Minorities to be discussed in EU constitution pre-summit talks amid national minority concerns
Dépêche de EUROLANG

Publié le 29/11/03 8:50 -- mis à jour le 00/00/00 00:00

by Davyth Hicks, Alexia Bos Solé and Brigitte Alfter

European Union Foreign Ministers gather in Naples to debate the draft EU-constitution and minorities will be debated.

Currently, the Italian government chairs the negotiations of the 25 European governments and it is in charge of encouraging proposals of compromise among all the member states concerning the implementation of the EU Constitution. According to the Italians Article 2 of the constitution, about the values of the European Union, should include minority rights along with other overall values like human rights and human dignity.

So far national minorities have been mentioned only in the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which is intended to be incorporated as Part II of the constitution, thus becoming not only politically, but legally binding. Part II, Article 2 (21) of the draft constitution states that discrimination against members of a national minority is prohibited.

The draft constitution text could be modified if the Italian proposal regarding the protection of ‘people belonging to minorities’ prospers. The amendment, proposed by Italy, protects the rights of minorities and can be seen as an alternative after the rejection by different member states of the Hungarian initiative of recognising ‘the collective rights of the national minorities’ in Article 2 in mid-November.

Madrid and other capitals of different member states, such as the Baltic States, managed to succeed in stopping this recognition of the rights of ‘national minority collectives’. In the case of Spain, the Foreign Affairs Minister, Mrs Ana Palacio, stressed that Spain could not accept the amendment because of, according to her, the delicate situation of the Basque conflict.

In another meeting, Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana told Hungarian Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs, that Romania would only express support for the Hungarian proposal if the text referred to the individual rights of persons belonging to ethnic minorities, and not their collective rights.

However, Article 2 may be of use because if a State does not comply with it, the other member states can deny to that country the right to vote in the European decision-making process.

Alongside the minority question in the draft constitution national minority groups have strongly criticised the ‘territorial integrity’ clause (Article 5.1), which appears to prevent ‘collectivities’ from forming a state. It was raised at the EFA groups recent General Assembly where several MEPs strongly criticised the text. However, it was pointed out by Gustave Alirol (Parti Occitan) that the draft constitution says it will only ‘respect’ the territorial integrity of a member state not ‘guarantee’ it.

Gorka Knörr Vice President of the Basque Parliament spoke to Eurolang on the issue.

’We have been struggling to make the European Convention recognize the different internal levels of the European Union: Firstly, the EU itself, secondly the states and, finally, the particular national or regional realities of the states. But this has not been possible’.

'From one side, the theory concerning the internal organisation of the member states, which sets out that they manage their own 'internal issues' and not the European Union, is still valid today. On the other hand, some member states put pressure to reject everything which goes towards the direction of the recognition of national realities such as ours. Not even to mention the fact of the right to self-determination.'

'Its important to mention the inclusion of an article which ensures the respect of territorial integrity of the Member States. It is also important to mention the fact of having deleted from the first article the word 'peoples', leaving only the words 'states' and 'citizens', which is really ridiculous.'

’Moreover, what is the point of speaking about territorial integrity’ Said Mr Knorr referring to a future independence vote in Scotland (and whether Mr Aznar would disallow this), the reunification of Ireland, and the Gibralter question.

’Since we support the independence of the Basque Country, we do believe that we have the legitimacy to achieve this independence by democratic means. Our right must be respected, as a result of our free, democratic decision. The question is that a kind of blackmail is going on where we will not be part of the European Union if we become independent’. (© eurolang)

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