31 Oct 2017

Did you know that an EU referendum for minority rights is underway?

50 million people in the EU belong to various minority groups. Yet is the Union as supportive of them as it declares? A new EU-wide referendum will be a test of that.

Julia Sahlender
Julia Sahlender Der Standard, Austria
Source: Der Standard
Did you know that an EU referendum for minority rights is underway? - NewsMavens
Election. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

In many countries, European minority groups are struggling. In an effort to safeguard their rights and ensure a "diverse Europe”, a new referendum has been proposed. Through it, voters will express their opinion on the so-called "Minority SafePack" -- a set of new laws aimed at enhancing the protection of national minorities. Legislative improvements in education and in policies regulating the official use of ethnic languages are much needed.

Language is a substantial part of the initiative. Out of 90 languages spoken in the EU 63 are "stateless", meaning that they are not recognized as an administrative language by the EU, even though some of them, Catalan for instance, are spoken by six million people.

Since it is a European Citizens' Initiative, the referendum requires one million signatures from at least one quarter of the EU member states. In Austria, that would be 13.500 signatures. There are still a few months left before the target should to be reached -- the deadline is at the beginning of April 2018.

According to some Austrian representatives, the EU is not always as supportive of minorities as it declares. Apparently, the EU Commission was not keen on allowing the referendum to take place. The initiative could proceed only after a decision by the European Court of Justice. "The Minority SafePack Initiative does not want to take anything from the majority communities or from Europe. It simply wants to make it more diverse with their languages and cultures," claim the initiators of the referendum.

Details from the story:

  • The European Citizens' Initiative is an instrument of direct democracy within the EU. It was introduced in 2007 by the Treaty of Lisbon.
  • Many well-known Austrians who belong to minorities support the referendum.
  • There are six traditional, ethnic and linguistic minorities in Austria, among them: Carinthian Slovenes, Hungarians and Croats in the Burgenland.
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