Council of Europe Framework Convention for National Minorities (FCNM) celebrates fifth anniversary
by Davyth Hicks
The Council of Europe Framework Convention for National Minorities (FCNM) celebrated its fifth anniversary in Strasbourg on Thursday and Friday with a conference highlighting the steady progress made with this legal instrument and benefical impact that it is having for national minorities across Europe.
One recurring theme was the reduction of the power of the nation state in this respect Professor John Packer, referring to the FCNM, said that Europeans ‘had a late 20th century legal instrument with a 21st century application’. He added that ‘We have to think of an equal Europe, one of communities, and one that respects diversity in its fullness’. He also discussed the wording of the Convention, which uses phrases such as ‘shall endeavour’ and ‘as far as possible’, and that interpreted correctly they are ‘quite strong statements’.
However, Mark Lattimer, Director of Minority Rights Group International, criticised this kind of wording as it gives states the opportunity to interpret obligations in their weakest sense. He saw the periodic monitoring process as essential as it prevents networks between NGOs and governments from disintegrating. This may lead to delays in implementation which could be damaging to the national minority. Mr Lattimer emphasised that ‘human rights are not up for negotiation’.
On a lighter note Rainer Hoffman, President of the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention, recalled a country visit of the Committee. After a lengthy car trip the delegation arrived several hours late to a meeting with minority representatives in a small town, the head of the delegation apoligized for the lateness but their reply was ‘don’t worry, we have been waiting for 50 years, we can easily wait for a few extra hours’.
Various speakers highlighted the problem that while many of the accession countries have ratified the FCNM in order to qualify for admission, supposedly more progressive western European states, like France, still refused to ratify the FCNM or the ECRML.
Interestingly for many national groups who do not wished to be termed as a ‘national minority’ or as a ‘region’, Mr Hoffmann clarified that in the relationship between the national group and the state that there was no need to use the term ‘national minority’ if it was inappropriate. He recommended that national groups should avail themselves of the FCNM and use it as a tool to achieve protection.
There was a call for more synergy between EU institutions on the FCNM from several speakers. Eurolang talked with sociolinguist Ms Tove Skutnabb-Kangas that this synergy could also extend to UNESCO, especially with their forthcoming measures for the intangible cultural heritage and a Charter for Endangered Languages.
Boris Cileviès from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) outlined how PACE had been calling on certain member states to sign and ratify the Convention. In 2001 PACE had already asked France and Turkey to ‘bring their constitutions into harmony with European standards ... in order to remove any obstacle to the signature and ratification of the Convention’. In 2003 PACE went further and recommended to the Council of Ministers to hold ‘tours de table’ in order speed up signatures similar to those used for the speedy ratification of the Social Charter.
Professor Patrick Thornberry from the University of Keele concluded the conference referring to the need to escape from ‘the mind set of homogenous nation states’ and how ‘the ideology of the nation state had reduced the genetic reservoir of cultural diversity’. (Eurolang)