2011. 09. 15.
An incisive speech from József Berényi, President of the Hungarian Coalition Party (MKP –Slovakia), to the Intergroup (15/9) summed up many of the frustrations felt by national and linguistic minorities across Europe over the failure by States and the EU to implement benchmark protection standards such as the Copenhagen criteria and Council of Europe treaties.
Mr Berényi spoke about problems facing all of Europe’s national and linguistic minorities and focused on the situation of the Hungarians in Slovakia, numbering over half a million people. He discussed issues on dual citizenship, the Slovak Language law, the kin state and dual nationality issue, his concerns about the forthcoming census in Slovakia, and the overarching need for trust between communities.
Addressing the Intergroup he said that in the 1990s the Council of Europe (CoE) and the OSCE were “full of energy” to do things for human rights and for minorities, these based on two instruments the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM) and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (ECRML). However, after accession these instruments have been weakened. Both CoE treaties can only issue recommendations and we see a loss of authority of these bodies as these Treaties are ignored. Furthermore, there is almost no debate when this happens. Mr Berényi underlined that this will be a huge EU-wide problem in future and that there has been a big devaluation of the ECRML and FCNM. The CoE Parliamentary Assembly Report that he launched calls for an increase in competences for the CoE and OSCE and for more EU states to ratify the ECRML.
Turning to Slovakia, he said that the CoE Venice Commission and the OSCE had made 40 recommendations to Slovakia all of which had been ignored because they were only recommendations. The problem required the joint action of international organisations to act with national minorities. In terms of kin-state relations, cooperation is crucial and that the kin state has a moral responsibility to be active on behalf of its minorities.
The Hungarian Government enables Hungarians abroad to have Hungarian citizenship, which was also allowed in Slovakia. However, dual citizenship has since been banned in Slovakia where a deep mistrust between the majority and the Hungarian minority has emerged on the issue. Mr Berényi pointed out that this again was a European issue, as Hungarians are losing their citizenship and that Slovakia is losing citizens of all nationalities.
He criticised the lack of follow up on the Copenhagen criteria, which has been one of the few effective tools for national minority protection, especially since the passing of the Lisbon Treaty. In addition, nothing much can be achieved in an atmosphere of hostility within a State and that trust was key in establishing good relations between communities.
Intergroup MEPs raised several questions. Edit Bauer highlighted that the Commission avoids the issue by stating that national minority and dual nationality issues remain the competence of member states, while Hungarians in Slovakia are “humiliated nearly every month with some new measure”.
Responding, Berényi pointed out that the dual citizenship issue is an EU level problem, its not acceptable for the EU to go along with a denial of citizenship. “The EU cannot remain passive on this” he said, “it’s a schizophrenic situation” and that if the EU continues to tolerate this it raises questions about the EU itself.
Francois Alfonsi (EFA-Greens) said that the dual citizenship question affected fundamental freedoms of all people. Bernd Posselt (EPP) pointed out that a State which hurts its minorities, actually hurts itself.
Mr Berényi continued that with regard to rights its striking how States justify their lack of action by comparing themselves with other countries, and use that as a justification not to do anything. In addition, the Hungarian minority is declining in numbers according to official figures, something which is not acceptable and which underlines the need for a reconciliation document.
Berényi highlighted another unfortunate development which is the increase of hate speech against autochthonous national minorities, while hate-speech against other minorities is rightfully condemned. This trend is affecting all national minorities in Europe.
Markus Österlund, Secretary of the Swedish Assembly of Finland, discussed the position of the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland which historically has been good, but some recent developments have weakened its position as a minority. Dr Österlund presented the "The Action Programme for a Bilingual Finland" written by a group of experts headed by former Finnish president, and Nobel Prize winner, Martti Ahtisaari. One of its main aims was to create a sense of ownership of the Swedish language in Finland, to highlight the benefits of bilingualism, and to show how language was more that just a tool for communication but at the core of people’s identity.
The meeting concluded with Kinga Gál calling for a joint action plan comprising NGOs and politicians to draw up a road map that will reverse the worsening situation and result in the EU and States implementing measures to protect Europe’s national and linguistic minorities.