Ensuring the rights of national minorities is mandatory in the EU accession process

2023. 05. 24.

At the initiative of the co-chairs of the European Parliament’s Intergroup on Traditional Minorities, National Communities and Languages (Minority Intergroup) the minority policy of countries wishing to join the European Union was discussed in Brussels, during which the situation of national minorities living in Ukraine came into focus. “The protection of national minorities is the same value as any other basic EU value. It is necessary to help the countries awaiting accession feel that the EU values are theirs, and to ensure that this commitment is reflected in the national legislation. In order for minorities to contribute to the integrity of a particular state, it is necessary to guarantee them equal treatment and full recognition of their rights, religion and beliefs. Countries awaiting accession must be assured that respect for EU values is necessary not only during the accession process, but also after becoming full member” – emphasized Olivér Várhelyi, Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement.

Regarding Ukraine, Olivér Várhelyi said that the war complicates the situation of minorities living in the country and neighbouring countries. The support, given to Ukraine for implementing EU requirements, also means helping the minorities living in the country. The enlargement process should help minorities to live in much better conditions in the country than before. In the case of Ukraine, there are serious problems that must be solved, including the issue of minority education and the use of minority languages. All these problems have to be solved together with the minorities.

“And as long as the minorities are happy in the country, we can be sure that the right solution is found” – added the Hungarian EU Commissioner.

László Brenzovics, the President of the Transcarpathian Hungarian Cultural Association (KMKSZ), explained: “In Ukraine, in 1992, there was passed a minority law that could be measured by European standards and provided broad rights that actually largely satisfied the needs of the minorities living in the country, and this was included in the constitution of Ukraine in 1996. However, in 2017, with the adoption of the Education Law, later the Language Law, and then the new Law on Minorities, all our previously enjoyed rights were either taken back or severely restricted.”

“We ask that our rights be restored in accordance with the Constitution of Ukraine and Ukraine’s international commitments,” added the President of the KMKSZ.

This conference is primarily important in order to draw the attention of the European Parliament and the EU decision-makers to the fact that since 2017, the laws passed in Ukraine have continuously restricted the rights of national minorities and that the implementation of the postponed education measure will come into effect this September, as a result of which students studying in Hungarian schools will be deprived of the opportunity to study exclusively in their mother tongue, and after that, they will have to switch to Ukrainian and Hungarian bilingual education overnight. Measures like this, which restrict rights and harm the interests of the Transcarpathian Hungarian community, must be amended during the Ukrainian EU accession process, this can be stopped now, as the Copenhagen criteria also contain strict regulations in the field of guaranteeing minority rights”, emphasized MEP Andrea Bocskor.

MEP Kinga GálCo-Chair of the Minority Intergroup, pointed out: “The experiences of the past twenty years show that the rights of traditional linguistic and national minorities can be guaranteed only during the accession process. In Brussels, we often find that they are not aware of the situation of the Hungarian, Romanian and Bulgarian minorities living in Ukraine, which is why it is important to draw Europe’s attention to discriminatory practices and breaches of their rights. Only a Ukraine that respects basic human rights and treats its national minorities as equal citizens can join the European Union. After all, these minority communities could be the most committed supporters of Ukraine’s EU perspective, but the recently adopted laws do not promote this. A prerequisite for Ukraine’s accession to the EU should be the guarantee of minority and linguistic rights, thus complying with the Copenhagen criteria. In this context, the first step is the full restoration of the previously existing rights of national minorities. One of the main goals of our conference today was to draw attention to this.”

We have raised the issue of national minorities in the European Parliament on several occasions, and we will continue to do so, because we believe that the protection of minorities is an EU issue and should be an EU competence. Minority rights are human rights. Minorities have the right to protect their identity, their culture – their cultural institutions, their mother tongue, their press – and they have the right to education in their mother tongue. Minorities are not a threat to the majority, but they need the support of the majority to preserve their identity in their homeland”, said MEP Loránt VinczeCo-Chair of the Minority Intergroup.