In the European Union there are several regions and geographic districts with no administrative competences, that are distinguishable from their neighboring areas, due to their national, linguistic and cultural characteristics. The national communities that form a local majority or are present there in substantial number, but are in minority in the member state itself, and are therefore treated by the state as a minority, are keepers of old European cultures and languages and are significant sources of the cultural and linguistic diversity of the EU, and in a broader sense of Europe. From here on, we shall refer to these areas as national/ethnic minority regions, or simply national regions.
The legal definition of national/ethnic minority regions is essential, for this - in the context of article 6 of the treaty of Lisbon – one can reference the following:
- Recommendation 1811/2007 of the Council of Europe, which in its 6th point states the following: a majority of Council of Europe member states include communities with a strong cultural, political and historical identity, which are not mere regions but peoples and societies with a marked collective personality (described as regions, nations, nationalities, countries, etc.) that did not establish their own state but retain visible differentiating features that inform a political will for self government;
- Several dispositions of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities that speaks of areas inhabited by persons belonging to national minorities traditionally or in substantial numbers;
- Article 11 of Recommendation 1201/1993 of the Council of Europe, which states: In the regions where they are in a majority the persons belonging to a national minority shall have the right to have at their disposal appropriate local or autonomous authorities or to have a special status, matching the specific historical and territorial situation and in accordance with the domestic legislation of the state;
- The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, which defines the territory in which the regional or minority language is used as the geographical area in which the said language is the mode of expression of a number of people justifying the adoption of the various protective and promotional measures provided for in this Charter;
- Article 16 of Recommendation 1334/2003 of the Council of Europe, which states that central government must react with understanding when minority groups, particularly when they are sizeable and have lived in an area for a long period of time, demand greater freedom to manage their own affairs independently;
- The common constitutional traditions of the EU member states, in accordance with article 6 of the treaty of Lisbon, as well as the rulings of the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights, including the rulings in the Hauer, Nold and Thimosev cases. In the latter, the court states that ethnicity has its origin in the idea of societal groups marked by common nationality, tribal affiliation, religious faith, shared language, or cultural and traditional origins and backgrounds;
- Articles 3 of the Treaty on European Union, which sais, that the EU shall respect its rich cultural and linguistic diversity, and shall ensure that Europe’s cultural heritage is safeguarded and enhanced diversity;
- Article 167 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which sais, that the Union shall contribute to the flowering of the cultures of the Member States, while respecting their national and regional diversity.
These current definitions, regulations, resolutions are equally applicable to autonomous regions having legislative competences, and to regions that do not possess even administrative competences, but have expressed their desire to possess autonomous status within the state.
The above stated facts show clearly, that the concept of national/ethnic minority regions (or national regions), is not the innovation of the organizers of the current citizens’ initiative, all of the essential elements of the concept to be defined in an EU legal act already exist in countless international documents adopted by many of the member states, and they are in perfect harmony with the core values and goals of the European Union.
The characteristic, historically rooted traditions, the culture, language and religion of the peoples inhabiting these regions are important elements of the social and territorial cohesion that the cohesion policy of the EU should not ignore. The cultural characteristics have a bearing on the economy and development of the respective regions, the member states, the EU, and the cohesion policy of the EU could be a key factor in the sustainability of these regions’ culture, and by extension, of Europe’s cultural diversity, as these are the regions where said cultural diversity is the most endangered. On one hand the regions have much fewer resources at their disposal that can be used for the preservation of their regional cultures than the member states, but on the other hand they are also the most threatened by the spontaneous processes - like labor migration and the resulting assimilation processes -, that accompany economical changes. In addition, in some member states they are exposed to open or covert forms of economical discrimination, which aims for the emigration of the local autochthonous population, and the eradication of that specific regional identity. Similar disadvantages include any restrictions imposed on linguistic rights, the marginalization of the region’s language in the economic life and generally in the public life, as well as other legal or practical manifestations of discrimination, including those associated with the EU policies and the financial assets required to implement them, and used for the purpose of discrimination by the member states.
These processes are contrary to the fundamental values defined by article 2 of the Treaty on European Union, so they impose obligations for the Union, as article 3 says not only that the EU “shall respect its rich cultural and linguistic diversity”, but also states, that “shall ensure that Europe's cultural heritage is safeguarded and enhanced”. So simply respecting the core values of the EU is not sufficient for stopping the mentioned processes, and for implementing the EU policies without harming the fundamental values of the EU.
The respect towards the EU’s cultural diversity is further enforced by the Charter of Fundamental Rights, article 22: “The Union shall respect cultural, religious and linguistic diversity”. At the same time, article 19 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union states that “without prejudice to the other provisions of the Treaties and within the limits of the powers conferred by them upon the Union, the Council, acting unanimously in accordance with a special legislative procedure and after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament, may take appropriate action to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation”.
The citizens’ initiative for the equality of regions has three objectives. First of all, the cohesion policy of the EU could play an important role in the realization of the above stated objectives and a separate legal act could be an important instrument in guaranteeing the equality of regions with regards to the national regions. On the other hand, it should be a minimal expectation that the EU’s cohesion policy should not violate the EU’s general principles, its objectives, or Europe’s cultural diversity, through the inappropriate management of the national regions. Furthermore, through proper cohesion policy, the additional economical potential hidden in the social and territorial cohesion of the national/ethnic minority regions can be released, and transformed into a valuable economical resource, for the good not only of the regions, but the member states and the EU.
Article 174 of the Treaty on European Union states the following: “in order to promote its overall harmonious development, the Union shall develop and pursue its actions leading to the strengthening of its economic, social and territorial cohesion. In particular, the Union shall aim at reducing disparities between the levels of development of the various regions and the backwardness of the least favored regions”.
In this context Article 174 specifies that “among the regions concerned, particular attention shall be paid to rural areas, areas affected by industrial transition, and regions which suffer from severe and permanent natural or demographic handicaps such as the northernmost regions with very low population density and island, cross-border and mountain regions”.
As examples, article 174 lists six categories of regions that are granted particular attention in order to realize the EU’s cohesion policy. This list however is not exclusive, leaving open the possibility to further expand it through a separate legal act with new categories, such as regions with national, linguistic and cultural characteristics, called by us national/ethnic minority regions. The EU must grant particular attention to regions with national, ethnic, cultural, religious or linguistic characteristics, due to being inhabited in a significant percentage (or even in majority) by an autochthonous European community, where they have created their own historically rooted culture.
The discrimination - including its covert forms - against such regions must be strictly prohibited. They must be given equal opportunity to access the EU’s structural funds, as well as all other EU funds, resources and programs. The cohesion policy should in no way be directed towards the elimination or even weakening of their national, linguistic and cultural characteristics. In no way should the EU’s economic assets be used as direct or indirect instruments of anti-minority policies. As such, EU funds and policies may not be used to alter the national composition, regional identity or cultural image of a national region, or to support employment policies that would promote the settling of labor force with a different culture and language. Such practices are also contrary to the member states’ international commitments, and their common constitutional heritage.
Accordingly, when forming the NUTS regions, linguistic, ethnic and cultural boundaries must be taken into account, along with the will of autochthonous communities that form the majority of the region’s population, expressed through local referendum prior to the delimitation of the NUTS regions.
Even Regulation 1059/2003/EC on the establishment of a common classification of territorial units for statistics (NUTS) states, that when creating the NUTS regions, socio-economic, historical and cultural circumstances must also be considered. We find necessary that this provision should be clearly and explicitly formulated in the legal act for the protection of the national regions, in accordance with the commitments of the member states, the fundamental values of the EU and the EU’s cohesion policy.
There are many national regions in the EU with a broad range of legislative competences. Through their autonomy, they are capable of turning their specificities into economic resources. Neither the cohesion policy of the EU, nor the economic policies of the member states can work on the “grass cutter” principle. If a national region is capable of creating higher standards of living through their capability of self-organizing, through the working morale rooted in their culture, and through the regional traditions, these must be treated as part of the regional culture, neither restrictive measures, nor additional taxes may be imposed upon them. This would undermine the EU’s additional potential for growth, the sources of which are these regions themselves. It should be noted that the economical results of many such regions with wide-ranging self-management rights within an EU member state shows, that autonomy within the state not only helped the development of the ethnic group living in that region, but provided an economical and cultural surplus to the member state, and the EU as a whole. The general EU definition of the national/ethnic regions, and the legal and institutional framework regarding them would provide advantages for the whole of the EU that otherwise could not be guaranteed.
The majority communities of the national regions are peoples. Consequently, the national regions are peoples’ homelands, just like the countries of Europe, and should be treated as such. In no way should they be treated as colonies; all - including disguised - forms of their exploitation, are contrary to the fundamental values of the UN, as well as the values and objectives of the EU.
Let us recall that the peoples of the United Nations - in the UN Charter - express their belief in the equality of great and small nations, while the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that “all peoples may, for their own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources without prejudice to any obligations arising out of international economic co-operation, based upon the principle of mutual benefit, and international law. In no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence”. As a direct consequence of the universality of human rights, this right also applies to minorities, regardless of whether the communities they belong to are defined as regions, nationalities or countries.
There are many national regions whose language is not among the official languages of the EU. These languages (such as the Catalan, Basque, Corsican, Breton, Welsh, Scottish, Frisian, etc.), are bearers of old European cultures, and should not be treated as second class languages. They are a part of Europe’s cultural diversity, their discrimination should not be allowed. In this spirit, some languages can become official languages of the Treaty, based on article 55 of the Treaty on European Union: This Treaty may also be translated into any other languages as determined by Member States among those which, in accordance with their constitutional order, enjoy official status in all or part of their territory. In Europe’s economic life, in the EU institutions, they are entitled to have the same status as the official languages of the member states.
The resolution of the European Parliament on The Protection of Minorities and Anti-Discrimination Policies in an Enlarged Europe, in its 44th article states, that the European Parliament “considers that particular attention should be devoted to groups of people belonging to linguistic minorities, and calls on the Commission and the Member States to treat them in accordance with the principles laid down in the European Charter on Regional or Minority Languages, the FCNM and the abovementioned Hague and Lund recommendations”.
In its 45th article, the same resolution states that “effective participation in decision-making based on the principles of subsidiarity and self-governance is one of the most effective ways of handling the problems of traditional minority communities, following the best practices existing within the Union”. While article 46 underlines that “traditional national minority communities have specific needs different from other minority groups, that public policies should be more focused and that the Union itself must address these needs in a more appropriate way”.
We, the organizers and supporters of the Citizens’ Initiative for the equality of regions, fully agree with this resolution of the European Parliament, and join the request to the Commission and the member states, requiring that the legislation that would be elaborated by the Commission should comply with the needs formulated in the resolution. We welcome all modest steps made in this direction, including the one titled “Migrants, Minorities and Education” published by the FRA, which dedicates a separate chapter to „The Educational Situation of National Autochthonous and Indigenous Minorities”.
We believe that in order to ensure the equality between regions and the sustainability of the regional cultures, the economic backlog of Europe’s national regions must be prevented, the terms of their economic, social and territorial cohesion should be maintained in a way, that doesn’t alter their characteristics. To this end, they must be granted equal opportunity to access structural and other EU funds, resources and programs, the sustainability of their characteristics and the appropriate economical development must be guaranteed, so that the EU’s overall harmonious development can be sustained and its cultural diversity maintained.
These guarantees, in accordance with the above referenced resolution and the will of the communities in question, could become the institutions of regional self government, that have to be endowed with sufficient competences to help sustain the region’s national, linguistic and cultural characteristics, and regional identity.
The legislation should also pronounce that the Member States must, without delay, fulfill their international commitments regarding the national minorities. Violation or non-compliance with commitments would be a violation of the values listed in article 2 of the Treaty on European Union, and imply the procedure described in article 7.
Beyond defining the concept of national regions, the legal act elaborated by the Commission must also identify name them in an appendix, taking into account the criteria in the listed international documents, and the will of the affected communities.
In its content, the legal act to be elaborated by the Commission should be based on the values specified in recommendations 1201/1993, 1334/2003, 1811/2007 of the Council of Europe, the European Charter of Local Self-Government, European Charter on Regional Self-Government, the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, the European Parliament’s decision on EU citizenship adopted on the 21st of November 1991 and Resolution 2005/2008(INI) of the European Parliament on The Protection of Minorities and Anti-Discrimination Policies in an Enlarged Europe, and must follow their objectives. At the same time it must consider as international standards all individual and collective rights generally adopted by EU member states, the common constitutional heritage, in the way the ECJ determined it in its sentence in the Hauer case.
(Adopted by the standing commitee of the Szekler National Council on the 4th of August 2012, in Ghindar – Makfalva)