Public hearing in the EP on the protection of traditional national minorities

23.04.2015 | European Parliament , protection of minority rights
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Public hearing in the EP on the protection of traditional national minorities

The issue of traditional national minorities was on the agenda of the European People's Party (EPP) for the first time during a public hearing on the matter organised on Wednesday April 22nd in Brussels. The conclusion that may be drawn following the hearing attended by international specialists and NGO representatives is that an EPP guideline should be set in the field. The document is expected to be drafted by the group's members in the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) committee of the EP.

The first session of hearings, meant to examine the situation of European minorities from a legal perspective, was opened by the co-host of the event, RMDSZ MEP Csaba Sógor. The MEP thanked the European People's Party for putting the issue on the agenda, thus lending momentum for European minority protection.

 

Csaba Sógor pointed out that there is a huge gap between what the legal frameworks for minority protection are meant to achieve and what happens in practice and that more effort should be invested in the reinforcement of existing legislation by Member states. “I am optimistic because there is a new momentum for minority protection within the EU. The European Parliament, always a flag-bearer in this regard, has already called upon the European Commission to draft and implement a comprehensive EU level framework for minority protection. As of its 2012 congress in Bucharest the EPP has made the protection of national minorities as one of its priorities, dedicating a chapter from its platform to this issue. Lastly at the hearing held in the LIBE committee of the EP, Frans Timmermans, the first vice-president of the Commission has also said: „we should focus more on the situation of minorities, because the way in which we treat them shows how we respect each other in our societies” – explained the MEP.

 

After pointing out the way in which the Lisbon Treaty strengthened the legal background for protecting Europe’s cultural and linguistic diversity, Csaba Sógor also outlined the legal and policy-making instruments available in the EU which could carry the issue forward: He pointed out that the open coordination method, which is a form of intergovernmental cooperation, was well suited for this politically sensitive issue, but also that the European Citizens' Initiative is a good opportunity, too for articulating minority protection related needs. However, in the opinion of MEP Sógor we could reach ground-breaking achievements if the EU institutions would consistently rely on existing minority protection documents developed by the Council of Europe when legally and politically interpreting minority rights on an EU level. At the same time, the framework of the EU’s FRA (Agency for Fundamental Rights) should be broadened so that it can regularly monitor the way in which Member States apply minority protection laws.

 

The RMDSZ MEP drew attention to the infringements of the rights of the Hungarian community in Romania: the restriction of the use of symbols, the constant debates on multilingual signs and the obstacles encountered when trying to establish a Hungarian faculty of medicine and pharmacology in Romania. He also mentioned that recently in Covasna County a hospital’s name was forcefully changed (initially the hospital was named after a Hungarian heart surgeon, who established it). In the MEP’s opinion this measure clearly shows that the majority regards the Hungarian community in Romania as second-class citizens. The MEP also reminded the audience that the Romanian Ministry of Internal Affairs labelled the autonomy aspirations of his community a matter of homeland security concern. “This hearing is part of a process; it can also lead to a parliamentary report. What we would like to achieve on the long run is to see the recommendations of the Council of Europe included in a EU legislative framework, and we urge the promotion of this issue with every instrument available” - said Csaba Sógor.

 

MEP Kinga Gál from Hungary and Hungarian MEPs from Slovakia Pál Csáky, and József Nagy were also co-hosts of the event attended by the EPP coordinator of the LIBE committee, Monika Hohlmeier, who said that the European People's Party intends to develop guideline for minority protection emphasizing integration and cultural diversity as opposed to separatism. The event was moderated by South-Tyrolian MEP Herbert Dorfmann, and German MEP Michael Gahler.

 

Senior legal advisor at the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) of the EU, Dr. Gabriel Toggenburg, stressed the importance of effectively implementing the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM) adopted under the aegis of the Council of Europe. Dr. Erzsébet Sándor, Deputy-commissioner responsible for the Rights of National Minorities in the Office of the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights of Hungary, pointed out that there is a need for a European system that would provide immediate information when minority rights are infringed upon. Petteri Laihonen, adjunct Professor at the Centre for Applied Language Studies, University of Jyväskylä, Finland, pointed out that the Member States that joined the EU after 2004 lack experience with forms of autonomy. As an example of good practices Austrian professor Emma Lantschner presented the South-Tyrolean political model, while FUEN president Hans Heinrich Hansen spoke about the Turks in Greece and the minorities in France. Romanian human rights activist Smaranda Enache stressed that minority protection is a moral issue in Europe today and a prerequisite for stability and well-being, but also that, while in some Member States the various forms of autonomy represent a well-established solution to minority issues, in Eastern European countries, such as in Romania, autonomies are not accepted as a natural solution. Josef Marko, Director of the Institute for Minority Rights at the European academy in Bozen/Bolzano, stressed that solving the issues of minority communities posed a challenge for the majorities for the past 200 years, and that governments played an important role in this matter.

 

MEP Kinga Gál summed up the conclusions of the public hearing: the Treaty of Lisbon provides legal background for minority rights and protects against all forms of discrimination, but in the absence of a reassuring solution to the issues of traditional national minorities in secondary EU law, political tensions, conflicts and infringements occur constantly. The EPP MEPs in the LIBE Committee plan to move these issues forward in the coming period by developing a guideline to be followed regarding the protection of traditional national minorities.