority languages.
The legislative proposals ask for
-a Europe-wide research into the added value of minorities to social and economic development in Europe,
-the approximation of rights for stateless minorities
-better cross-border access to audiovisual media services and contents by ensuring freedom of service and freedom of reception of audio-visual content in those regions where national minorities live.