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

The EU's Lack of Commitment toMinority Protection

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

The EU's Lack of Commitment toMinority Protection

Article excerpt

'The EU tries to make life better for all of us in all sorts of ways.' This is the opening sentence in the EU's Kids' corner - the EU website for children ('EU's Kids Corner', 2016). It is certainly true that the EU involves itself in almost all aspects of everyday life of its 500 million citizens. It may also be true that the EU aspires to improve the life of all of us living in the European Union. However, is it prepared to work in all sorts of ways? And is it prepared to address specific issues of vulnerable groups such as minorities? The answers to those two questions can at best be a hesitant yes, as the EU certainly has not proven to be a friend of minorities. Of course, generalizations are dangerous.

The EU is one of three international organizations in Europe that work with and on human rights: the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the European Union. The EU no doubt has the weakest link with minorities. It is not surprising that minorities crave the attention of the last missing big player in Europe. It even makes sense. The European Union is far more involved in all aspects of every-day life than the Council of Europe and the OSCE. If the EU were to take minorities seriously, what might be possible?

On the other hand, it is too easy to blame the EU for everything. The two EU treaties set the limits for the EU's competences. The flaw in the European minority regime, at least from a minority viewpoint perceived, is largely legally determined. Transforming the EU into a serious minority actor is a huge challenge where battles will have to be fought in many different places. At the same time, the OSCE and the Council of Europe already provide protection. The EU certainly can do more for minorities than it does at the moment - it does not work 'in all sorts of ways' for improving the everyday life of members of minorities. However, high expectations are met by legal limits.

The first chapter of the contribution opens with an overview of the status quo. Chapter two presents reasons in favour of increasing the EU's commitment to minority issues and reasons against such increased commitment. On the basis of these reasons, the third chapter discusses the possibilities and challenges of an increased commitment. Finally, the EU and its non-commitment are set in the larger European context. It is argued that it is unlikely that the EU will become a serious minority actor, and therewith create a coherent minority rights regime with the OSCE and the Council of Europe. This, however, is not necessarily a flaw of the European system for the protection of minorities.

1.Status quo of the EU as a minority actor

The Lisbon Treaty was a step forward for minorities; or so it seemed. Minorities are now mentioned in the new article 2 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU). The Charter of Fundamental Rights (CFR) includes minorities in art. 21 on non-discrimination. Art. 6 (1) TEU now confers on the Charter 'the same legal value as the Treaties.' In other words, the Charter is now legally binding on the member states and even more importantly on the EU institutions. Furthermore, new art. 6 (2) TEU paves the way for the EU to accede to the European Convention on Human Rights (Defeis, 2010; McDermott, 2009-2010; DouglasScott, 2011). The accession is still in progress. On paper, these changes wield a number of opportunities and seem to indicate that minorities have finally been accepted within the EU regime. So far, these changes have been hardly felt at all (Barten, 2015).

In order to understand and evaluate the EU as a minority actor (Hummer, 2011), it is important to be aware of the legal limits. Granted, the legal limits are set by political actors and can thus be changed. However, conventional wisdom tells us that the EU itself is unwilling to engage. This is, of course, a blatant generalization. The EU is made up of many institutions and the Commission, Parliament and Council should not be confused. They have distinct approaches and most importantly different possibilities and competences. …

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