Citizens' Initiative for the Equality of Regions

          As soon as citizens of the European Union gained the opportunity to get involved directly in the legislative process, interest in community rights started to grow. We are focusing our attention on one aspect that affects us directly. For many years we have heard that the European Union has no minority protection legislation and no minority protection strategy. To outsiders seeing various organisations trying to make use of the possibility of EU citizens’ initiative on this topic, it might seem that the Treaty of Lisbon opened up new opportunities to protect minority rights. However, that is not the case. The EU’s competence has not been expanded in this respect and it still cannot adopt minority protection legislation.
          The new provisions regarding the citizens’ initiative offers the same opportunity to a million citizens of the EU that the European Parliament previously had. In the past if one or more MEPs would have prepared draft law that would also benefit their own community, they could have launch the same legislative process that can be launched today with the support of one million EU citizens.  However, such draft law was never prepared.

          The possibility of a regional approach         
          What could be the foundation of an EU legislative proposal that could also advance the cause of the Szekler people? At its constitutive meeting on 26 October 2003, the Szekler National Council adopted a decision that would have made Szeklerland a separate European region in the future. It expressed the natural need to take into account Szeklerland’s cultural, linguistic and historical circumstances during the creation of the NUTS regions. The initiative followed general EU practice, also taking into account regulation number 1059/2003/EC, and took the situation of South Tyrol, Valle d'Aosta, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Corsica, Sardinia, Catalonia, Basque Country, Galicia, Friesland and Brittany (also independent NUTS II regions of the EU) as a model.
          The concept developed by József Csapó and adopted by the Szekler National Council aimed to use EU legislation in parallel with steps taken before the parliament in Bucharest, the final objective of both being the creation of an autonomous Szeklerland. At that time Romania was not a member of the European Union and designation of the NUTS regions did not occur until June of the following year, when law 315/2004 was adopted. Sadly, the opposite happened to the wishes expressed by the Szekler National Council: Szeklerland became part of the Central Region, in which the percentage of Szeklerland’s Szekler-Hungarian population is now below 30 percent.
          The NUTS regions are instruments of the EU’s cohesion policy, which aims the equal economical development of all regions and the catching up of disadvantaged regions. It is a key rule that the fundamental values of the Union, including cultural diversity, should not be compromised in the legislative process or in implementation of EU policy.
          In its resolution on the content of the citizens’ initiative, the Szekler National Council defined EU cohesion policy and the EU’s cultural diversity as the two pillars of its initiative. The initiative’s key sentence is as follows:
          “In the case of regions with special national, ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic characteristics, including geographical areas with no administrative competencies, the prevention of lagging behind economically, the sustainment of development and preservation of the conditions for economic, social and territorial cohesion should be done in a way that guarantees their national, ethnic, religious or linguistic characteristics remain unchanged”.
          A successful initiative capable of advancing the cause of Szeklerland needs to take the EU’s cohesion policy and the regions themselves, which implement such policy, as its starting point rather than the protection of minorities or basic democratic principles, since the Union has no legislative competence in these fields. Only such an initiative has a chance to be registered by the European Commission, launching a process that could benefit all of Europe’s national regions.

          The possible title, objective and subject of the citizens’ initiative        
         At its meeting on the 19th of November 2011, the Szekler National Council adopted a resolution on the title, subject and objectives of the citizens’ initiative. The resolution was published in Hungarian, English and German, sent to experts, and presented during our discussions in South Tyrol this January and the February meeting of the KMAT (Hungarian Autonomy Council of the Carpathian Basin) in Budapest. Bearing in mind the stated objectives, considering the opinions of experts and potential partners and also taking previously registered initiatives into account, we plan to present - together with our potential partners - the information required to register the initiative in the following form :
1. The title of the proposed citizens’ initiative: Cohesion policy for the equality of the regions and sustainability of the regional cultures.
2. The subject matter: The Union should pay particular attention to regions which possess special national, ethnic, cultural, religious or linguistic characteristics.
3. Description of the objectives of the proposed citizens’ initiative on which the Commission is called upon to act: In the case of the regions indicated in the title, including geographic areas with no administrative competencies, the prevention of lagging behind economically, the sustainment of development and the preservation of the conditions for economic, social and territorial cohesion should be done in a way that ensures their national, ethnic, religious or linguistic characteristics remain unchanged. For that purpose these regions must be given equal opportunity to access structural funds and the preservation of their characteristics and their adequate economical development must be guaranteed, so that the EU’s comprehensive and harmonious development can be sustained and its cultural diversity maintained.
4. The provisions of the Treaties considered relevant by the organisers for the proposed campaign:Articles 2 and 3 of the Treaty on European Union
Articles 153, 167, 170, 174, 176, 177 and 178 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

          We call on the Commission and the Member States         
         This title may be surprising to some, thinking that an initiative could at most ask or suggest. The phrasing, however, is not our own; it is taken from the European Parliament’s resolution on the protection of minorities and anti-discrimination policies in an enlarged Europe (2005/2008(INI)) which states in Article 44 that “particular attention should be devoted to groups of people belonging to linguistic minorities, and calls on the Commission and the Member States to treat them in accordance with the principles laid down in the European Charter on Regional or Minority Languages, the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the above mentioned Hague and Lund recommendations”. The same resolution states in Article 45 that the European Parliament “considers that effective participation in decision-making based on the principles of subsidiarity and self-governance is one of the most effective ways of handling the problems of traditional minority communities, following the best practices existing within the Union; encourages the Member States that have yet to ratify the FCNM to do so without further delay.” Further, in Article 46, it states “that traditional national minority communities have specific needs different from other minority groups, that public policies should be more focused and that the Union itself must address these needs in a more appropriate way”.
          The detailed description of the initiative must refer to this resolution and needs to make clear that one million citizens of the European Union support the European Parliament’s call on the Commission and the Member States. It is essential to raise the point that these regions must be provided with institutions of regional government that have increased competences. These institutions must possess sufficient competence to ensure appropriate economic development and at the same time preserve the regions’ characteristics.

           Vision of the protection of minorities         
          The initiative of the Szekler National Council has been criticised as not extending to all minorities, since there are peoples belonging to a national minority, but living dispersed, outside the areas we call national regions. We must recognise that the protection of minorities has reached a point at which generally applicable, universal laws cannot be adopted. The only way to move beyond that point is by taking a different approach.
          The majority communities of national regions are peoples. Like the countries of Europe, every national region is the homeland of a people. We must ensure that the international community treats them accordingly. They in turn will act as the mother countries to fellow nationals living outside their boundaries. If they are strong enough, empathy and mutual interest can enable them to help other minorities in the future. This is how the expected success of national regions can become the next common destination of European minority protection.

                                                                                                                       BALÁZS IZSÁK
Erdélyi Napló, 31 May 2012

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