The European Parliament national and linguistic minority Intergoup met in Strasbourg on Thursday welcoming presentations from the Council of Europe, agreeing on a new name, and issuing a statement on the Lisbon Treaty.
The statement (see below) welcomes the EU treaties as amended by Lisbon and “looks forward to the development and implementation of autochthonous national minority and linguistic rights in the EU and its Member States. It welcomes the opportunity to work with the Commission and Council in establishing binding, meaningful legislation for national and linguistic minority protection in Europe.”
The statement also calls for the continued support for lesser used languages in Europe and that the Lisbon Treaty also recognises regional and local self-government. It calls for a “sincere application of the subsidiarity and partnership principles and for the acknowledgement of stateless nations and regions as genuine partners in the EU governance system. Multilevel governance must be implemented throughout the whole decision-making process of the European Union.”
The meeting featured presentations from the Secretariats of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (Krzysztof Zyman), the European Charter for Regional of Minority Languages (Alexey Kozemyakov) and from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Agnieszka Szklanna). Each session was followed by close questioning from MEPs, particularly over the issue of the Slovak language law and continuing discrimination against regional languages in France.
The Intergroup co-chairs, Kinga Gal and Carl Haglund, stated that they will work to establish a formal cooperation with the Council of Europe in the work of the Intergroup.
In its work programme the Intergroup has agreed on its roles and objectives. Its role will be “to serve as an open forum for exchanging ideas and views on the situation and future of traditional minorities, national communities and languages. In order to promote awareness and understanding of minority issues in Europe, the Intergroup serves as a meeting point for political groups, European institutions, non-governmental organisations and minority representatives.”
The objectives of the Intergroup are “to increase awareness of national and linguistic minority issues and problems related to these; to inform the members of the new European Commission about minority issues; to facilitate the development of policies and practices in support of minorities; and to stress minority rights as an integral part of fundamental human rights and basic principles of non-discrimination.”
It continues that:“In the long term, the Intergroup strives to initiate European legislation to strengthen national minority protection”.
Meetings will be in Strasbourg on the Thursday morning of the plenary sessions and with various ad hoc meetings, seminars, hearings and conferences in Brussels. International organisations, national and linguistic minority NGOs and representatives, and academics working in the field, will be invited to attend.
The meeting also agreed to change the group’s name to the Intergroup for Traditional Minorities, National Communities and Languages.
Intergroup on Traditional National Minorities, Constitutional Regions and Regional Languages
Statement on the Lisbon Treaty
The Intergroup on Traditional National Minorities, Constitutional Regions and Regional Languages takes note of the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, which increases the role of the European Parliament, and which has a historic significance for the European integration process.
The Intergroup welcomes that the Treaty of Lisbon strengthens the basic values and rights of the European Union, by including the rights of persons belonging to minorities in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union.
Furthermore, Article 6 of the Treaty on the European Union is an enabling provision for the Charter of Fundamental Rights giving the Charter the “same legal value as the Treaties”. It gives EU citizens a comprehensive catalogue of rights, in particular Articles 21.1 and Article 22, by prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of ethnic origin, being from a national minority, and language.
Therefore, the Intergroup looks forward to the development and implementation of autochthonous national minority and linguistic rights in the EU and its Member States. It welcomes the opportunity to work with the Commission and Council in establishing binding, meaningful legislation for national and linguistic minority protection in Europe.
This Intergroup particularly welcomes Mr Barroso’s statement (24/11/2009) that the new Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship will also have responsibility for minority discrimination issues. In order for this progress to continue we suggest that the new Commissioner has, as part of her portfolio, a specific responsibility for autochthonous national and linguistic minorities. To this end, the Intergroup would welcome if the Commissioner appointed a special advisor on the topic, which would also align with OSCE and Council of Europe best practice.
The Intergroup sees that there can be significant benefits of having education, culture, multilingualism and youth in the same portfolio. Language and culture are two sides of the same coin, representing the wide diversity of which we are so proud. This diversity needs to be promoted, particularly by supporting minority languages in Europe. The Intergroup however wants to stress the fact that multilingualism had its own portfolio in the previous Commission and that these issues should not be overshadowed by the many other important tasks in the Commissioner’s portfolio.
The Intergroup also welcomes the recognition of regional and local self-government in Article 4 (2) of the Treaty on European Union and the inclusion of the regional and local level in the subsidiarity clause of Article 5 (3) of the Treaty on European Union.
The Intergroup insists that the political culture of the European Union and its Member States must follow these institutional changes. The Intergroup therefore calls for a sincere application of the subsidiarity and partnership principles and for the acknowledgement of stateless nations and regions as genuine partners in the EU governance system. Multilevel governance must be implemented throughout the whole decision-making process of the European Union. Therefore the Intergroup will promote a culture of multilevel governance.
The Intergroup also welcomes that the Treaty of Lisbon significantly strengthens the accession clause to the European Union. According to this, the founding values mentioned in Article 2 of the Lisbon Treaty not only have to be respected by any state willing to be member state of the European Union, but the state also has to commit itself to their fulfilment. The Intergroup considers this as being an important step towards fighting double standards regarding the protection of EU values.
Strasbourg, 17 December 2009.