Autonomies in Europe – an overview

- Press releases - The different models of autonomy in Europe were extensively presented during the FUEN Congress

Autonomies in Europe – an overview

The different models of autonomy in Europe were extensively presented during the FUEN Congress. Prime Minister of South Tyrol, Luis Durnwalder, opened the discussion about different models of autonomy in Europe and presented the history of the South Tyrolean autonomy model.

“Our autonomy model cannot one to one be implanted in other minorities, but it can be an example for other minorities”, underlined Luis Durnwalder. “With stubbornness, endurance and friends you can achieve a great deal”, the Prime Minister said.

Durnwalder highlighted the key moments in the development of South Tyrol since 1919, he elaborated upon the attempts to assimilation, marginalisation and deportation, explained the importance of the Gruber-De Gasperi-Agreement and the politics of the fifties and sixties, told about the changes in the Italian constitution in 1972 and the consequences of the declaration to end the conflict of 1992. In his speech, Durnwalder also touched upon the future challenges for South Tyrol and the efforts to increase the autonomy especially in matters of taxation.

Before the representatives of several minorities presented their models of autonomy in Europe, FUEN Vice President and Member of the Regional Executive Martha Stocker gave a short theoretical overview of the different forms of autonomy.

Jordi Pujol, who has been President of Catalonia for many years, spoke in his speech about the historic and current situation in Catalonia. Catalonia is in the northeast of the Iberian Peninsula and is one of the 17 autonomous communities in Spain today. For his ethnic group especially the language and culture are important characteristics for their own identity. They have succeeded in maintaining these characteristics, particularly since Catalan is being spoken by circa six million people nowadays. “The Catalan identity has to be further consolidated”, said Pujol.

The identity of the Faroe Islands was the main topic of the contribution by Sigmundur Ísfeld, Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs. The island group, which is located between Iceland and Scotland, is an equal nation within the Danish Kingdom and therefore it has the competence to decide autonomously on many issues. The inhabitants of the Faroe Islands therefore also do not see themselves as a minority, because they are living in a country where they are in the majority. Nevertheless there are, especially in regard to the European Union, several issues that urgently need to be solved. Whereas Denmark is a Member State of the Union, the Faroe Islands are not. “Our challenge is to be a part of Europe, without becoming member of the EU. We look for cooperation, but we do not want to integrate completely into the EU”, said Ísfeld.

For the Hungarian minority in Romania on the other hand the European Union is a source of hope, said Hunor Kelemen, former Minister of Culture for Romania and President of RMDSZ (Democratic Alliance of the Hungarians in Romania). “We are an important asset for Europe”, said Kelemen. He called upon the EU to do more for the concerns of the autochthonous minorities. In the end the minorities will deprive no one of anything, but they will create added value. “Solidarity was and is a driving force in Europe”, stressed Kelemen. That is why he is confident that FUEN will be successful with its European Citizens’ Initiative and that as a result it will help the European Union to establish a framework for minority protection.

Along the same lines also László Borbély, Vice President of the Hungarians in Romania (RMDSZ) and former Environment Minister, addressed the audience: “together we will be strong”, said Borbély. “If we collect one million signatures, we can prove to Europe that we are an asset.” In his speech Borbély shortly elaborated upon the history of the Hungarians in Romania, and gave a report on the latest issues and challenges. “The rights of minorities should not be dependent on whether they live together in a region”, said Borbély. At the moment there is a debate in Romania about a new constitutions. “It is surprising that the new majority – which does not need our votes – wants to introduce some topics that are important for us.”

Valentin Inzko, chairman of the Council of the Carinthian Slovenes / Narodni svet koroških Slovencev and United Nations High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina gave a report on partly similar experiences. With the new Carinthian Prime Minister Peter Kaiser we finally can develop our talents and dig up our hidden treasures”, said Inzko, who quoted the South Tyrolean Prime Minister: “Minorities that do not have any demands, are dead minorities.” For this reason minorities also have to claim their rights. “We expect from the Austrian Federal Government that they will enact a new Ethnic Group Statute.”

Tatyana Smirnova, representative of the International Association of the History and Culture of the Germans in Russia spoke about the minorities and nationalities in Russia, where there are both models of territorial and cultural autonomy. “The rights of the cultural autonomies and the structural and financial support for them have been strongly reduced”, said Smirnova about the current situation. There will be more problems in the near future, that have to do with migration.

In Poland, on the other hand, the situation has become better after the political changes of 1990/1991, according to Norbert Rasch, Member of the Regional Parliament in Opole (Poland) and chairman of the Social-Cultural Association of the Germans in Opole-Silesia. Nevertheless there are significant goals that still have to be achieved. “We are a minority without schools – that is regrettable and not easy”, said Rasch. Although German is taught as a foreign subject in Polish schools, there are no minority schools. That is why it is important that the minority continues, and even stronger than before, to play a political role.

Despite linguistic diversity in Europe and its minorities, there are lots of things we have in common, such as the protection of language and culture, being proud of your own minority and the self-confidence to the outside world, underlined Leanne Wood, Party Leader of Plaid Cymru from Wales (Great Britain), already at the beginning of her speech. The Welsh self-confidence has grown in the past years, and for example is visible in the increasing bilingualism. Already one in every five people living in Wales speaks Welsh.

Bernard Cyz spoke of the situation of the Lusatian Sorbs, who mainly live in the German states of Saxony and Brandenburg. The managing director of the Federation of Lusatian Sorbs, Domowina, belongs to a minority of 60 000 people, who rely on a protection mechanism that is guaranteed by the federal states and the Federal Republic of Germany. This is in particular the case in regard to cultural self-administration. An appeal to the politicians is still necessary in order to improve the current state of affairs. “We need the support of Europe and the state”, said Cyz at the FUEN Congress in Brixen.

In his speech, Oliver Paasch, Minister for Education, Training and Employment of the German-speaking Community in Belgium shortly entered into the diverse and troubled history of the German-speaking Belgians. “My grandfather, as an example, changed nationality four times in his life, although he never left his hometown”, said Paasch. The German-speaking Community in Belgium is the smallest federal state in the European Union, according to the Minister. Paasch explained, based on concrete examples from education policy, how a small border region can achieve excellent results based on European cooperation. “This is only possible because we are deliberately participating in networks, we are willing to cooperate in Europe and just because we work in networks we are even capable of making an advantage of our small size, with short administrative distance to our citizens and direct dialogue with them”, underlined Minister Oliver Paasch.

(Source: South Tyrolean People’s Party)


Key Topics

  • Political Participation
  • Fundamental Rights
  • Linguistic Diversity
  • Solidarity with the Roma
  • European Citizens' Initiative
  • European Network
  • Forum of the European Minorities / House of Minorities

Flickr

More photos at Flickr