This presentation was part of a policy dialogue in Brussels following the publication of a report on minorities in transition. It proposes strengthening the impact of existing minority rights instruments and closer links between the Council of Europe and the European Union.
Minorities in an ever wider European Union
First of all may I thank the European Policy Centre and the King Baudouin Foundation for convening this discussion on the valuable report on Minorities in transition.
I am delighted to join such a distinguished group of panellists who have such rich persona experience in this field. I have know Csaba Tabajdi for almost twenty years and his outstanding work with national minorities, I knew Jan Jarab and his important human rights work with Roma in the Czech Republic and I am looking forward to knowing Jacques Rupnik personally.
The time available for my presentation is short, so let me cut to the chase. I am planning to focus on the Council of Europe’s work on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, the only instrument of international law offering a comprehensive of minority rights protection and promotion.
I note the important work of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, especially on new migrants and asylum seekers, and the value of the European Charter on Regional and Minority Languages that has been ratified by 23 states. However it is the context of the FCNM that I give my personal comments on the policy recommendations made in the report.
The Preamble of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities stipulates guiding principles and makes it clear that :
the protection of national minorities is essential to stability, democratic security and peace in this continent;
Considering that a pluralist and genuinely democratic society should not only respect the ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious identity of each person belonging to a national minority, but also create appropriate conditions enabling them to express, preserve and develop this identity;
Considering that the creation of a climate of tolerance and dialogue is necessary to enable cultural diversity to be a source and a factor, not of division, but of enrichment for each society;
Considering that the realisation of a tolerant and prosperous Europe does not depend solely on co-operation between States but also requires transfrontier co-operation between local and regional authorities without prejudice to the constitution and territorial integrity of each State;
The key elements of the FCNM and the monitoring processes, with in country missions and dialogue with government and minorities, is shown in the leaflet that I have hear and is available to all of you as a reference point. But I must move on.
2008 is the 10th anniversary of the FCNM coming into force.
There are 39 ratifications of the Convention,
Andorra, Belgium, Luxembourg, Greece, France, Iceland and Turkey have not ratified and- I suggest unless there are domestic constitutional changes some States, like France, never will.
The Advisory Committee has formed Opinions on the situation of national minorities in all 39 States, and in many states parties two sets of opinions five years apart. These have followed 53 monitoring visits, each of over week’s duration, where we meet many actors, including national minorities and governments.
While welcoming the recommendation of the report Minorities in Transition that States ratify the Charter of Regional and Minority Languages, further support is support is still needed to strengthen the FCNM. More ratifications are required, while the full implementation of the recommendations provided by our Advisory Committee and the Committee of Ministers is crucial. Furthermore States should be encouraged to be more transparent and facilitate more dialogue and initiatives on the implementation of the Framework Convention for the protection of national minorities.
Now that our Convention is 10 years old, I am eager to persuade my Committee to set up an Impact review on our work that will learn lessons from the past and guide us to be more effective in the future.
• How can we be more effective role in protecting vulnerable communities such as the Roma? Their situation in most of Europe is one of the disgraces, if not outrages, of contemporary society.
• How can we promote more effectively the progressive realisation of minority rights?
Sweden and Finland are two good examples of states succeeding, but much work is needed elsewhere in both older and newer EU member states.
• How can the Advisory Committee engage more closely with the European Union, including the European Parliament?
The EU and the COE could ensure that the Copenhagen Accession Criteria of 1993 is represented in the implementation of policies and programmes locally.
For our impact review, I hope that members of this audience will provide us with critical reflections and practical proposals, such as those in the report being presented today.
All democracies are in a constant state of transition, inside the EU or outside it, including parties to the FCNM that must progressively implement its norms. Both the COE as well as the EU need to respond to the changing social, economic and cultural landscape, as well as the more obvious changing political environments.
Let me end on a point of debate.
I would be more than happy for the European Union to ratify the FCNM. However I see no realistic prospect of this now or in the next decade. Nor do I see any realistic prospect for the 27 States of the EU agreeing unanimously to establishing comprehensive, legally binding standards for the effective protection and promotion of minority rights with independent monitoring mechanisms.
The agreements around the new European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency in Vienna have reinforced the leading role of the Council of Europe in standard setting on Human and minority rights and made it clear that there should be no duplication. Consequently I would be pleased to see the European Commission play a more active role in the monitoring mechanisms of COE Human Rights Treaties, especially the FCNM. Inter alia the Commission could attend the relevant Committee of Ministers’ discussions and Parliamentary Committees could request observer status.
While I support the sentiments of needing more robust implementation of minority rights, I am convinced that this will most likely come from a greater synergy between the EU and the COE, each of which are stronger together on minority rights.
It is here that we should be redoubling our efforts.
Thank you for this dialogue I look forward to sharing the reflections from today and the new report entitled Minorities in Transition with my colleagues, who are promoting minority rights in Europe, but are based in Strasbourg.