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Loránt Vincze at CoE conference: the hopes tied to the Framework Convention and the Language Charter have not yet been met

“A new generation of minority rights instrument is needed. This should be on the agenda of the Council of Europe as soon as possible and should address individuals and community rights instead of state interests and it should promote best practices in this field including successful autonomy arrangements in Europe”, said FUEN President MEP Loránt Vincze at the closing conference of the Hungarian Presidency of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg on Tuesday, October 19, 2021.

In his speech at the conference “The identity of national minorities in diverse societies: European perspectives”, Mr Vincze pointed out that beside the drawing up and the implementation of the Charter of Human Rights, the creation of the Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities and the Charter of Regional or Minority Languages were the greatest accomplishment of CoE, as these instruments achieved the widest impact in Europe. He added that it was the war and the large-scale human tragedy in the former Yugoslavia that made the European countries realise that “issues of national minorities and the fulfilment of international agreements on the rights of minorities are a legitimate international question and do not represent just an internal affair of a given state.” “Unfortunately, since the end of the nineties we witness a stagnation in minority rights standards. (…) Today the European Union persists in the same mistake: the “ever closer” political union, coupled with the aspiration to be a beacon of values and example in the world, willingly ignores the development of a common set of standards for national and linguistic minorities”, stated the FUEN President.

“Today the commonly accepted wisdom is that the ratification of the Framework Convention by an overwhelming majority of EU and CoE member states is the certified proof that the minority issue is solved in Europe once and for all. This is totally wrong. Even in the European Union there are signatories who do not recognise their minorities, increasingly cut back from previously granted rights or do not implement adopted legislation on minorities. But we also see ethnic conflicts or tensions in our immediate neighbourhood, namely in Ukraine, but some Western Balkan countries also facing serious issues when dealing with identity based ethnic disputes.

Loránt Vincze shared with the public several concerns of the more than 100 FUEN member organisations from 35 states: “In some states international treaties from the ninetieth century are used as arguments, such as the Lausanne Treaty for the non-recognition of the Turkish Minority in Greece, or twentieth century national laws such as the Beneš-decrees in Slovakia that still today produce legal effects, Hungarian private properties are being confiscated based on post-war collective stigmatisation arguments. Several tens of thousand of ethnic Russians are denied citizenship in Estonia or Latvia on the assumption of collective non-loyalty. But even with clear evidence of continued mistreatment of many minorities in its Member States – and my organisation, the FUEN adopts annual around 5 to 10 resolutions on concrete issues, sent to the European states and institutions – the EU remains largely silent on the grounds of wrongly interpreted subsidiarity principle.”

Stating that the hopes tied to the Framework Convention and the Language Charter have not yet been met, the FUEN President made some proposals for improvement. According to these, the role of the Advisory Committees should be strengthened, and the reporting fatigue of state parties should be actively addressed; the enforcement of compliance with recommendations of the advisory committee should be strengthened; the leadership of the Council of Europe and its member states should have bigger ambition and commitment towards the issue of the rights of national minorities and its own instruments, and they should invest more political effort in strengthening the instruments by actively encouraging its State Parties to sign and ratify them. He also said that a better monitoring mechanism is needed to investigate the ways in which compliance could be increased, updating the reporting practices, and encouraging State Parties to use them in domestic political processes, such as when designing policies or drafting legislation. The new challenges also require a new generation of minority rights instruments, he added, since many parts of the two instruments are outdated and do not consider new challenges such as digitalisation, artificial intelligence, or recent studies on multilingualism as added value in our societies

On the role of the European Union, Mr Vincze said that it should embrace the Framework Convention and the Language Charter more seriously and embed them in its rule of law monitoring, as it does with the recommendations of the Venice Commission. “The Council of Europe and the European Union have a long tradition of inter-dependence and co-operation, the standards developed by the Council of Europe essentially constitute the core of EU membership criteria in matters of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. This could be the same in the field of national minorities. Both parties would only have to gain from a strengthened relationship”, he concluded.

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