The place of minorities in the EU

As the fifth successful European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI), the “Minority Safepack – one million signatures for diversity in Europe” initiative demands a stronger focus on minorities’ rights in EU policies.

Written by Sophia Stille // 30.07.2021

How much do you know about people speaking Basque, Catalan, Frisian or Saami? Or the Danish minority living in Germany? The EU is home to over 60 regional or indigenous minority languages, which are spoken by 40 Million people. Approximately 8% of EU citizens belong to a national minority and 10% speak a regional or minority language. The ethnic distribution of people in Europe does not always correspond to the political division into states, which is often a lot more recent. This is recognised and policy-makers agree that there is a need to include minority languages and communities into EU policy-making – but what’s the status quo?

In April 2017, the Minority Safepack ECI was registered with the European Commission. The ECI is a mechanism for EU citizens to get involved in EU policy-making. For an initiative to be successful, the organisers need to collect 1 million signatures from citizens of at least 7 different EU countries. The initiative demands policy action to prevent minority languages becoming extinct, rights for stateless people and cultural, as well as linguistic equality in Europe. Within one year, they successfully collected more than 1.3 million signatures, emphasising the consent of the people for EU legislation that speaks to and for minorities living in the European Union. 

The Minority Safepack Initiative includes 9 proposals which were taken up by the European Commission, namely:

  1. An EU-Recommendation for the protection and promotion of cultural and linguistic diversity
  2. The set-up of funding programmes for small linguistic communities
  3. The creation of a “Language Diversity Center”
  4. The objectives of EU’s regional development funds to include the protection of national minorities and the promotion of cultural and linguistic diversity
  5. Research about the added value of minorities to our societies and Europe
  6. Approximating equality for stateless minorities
  7. A single European copyright law, so that services and broadcasts can be enjoyed in the mother tongue
  8. Freedom of service and reception of audio-visual content in minority regions
  9. Block exemption of regional (state) support for minority culture, media and cultural heritage conservation
Minority Safepack rights in the EU

Reaction of the EU Institutions

In October 2020, the initiative received support by the European Parliament during a public hearing. Following this, a plenary debate was organised in December 2020 where a resolution to support the rights of minorities in the EU was passed. In January 2021, the Commission published its answer, analysing all nine goals in a detailed manner. Whereas no new legal acts have been proposed, the Commission refers to already existing policies that have been amended and will further support the goals of the initiative. It emphasises that diversity is ‘at the heart of the Union’ and one of the core principles the EU was founded on. It also referred to Articles 21 and 22 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights which are in place to uphold the rights of persons belonging to minorities. Furthermore, the Commission mentions the ‘Union of Equality’ plan, which includes the EU Anti-Racism Plan, the Gender Equality and LGBTQI Strategies and the EU Roma Strategic Framework for Equality, Inclusion and Participation.

The answer of the Commission was criticised by the organisers and Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), saying that the Commission rejected the initiative with a ‘barrage of speeches’ without taking action.

What’s next?

While the ECI procedure has been terminated, the work of the organisers continues. MEP Rasmus Andresen (Greens/EFA) announced that they will turn to national governments to put pressure on the Commission. The fight for sufficient representation of rights of minorities in EU policies thus continues.

Our Only Home will update you about new developments regarding the initiative on our news blog. If you want to stay updated about the organisers’ work, sign up for their newsletter or follow the ECI’s page of the European Commission. 

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