Discrimination against national minorities in Slovakia – Written Question and Answer

Discrimination against national minorities in Slovakia – Written Question and Answer

2009. 10. 06.

Written question by Kinga Gál (PPE) to the Commission

We have learned with indignation of the latest agitation against minorities in Slovakia. It is unimaginable that citizens should be fined (from EUR 100 to EUR 5 000) for using their mother tongue in a European Union Member State.
The openly discriminatory language law violates the EU's anti-discrimination principles and directives and many documents of the Council of Europe (including the Language Charter which Slovakia too has ratified) and of the OSCE. What will the Commission do to protect national and ethnic minorities in the EU Member State Slovakia, where the politicians currently in government are harming and discriminating against these communities through their legislation? Agitation against national minorities is constantly increasing and has now led to open transgressions against the rights of citizens and minorities, while the Slovak authorities assure international public opinion that their measures are not directed against minorities. The discriminatory measures are no longer confined to banning people from using their mother tongue: measures have also been taken which violate the principles of cross-border cooperation and of the free movement of goods and services. It is shocking and unacceptable for a law to be passed in the present-day European Union which openly discriminates against the rights of members of minorities in comparison with the majority nationality. What will the Commission do so that members of national minorities do not have to be afraid to speak their mother tongue here in the European Union in the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue?

A joint answer given by Mr Orban on behalf of the Commission
The Commission is aware of the amendment to the Act on the State Language of the Slovak Republic of 15 November 1995, adopted by the National Council of the Slovak Republic on 30 June 2009, which came into force on 1 September 2009.
There is no Community law regulating the use of languages within the Member States, nor does the Treaty provide powers for the adoption of such provisions. The Commission can only act if an issue is related to the application of EC law. This might be the case, for example, where a national provision on the use of languages constituted an unjustified barrier to the free movement of workers or other citizens, or to the freedom to provide services.
Council Directive 2000/43/EC of 29 June 2000 implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin(1) does not address directly discrimination on the grounds of language.
The Member States remain the decision-makers with respect to their internal language policy, including regional and minority languages, for which the Council of Europe's European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages provides a comprehensive framework. This framework is not part of Community law.
However, the protection of persons belonging to national minorities is an integral part of the respect for human rights, which is one of the principles upon which the European Union is founded as reflected in Article 6 of the Treaty on European Union. Member States should use all legal instruments available to them in order to guarantee the rights of minorities in accordance with their constitutional order and international law obligations.
The Honourable Member will also know that the Commission has developed a strategy to promote multilingualism in the European Union which covers official, national, regional, minority and migrant languages. The communication of September 2008, ‘Multilingualism: an asset for Europe and a shared commitment’(2), confirms the Commission's support for all languages spoken in the European Community, including the languages spoken by minorities.