Academic journal article Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE

The European Union and Interethnic Power-Sharing Arrangements in Accession Countries

Academic journal article Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE

The European Union and Interethnic Power-Sharing Arrangements in Accession Countries

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

The re-occurrence of wars on the European continent has led the European Union (EU) to put particular emphasis on protecting national minorities in Central and Eastern Europe. The enlargement process endows the EU with far-reaching power in those countries that have applied for EU membership. This paper is less interested in how this power facilitates the implementation of minority protection standards in accession countries. It rather focuses on the impact exerted by the EU on the arrangements of domestic interethnic politics, i.e. on the institutionalized relations between political actors representing ethnic minorities and majorities. Adopting this perspective is motivated by the assumption that 'politics matters' for the situation of national minorities because international norms of minority protection continue to be only weakly developed and specified. Faced with normative uncertainty, even weak political actors, such as the accession countries in relation to the EU, have a wide margin of discretion and can tailor normative reasoning to the needs of the political game.

The paper starts by explaining how the EU's policy on the protection and rights of minorities in accession countries is composed in the absence of an EU minority rights acquis. Despite its incoherence, this policy has been very effective, due to the 'loose coupling' of advice and accession conditionality. The following section investigates the impact of the accession constellation on interethnic power relations in three exemplary EU accession countries: Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia. In all three countries, parties of ethnic minorities participate in governments, albeit in different forms and degrees. The paper argues that the EU has contributed to the emergence of these models of consociational powersharing. The final section draws conclusions for interethnic relations in the future new member states of an enlarged EU, thereby reflecting upon the 'liberal pluralism' debate. Consociational power-sharing, it is argued, should be preferred over a territorialization of interethnic relations, and sectoral policies relevant for minorities may be coordinated among EU member states.

II. What Minority Protection Policy Does the EU Have in the Accession Process?

This section analyzes the policy of the EU with respect to the protection of national minorities in accession countries. Whereas the other accession criteria defined by the 1993 European Council of Copenhagen have been integrated into the Treaty and are reflected in secondary legislation, the meaning of "respect for and protection of minorities" has not been further developed in EU law (De Witte 2000). As a consequence, EU institutions such as the Commission, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament have used five main 'reference points' to define their policy and to assess whether accession countries fulfil the 'minority criterion' or protect national minorities effectively.

First, insofar as minority protection can be viewed as the outcome of anti-discrimination policies, a legal framework of reference has now been created with the extension of antidiscrimination provisions in the Treaty on the European Communities (Art. 13 TEC) and the adoption of a Directive implementing the "principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin".1 This so-called Race Equality Directive uses a comprehensive notion of ethnic and racial discrimination and is not limited to employees discriminated by public authorities. The Directive applies also to legal persons, to discrimination in the fields of education, social protection and the provision of public goods, and it includes also discriminatory rules created in the private sector (Schwellnus 2001; Toggenburg 2000). Since 2000, the EU has expected the accession countries to transpose and implement the Directive in their domestic legislation and practice (Open Society Institute 2001). …

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