German minorities criticise EU for rejecting citizens’ initiative

A soldier stands guard during a Danish state visit to the Danish minority in Germany. [EPA-EFE | Martin Ziemer]

More than 1.1 million people demanded that the European Commission do more to protect minorities, but Brussels neglected to take action. German minority associations are outraged and are trying to build up the pressure on European level. EURACTIV Germany reports.

When the instrument of the European Citizens’ Initiative was introduced in 2007, expectations were high. In practice, however, the Commission regularly refrains from action.

This was also the case with the “Minority SafePack,” a citizens’ initiative aimed at protecting minorities within the EU. It involves nine concrete demands, such as the establishment of language centres to protect endangered languages or the promotion of cultural diversity.

“Respect for the rights of persons belonging to a minority is one of the core values of the Union,” said Věra Jourová, Commissioner for Values and Transparency. But after an in-depth examination of the initiative, she said, the Commission has concluded that existing or adopted legal acts already meet the initiative’s requirements.

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The European Commission said on Friday (15 January) that it would not propose new laws in response to a petition demanding a protection package for national minorities that garnered 1.1 million signatures across the EU.

‘Embarrassing to ignore this call’

Strong criticism of this approach is now coming from Germany. “I didn’t expect the Commission to completely shoot down all the points,” Green MEP Rasmus Andresen told EURACTIV Germany.

Andresen was responsible for the initiative in the Parliament, and he himself belongs to the Danish minority in Germany.

“I find it embarrassing to simply ignore a call from over a million citizens and the European Parliament,” he said. Particularly as it would have been relatively easy to set up language centres, for example, the MEP added.

In its reply, the Commission pointed out that the member states already had many options for using EU funds for minorities. Andresen agrees with this, but the problem with minority protection lies precisely in national governments’ inaction.

In many countries, the protection of minorities is a sensitive issue, for example in Spain, where the Catalan minority is demanding special protection for its culture and language. There, it is not welcomed when Brussels interferes in these sensitive issues.

Andresen suspects that the Commission did not want to risk a conflict with these states, and that is also why it reacted so passively to the initiative.

Together with other MEPs from all political groups (except ID), Andresen responded with an open letter to the Commission. The decision is “unworthy of a European Union whose fundamental values and Charter of Fundamental Rights point to the duty to respect minorities and promote their rights.”

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Fight goes on

Hans Heinrich Hansen, former president of the Federal Union of European Nationalities (FUEN) and ex-chair of the German minority in Denmark, the counterpart of the group Andresen identifies with, is also disappointed. Hansen was one of the organisers of the initiative.

“The Commission has rejected the initiative with a barrage of speeches,” Hansen said. “This development puts a question mark behind the instrument of the European Citizens’ Initiative and underlines that the Commission is acting far away from the citizens,” he told Der Nordschleswiger magazine.

On Monday, Andresen met with representatives of German minorities, including Frisians and Roma and Sinti, to discuss how to proceed via video conference.

There was “widespread disappointment” because they “felt that their own identity was not worth much to the EU,” Andresen described.

But the mood quickly turned combative, he said. Now, he said, they will turn to national governments to put pressure on the Commission. Andresen made it clear: “We don’t want to accept it.”

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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