by Davyth Hicks
József Szájer, vice-speaker in the Hungarian Parliament, has told Eurolang that he will continue to campaign for a European Committee of National and Ethnic Minorities (CONEM).
Speaking at a colloquy on ‘Ethnic Minorities and the Concept of European Citizenship’ yesterday; he said that many member states don’t recognise national minorities and criticised the ‘double standards’ employed by the EU for the accession countries. The latter have signed up for national minority and language legislation as a pre-condition for accession. However, some western EU states, such as France, have still not ratified the Framework Convention for National Minorities or the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.
‘If the minority dimension is missing then it’s not the European Union’, said Szájer. He spoke about how there was no space for minority rights in the European Parliament, how there should be some recognition of this in the committee structure, and that it should be institutionalised within the European Commission. CONEM had been proposed to the Convention as the Constitution was being drafted but it was dismissed.
The CONEM proposal aims to set up a committee functioning in a similar way to the Committee of the Regions.
In his proposal Szájer stated that: ‘National and ethnic minorities, and indigenous peoples without statehood exist in a great number in Europe … The individuals belonging to these minorities do have the right to the free choice of identity and promotion of this identity’.
‘The national and ethnic minorities are constituent elements of our common and united Europe. The EU finally has to face this enduring issue of promoting ethnic peace and cooperation through democratic institutions’ he adds.
According to Mr Szájer the special situation of the minorities of Europe should also be reflected within the institutional structure of the EU. For example, there should be an advisory committee of CONEM following the example of the Economic, Social and Regional committees.
CONEM would be set up from the representatives of the national and ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples living in the member states. And would aim to reinforce protection rights and give effective participation in the EU institutions.
Eurolang spoke to Mr Szájer asking how he proposed to take the matter forward. He said that minorities are very much a neglected issue and he aims to get the attention of the European Parliament.
‘The next idea is to approach the Commission, the Hungarian Prime Minister would like to see a research institute set up and see a study made on the general situation of minorities in Europe. The reference to minority rights in Article 2 of the draft Constitution also helps’.
However, although Mr Szájer is a strong advocate of minority rights he does not see this as extending to include the right to self-determination; a major issue in the case of historic nations, and former states, such as Scotland and Catalunya.
‘By definition we are speaking about minority rights which has certain limits, the word ‘minority’ implies a limited kind of possibilities… We don’t want to touch on the core of the sovereignty of member states … The Hungarian position is about promoting successful autonomy, finding best practice with this, without affecting territorial integrity’.
Hungary has a particularly developed system of minority rights and is one of the few member states to recognise the rights of ‘collectivities’. (© eurolang)