The expert Prof. Hofmann sees the MSPI as a meaningful initiative that does not compete with the Council of Europe agreements

- Sajtóközlemény

In its response to a parliamentary question from the Bündnis 90/ Die Grünen parliamentary group on the Minority SafePack Initiative, the German government states that it is always in favour of further efforts to protect and promote national minorities, stating a press release by the Minderheitensekretariat. The answer to the individual demands of the European Citizens' Initiative, 'Minority SafePack', does not yet include a position by the Federal Government. It remains to be seen "whether and when the organisers of the initiative will officially submit the validated signatures to the European Commission and to what extent the Commission will take up the individual demands of the initiative".

At the same time, the Federal Government points out that the Council of Europe's Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM) and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (ECRM) already guarantee a high level of protection for national minorities in Europe. When dealing with the "Minority SafePack" initiative, it will therefore have to be taken into account "that no 'competing regime' should be established at the level of the European Union with regard to these two Council of Europe agreements, which would create ineffective parallel structures" In addition, "the establishment of an independent protection regime for national minorities at the level of the European Union could entail the danger that the focus on issues of minority protection shifts from the Council of Europe to the European Union - possibly with a lower level of protection than at the level of the Council of Europe - and thus also the guarantee of minority protection".

Not only in order to get to the bottom of this misleading positioning of the Federal Government, FUEN has asked the expert in the field of European minority protection, Prof. Dr. Dr. Rainer Hofmann*, to provide an expert opinion on the significance of the MSPI for the protection of minorities in the EU states. Hofmann's well-founded assessments reflect very clearly that the anchoring of minority rights in the legal framework of the European Union demanded by the MSPI represents an added value for the protection of minorities in Europe and should not be regarded as competition to the already existing international agreements of the Council of Europe.

How do you assess the vision of the MSPI initiators to anchor minority rights in EU legislation? How important is the MSPI to you for the protection of minorities at the European level?

Hofmann: I consider this project to be an initiative that is as necessary as it is meaningful to implement the EU's obligation, laid down in Article 2 in conjunction with Article 3(3)(4) of the EU Treaty, to effectively protect the rights of persons belonging to minorities. At EU level, the MSPI is obviously the first coordinated initiative of central importance, and it is above all the initiative of persons belonging to minorities that is obviously taken and supported. I also believe that it fits perfectly well into the pan-European framework for preserving and promoting minority rights, in which the Council of Europe and the OSCE play a key role.
For example, I have absolutely no concerns that there might be harmful competition or unnecessary overlap between what the Council of Europe has been doing with considerable success in this area for more than 20 years and what the Union could achieve by implementing the objectives of the MSPI, particularly in the area of preserving cultural and linguistic diversity. For example, observations by FCNM or ECRM monitoring bodies stating that certain states lack the financial resources to preserve such cultural and linguistic diversity in areas such as education, culture and the media could lead to such resources being made available from the EU Regional Development Fund, for example.

Can the MSPI help to improve the protection of minorities in the EU states - in addition to existing international agreements (FCNM, ECRM) - and find cross-border solutions?

Hofmann: Without any doubt, yes: Firstly, there are those EU Member States - such as Belgium, Greece and France ( at least Luxembourg has ratified the Language Charter) - to which none of these agreements apply yet. For the areas covered by the MSPI, this would be the first time that such rights would be enshrined in international law. But for the other EU member states, too, there will be stronger safeguards and improved enforcement because of the much greater binding force of future Union law relevant to minorities - in comparison to FCNM and ECRM; this naturally applies in particular to areas such as copyright, where the MSPI aims to ensure that media and services in the mother tongue can also be perceived across borders through the creation of binding European Union law. The adoption of non-legally binding measures, such as some recommendations, for example on the promotion of cultural diversity, will also have a considerable impact. Finally, I would like to emphasise the possibilities, within the framework of the relevant European Union law, of launching cross-border initiatives to safeguard and promote minority rights 'on both sides of the respective borders', of providing sufficient funding by including such programmes in the objectives of the EU Regional Development Fund and of coordinating them to a certain extent; in my view, such projects, which are to some extent led by the European Union, could solve the problems that have repeatedly arisen in bilateral relations between the states concerned.
different assessments of the role of kin-states.

Which added value would the implementation of the European
Citizens' initiative Minority Safepack  for national minorities in the European Union? Which states within the European Union have the most needs to improve the implementation or establishment of minority rights?

Hofmann: A first added value lies in the signal effect of the implementation of the MSPI: The Union takes its obligation in this regard under Art. 2 in conjunction with Art. 3 para. 3 (4) TEU (finally) seriously. I see further added value in the areas of a reform of copyright already mentioned, which includes initiatives to ensure the provision and use of audiovisual content in minority regions, as well as the unconditional inclusion of improved promotion of the interests of minorities in the objectives of the EU Regional Development Fund. More generally, the implementation of the objectives of the MSPI is an extremely appropriate step towards making the preservation and promotion of the cultural and linguistic diversity of Europe,  so often invoked by politicians of all stripes, a reality by providing adequate funding; I believe, for example, that programmes to promote the preservation of numerically smaller languages or to fund research projects on the added value of minorities in our societies are both necessary and useful; I also believe that it is essential to consider the creation or, in any case, substantial financial and non-material support for a centre for linguistic diversity.

In which fields could the implementation of the MSPI achieve the greatest progress for minority policy in the EU?

Hofmann: First and foremost, this is the broad area of safeguarding and promoting Europe's cultural and linguistic diversity, one of the European Union's objectives explicitly mentioned in Article 3(3)(4) of the Treaty on European Union. This requires, as banal as it may sound, sufficient financial resources; the Union can make a considerable contribution to this by implementing the objectives of the MSPI in all its areas. My many years of work for the Council of Europe in the field of minority rights have also taught me that preserving and promoting the linguistic and cultural identity of persons belonging to national minorities is crucial to preserving the independent identity of these people. But the certainty of being able to preserve this independent identity is also an essential condition for the creation and maintenance of genuinely integrated societies - an objective which is of paramount importance in this age of increasing intolerance and exclusion of 'others'. An active minority policy aimed at truly integrated societies is therefore much more than a policy to preserve cultural and linguistic diversity: it is rather an indispensable component of any European policy which focuses on the overriding objective of European unification, namely the promotion of peace, the values of the Union and the well-being of its peoples.

*Prof. Dr. Dr. Hofmann is Professor of Law at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, Chair of Public Law, International Law and European Law. From 1998-2004 and 2010-2012 he was President of the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities of the Council of Europe and has already published various articles on the protection of minorities in Europe, including the hand commentary on the FCNM, published in 2015 by Nomos Verlag.

(Photo source: Minderheitensekretariat)


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