Cohesion policy and national regions; the aspects of citizens’ initiative in Szeklerland

On the 19th of November 2011, the Szekler National Council held a meeting where they made a decision as to what the subject of the EU citizen’s initiative should be, and what aims should it have. The decision can be considered a proposal to the citizens’ committee, regarding the information, which according to Regulation 211/2011, must be submitted to the Commission, if they are to register the initiative.

In my earlier writing, also published in the ‘Szempont’ section of the ‘Krónika’ (a newspaper in Transylvania), I talked about how the aspirations of Europe’s regions with national, linguistic and cultural characteristics, can be linked to the community law, and how the necessity of regional self government can be approached from Community Law’s perspective, so that it can become the subject of an EU citizens’ initiative. Now I will attempt to approach the same issue from the perspective of the recent past and present of Szeklerland’s economy, and try to shed light on how the EU goals, the strengthening of territorial, economical and social cohesion, may serve Szeklerlands’ autonomy efforts.

Discrimination in the economical policies
In the communist era, the country’s economy – as all areas of social life – was directed exclusively by the party-state dictatorship. The state was the sole proprietor of all lands, factories, and the top party leadership has decided where to deploy industry, how to develop the infrastructure, and how to train experts. The authorities in Bucharest subordinated even the economic policies to the creation of a homogenous nation, which also meant the assimilation of all Hungarians. Szeklerland’s economic backwardness and poverty was due to the lack of jobs. Szeklers were forced to take up jobs on construction sites and industrial centers far from their homeland (a lot of them didn’t even return home), or to commute to the mainly Romanian Brassó (Brasov, Kronstadt). By common logic, the deployment of industrial centers and the job creation was in the interest of the local community, however, wherever this was actually realized, workforce was brought from regions inhabited by Romanians, and the few investments served no other purpose than to convert Szeklerland into a region populated by Romanians. There was a secret plan to romanize Marosvásárhely (Targu Mures), the capital of Szeklerland, which was brought to light from the archives of the communist party after the regime change. Many still remember that the construction of the Marosvasarhely chemical plant began after two Romanian majority administrative regions (rayons) from the Transylvanian Plains were annexed to the Hungarian Autonomous Region. Thousands of workers, along with their families, were brought from the Romanian majority Plains and the Old Kingdom. Despite this, Szeklerland is still inhabited in 75% by a Hungarian majority, and nearly half of the 175000 Romanian inhabitants live in Marosvasarhely. Most of them were brought here under the premise of industrial development. This was an apparently irresolvable dilemma: shall Szeklerland remain an underdeveloped region, from where the poverty will force the indigenous Szekler population to move out, or will it be modernized, which will come with Romanian settlers. Those who thought about this question - or merely worded it – received distinctive attention from the Romanian Political Police, and had to face severe punishment.

The situation did not improve even after the regime change. The privatization of industrial enterprises was carried out in a way that the local community (the Szeklers) was completely excluded; the state assets went under unverifiable circumstances, from Szeklerland, into the hands of foreign interests.

Disadvantages in the Union
Accession to the European Union could’ve meant the chance to solve Szeklerland’s above described dilemma, since the EU’s cohesion policy is specifically intended to prevent economic backwardness of some regions, and to help the poorer, more disadvantaged regions to catch up, maintaining in the same time, Europe’s cultural diversity. The EU Structural Funds and other financial instruments serve the purpose of reducing the economical disparities of various regions and the backwardness of the most disadvantaged regions. The Union makes these funds accessible to territorial entities formed through the subdivisions of countries for statistical purposes, known to the public as NUTS regions, or development regions. Szeklerland could’ve become a second level, separate NUTS territorial unit – that is a separate development region – if the political representatives of the Hungarian population would have realized the importance of this in time, and would have been able to enforce this regional interest of the community. This did not happen. Szeklerland’s population of over 800.000 people would’ve made it suitable; even the dispositions of regulation 1059/2003/EC on the establishment of a common classification of territorial units for statistics says, that economic, social, historical, cultural, geographical or environmental circumstances must be taken into consideration. We should also remember the Szekler National Council’s constitutive meeting on October 26 2003, where the delegates formulated this claim as well. Despite all this, Szeklerland was made part of the Central Region, where the Hungarians (including the Szeklers)  form less than 30% of the population.

On the above map boundaries of the Central Region and its constituent counties’ are screened over the map of Transylvania’s ethnic composition. At a glance we can determine that Szeklerland is separated from the rest of the Central Region, by cultural and linguistic boundaries. It is also known that the Central Region can not help Szeklerland’s economy to catch up; in fact, it doesn’t even give Szeklerland any chance to gain access to the EU Structural Funds. The planned administrative reform of the Romanian government, that would transform the development regions into the countries new administrative regions, aims for the assimilation of the Szeklers’ solid community, which till this very day forms a majority on the land of their ancestors. This is obviously contrary to the Union’s goal to preserve Europe’s cultural diversity.

As the people of Szeklerland, we have good reasons to believe that our homeland’s ethnic, linguistic and cultural characteristics, as well as its differences from the surrounding regions are a disadvantage from an economical point of view. We do not have the means to eliminate the economical legacy of the oppressive assimilation policy, and the covert forms of discrimination makes very difficult the usage of the Union's funds. We rightly feel that the Romanian government did not give up it’s plans of national homogenization, and still persists in altering Szeklerland’s traditional culture, architectural image and ethnic composition through as many means as possible, which beyond our own fate, threatens Europe’s cultural diversity.

The Szekler National Council’s proposal
On this second map, we noted the boundaries of Szeklerland, as defined by the Szekler National Council’s draft law. We emphasize that this is a concept which is consistent with the above mentioned dispositions of regulation 1059/2003/EC on the establishment of a common classification of territorial units for statistics, which says that economic, social, historical, cultural, geographical or environmental circumstances must be taken into consideration while establishing the NUTS regions. This is a very important element of the Szekler National Council’s objective, as the first step towards regional autonomy is the designation of the region itself, the drawing of its borders. It is often said that the principles laid down in the decisions of the Council of Europe, and the commitments made by its member states can not be invoked in the European Union. On the contrary, the resolution of the European Parliament on the protection of minorities and anti-discrimination policies in an enlarged Europe (2005/2008(INI)) makes the following statement in its forty-fourth article:

The European Parliament “considers 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 FCNM and the abovementioned Hague and Lund recommendations.”

Now let’s take a look at the fragment of the Szekler National Council’s resolution, which makes a proposition on the objectives of the citizens’ initiative. The first half confronts the EU legislators with the reality that makes the adoption of an EU legal act necessary:

In the case of the regions that exhibit unique national, ethnic, religious or linguistic characteristics - including geographic areas with no administrative competencies, - the prevention of the economic backlog, the sustainment of the development, the preservation of the conditions for their economic, social and territorial cohesion should be done in a way that guarantees their national, ethnic, religious or linguistic characteristics remain unchanged.

Szeklerland’s example shows that neither the Structural Funds, nor other financial means of the EU are sufficient for this task. The statistical regions can be created in such a way (although by ignoring the criteria provided by regulation 1059/2003/EC), that the result is the diversion of the EU cohesion policy, creating the risk for the region to loose its historically developed cultural identity, and at the same time to intensify its economical backwardness. For the Commission, the task within its competence is given, seeing how the regulation on the EU citizens’ initiative relegates the actual solution, the formulation of the EU legal act, in the Commission’s competence. At the same time, it allows for the initiators to detail their needs, their goals and even to submit also draft legislation, not only the mandatory information. The second part of the Szekler National Council’s proposal shows the direction for these details:

For this purpose these regions must be provided with the institutions of regional government with increased competences, that are given sufficient competence to preserve the region’s characteristics, and ensure appropriate economic development, in order for the EU’s comprehensive and harmonious development could be sustained, and at the same time, its cultural diversity preserved.

If the commission will find a different solution to enforce the EU’s cohesion policy in the regions with national, linguistic and cultural characteristics, it is to be welcomed, since it would still be an important step towards reaching our goals. It should be known however, that the Szekler National Council’s resolution’s proposals regarding self-government are in accordance with article 45 of the above quoted resolution of the European Parliament:

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”.
Article 46 makes even clearer the idea: The European Parliament “Considers 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, since, with enlargement, there is now a significant number of such communities in the Union”.

The organizers of the citizens’ initiative must reference this resolution in the detailed description that can be provided with the required information, to make it clear that the solution they offer is built on the values indicated in the legal acts of the European Union.

Szeklerland’s potential allies
In conclusion, we should say a few words of whether Szeklerland can count as allies, on the European Regions that have already attained a certain level of autonomy. The path to national self determination can be imagined as waterway, upon which several ships sail in the same direction, and though they came to different distances, the favorable wind means the same thing for all of them. Such a convenient wind could be a Union legal act, which brings Szeklerland closer to it’s recognition as a region by law, and the creation of the institutions of autonomy, but also brings South Tyrol closer to the “Vollautonomie” (full autonomy) program announced by the People’s Party, or creates the favorable condition so that the Catalan language can become an official language of the EU, and that all regions with national characteristics, to extend their already recognized legal competence. This is also a task for us: to find the potential allies, and together, develop the detailed concept, that represents a step forward for everyone.

The first such points of connection that should be mentioned is the common goal that the EU would grant high priority to their cohesion policy taking full effect in regions with national, linguistic and cultural features, while at the same time, these features are fully preserved. The EU must provide equal opportunities to these regions, in the use of the Structural Funds and other financial assets, and at the same time must exclude all forms of discrimination including implicit ones. When establishing the statistical regions, the linguistic and cultural boundaries of the inhabiting communities must be respected, the areas where minority or regional languages are used must be taken into consideration, in accordance with the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

There is a need for an EU-level legislation that would codify these principles and objectives. To this end, together we will collect more then one million signatures in at least seven Member States of the European Union and we will show the world that Europe's national regions can work together for common goals.

(All maps are made using the maps of László Sebők)

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