EU agency vote revives Slovakia-Hungary language row


A recent decision to host a new EU energy agency in Slovenia has revived tensions between Budapest and Bratislava, which had hoped to host the agency in the Slovak capital.

Budapest dropped its support for Bratislava’s bid to host the Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators (ACER) in retaliation to Slovakia’s passing of a language law restricting the use of minority languages in the country, a Slovak minister claimed.

“I am disappointed with Hungary, because I remember its position in Luxembourg [in June], which was favourable to Slovakia but has now changed,” said Slovak Energy Minister Lubomir Jahnatek after the annoucement of the decision on Sunday (6 December).

When asked whether Hungary’s change of heart was related to the spat over the Slovak language law, the minister explicitly replied: “I think this is the reason.”

Slovakia’s new language law has attracted strong criticism from the Hungarian minority in Slovakia and by the international community at large for violating basic anti-discrimination rules (EURACTIV 10/07/09). 

“The new law will discourage ethnic minorities from using their own languages,” argued Agnes Biró, an member of parliament from the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), which represents the Magyar minority in Slovakia.

Revenge over EU agency?

In June, the EU’s Council of Ministers could not decide where to locate the new EU agency for cooperation between energy regulators, ACER, because it lacked a simple majority among the 27 EU member states.

At their Luxembourg meeting, 13 member countries voted in favour of Ljubljana, the Slovenian capital, while 13 others voted in favour of Bratislava, the Slovak capital. As the holder of the EU’s six-month rotating presidency Sweden did not vote.

On Sunday, 15 member countries voted in favour of Slovenia and 11 in favour of Slovakia (EURACTIV 07/12/09). Hungary voted against Bratislava, attracting criticism from the Slovak minister.

Bulgaria also changed its mind, shifting its preference to Ljubljana after having initially supported Bratislava.

“I am a bit surprised by Bulgaria, which withdrew its support for the Slovak candidacy in the second round,” commented Jahnatek.

The Hungarian and Bulgarian permanent representations in Brussels were unavailable for comment.

The Slovak parliament passed a new Language Act on 30 June 2009. The amended law, tabled by Culture Minister Marek Ma?'ari?, introduced fines of up to €5,000 for using 'incorrect' Slovak. 

The law also enforced stricter official regulation for 'correct' Slovak. For example, memorials and plaques featuring texts in both Slovak and a foreign language must not carry a foreign inscription that is larger than the Slovak one. 

Minority languages are a sensitive issue in Slovakia, where 10% of the population speaks Hungarian as a first language.

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