We have the million, we have the answers: celebrating the success of the Minority SafePack Inititative at the FUEN Congress

- Press releases

Members of the Citizens’ Initiative, leaders of FUEN member organisations and representatives of other partners involved in the successful campaign of the Minority SafePack Initiative discussed the story of the initiative and the steps to follow next at FUEN’s 63rd annual Congress in Leeuwarden/Ljouwert.

The European Citizens’ Initiative asking for EU protection and support for the autochthonous minorities gathered 1,320,000 statements of support and reached the national threshold in 11 Member States, which is a victory worth celebrating, but it is not the end of the process, and the strategy for the next period has to be thought out carefully in order to achieve the final goal – was the conclusion of the debate moderated by FUEN President Loránt Vincze.

There was a moment when the representatives of the minority living in the far east of the European Union came to the minority in the far west and presented their idea for European minority protection, the FUEN president recalled the moment of the first meeting between Anke Spoorendonk and Hunor Kelemen.

Member of the MSPI Citizens’ Committee, from the Danish minority in Germany, Anke Spoorendonk said at first she saw the MSPI as a vision, but at that time she didn’t think it could succeed, but nevertheless they wanted to show that they really wanted it to happen. This was the one citizen initiative that pushed it further than any other one, and this is why it succeeded, she believes.  The Vice President of the European Free Alliance made it clear that we cannot have a Europe where part of the population is discriminated, and the Copenhagen criteria should be respected even after the states have joined the EU. She also said that the next commission should have a minority commissioner the minorities can talk to.

The President of the RMDSZ, the organisation of Hungarians from Romania, Hunor Kelemen stressed the need for a short-term and a long-term strategy for the MSPI. On the short term we have to reason and to find partners even in the majority, he said. „As we have seen this European Commission has tried to sweep the problematic issues under the rug or found bad solutions for them. This Commission will most probably not support our initiative at the moment. We have to be smart, we cannot risk seven years of work and 1.3 million signatures for a few months. I believe that we should wait until next year’s EP elections and for a new European Commission, which has many issues to rethink” – said the President of the RMDSZ.

Gyula Winkler, MEP of the RMDSZ said looking back on the last seven years of the Minority SafePack, he can say that there were times for planning, of hardship, and although now it is a time for joy, a time to celebrate the success of the campaign, it is not a time to rush, but a time for strategic  thinking. “I agree with Hunor Kelemen and Anke Spoorendonk, that there is a need for a short term and a long term strategy.” Csaba Sógor MEP said there is a lot that minorities can learn from each other. “My hometown’s mayor was fined with 60 000 euros for using the Szekler flag, while the Frisian flag does not face this kind of restrictions in the Netherlands, nor in Szeklerland. This is why the EU should have a say in minority issues”, he pointed out. South Tyrolean MEP Herbert Dorfmann said he was not pessimist but rather realist when he considered it would be almost impossible to succeed with the MSPI, as the campaign proved to be hard. He also agreed on the need for a proper strategy in order to maximize the chances of success.

Gösta Toft, Vice President of the FUEN is convinced that the success of the MSPI in Denmark was not only a success for the minorities, but a success for the majority as well. “Minorities and majorities should act together. We need a legal framework to assure the protection of the minorities”, he added. Loránt Vincze welcomed Balázs Tárnok, representative of the Rákóczi Association responsible for the MSPI campaign in Hungary, the country contributing with the most signatures. Vincze highlighted that more than 600,000 signatures were collected solely from Hungary. Tárnok talked about a good experience, which drew in a large part of the Hungarian society:  churches, political parties also participated in collecting signatures.

Some communities who are not part of the FUEN had a strong contribution during the campaign, this being the case in Spain, where both the Basques and the Catalans got involved. Erika Casajoana, the representative of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) said they were keen on being involved even in the case the Initiative would have not succeeded to gather the necessary number of signatures, and their motivation was that even though they are a nation without a state of ten million people, they are not allowed to use their mother tongue in relation to the European Union. Former MEP Inaki Irazabalbeita from the Coppieters Foundation said that their message to the Basques was that of internal and outside solidarity, emphasizing that the Basque people living in France can not enjoy the same rights as the one living in the Basque country.

Olivia Schubert, representative of the Germans in Hungary and Alexandar Milošević, a Serbian minority member of the Croatian parliament talked about their experiences with the elections in their home country. Olivia Schubert said that they were both gathering support for the parliamentary elections, but also for the Minority SafePack Initiative, and the campaign was backed by the German minority. Milošević confessed that the MSPI campaign was easier than expected: there was a good cooperation among local minorities, good assistance from FUEN.  

Bernard Gaida said that although they did not manage to reach the threshold in Poland, there is a lot to learn from the campaign. While the Germans from Poland gathered a large part of the signatures, the other minorities were not involved, and they have to figure out how can these minorities be persuaded to become more active at international level. 

Petar Tyran, representative of Burgenland Croats in Austria stated that their efforts were not in vain, as they have earned statements from politicians who have spoken positively about the MSPI and called for support. They want to build on the fact that all parties support the initiative in Austria.

Jean-Pierre Levesque, representing the Institute for Culture Bretagne talked about the unique situation in Western Europe of the national minorities of France. There are no organisations, and the French state doesn’t even want to hear about giving any rights to these minorities.  Even the minorities have no faith that anything could change in this regard, thus maybe the MSPI was a signal to them that things can be achieved. Tatjana Ždanoka, former MEP and a member of the Russian minority in Latvia raised awareness about the state shutting down secondary schools of the minority, and said she is counting on FUEN to address this issue as well.

YEN’s recently elected president Giuanna Beeli said the youth organisation has noticed that activism helps and that it can move people. She presented their campaign for the MSPI and said they were committed to make these MSPI themes visible in the Council of Europe.

FUEN Vice President and member of the German community in Russia Olga Martens noted that although they are not part of the European Union, as Europeans, and as Germans they found the MSPI very important. They actively worked to motivate those Russian Germans who returned to Germany to commit themselves to the MSPI. “In Russia, it was important to us to make this initiative visible on societal level.” She added that indeed supporting more than 90 minorities can be a very difficult task for the EU, but it can also become a model for Russia, where there are 192 minorities.

David Statnik of Domowina talked about the challenges of the signature campaign faced by them in Germany: “We realised that the people should hear the message at least three times, before they sign. Another problem was the attitude, that there are no threatening factors of the wellbeing of the members of the minorities”. The threshold of 72,000 signatures couldn’t be met, but they did not lose fate in the eventual success of the initiative, said the representative of Sorbs in Germania. Jens A. Christiansen of the Sydslesvigsk Forening said that minorities must be seen as an opportunity, not a threat. National minorities are also Europeans, and Europe is a community of diversity for the good of Europe and the individual nations, he added.

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


More photos at Flickr