Ignoring Minority Rights is Part of Brussels' Agenda to Homogenize Europe | Opinion

The EU Commission recently launched infringement procedures against both Hungary and Poland for the alleged violations of LGBTQ+ rights. While Brussels is standing up for the rights of LGBTQ+ people, it keeps ignoring the challenges other minorities face, specifically ethnic minorities. Not defending ethnic minorities is part of the Commission's agenda to oppress national and regional characteristics of Europe and to homogenize its population.

The fundamental legal basis of the Commission's recent procedure against Hungary is the alleged violation of EU core values, as enshrined by Article 2 of the Treaty on EU (TEU)—namely equality, respect for dignity and human rights. Although triggering legal actions against EU member states on this basis might be debated from a legal point of view, the main problem lies in EU Commission's political motives.

In the past few years, the EU Commission stepped out of its original role—to be an unbiased "Guardian of the Treaties"—and now is misusing the concept of shared EU values. The Brussels-based body launches legal procedures only for the violation of certain values, while the infringement of other principles of less importance to Brussels are completely ignored.

The latter affects ethnic minorities in the EU. Although the respect for the rights of persons belonging to all minorities—including ethnic minorities—is a fundamental value of the EU, the Commission is avoiding taking the necessary steps for the enforcement of this principle. In actuality it is actively opposing it.

Although in the EU there are more than 50 million people belonging to ethnic (national or linguistic) minorities, there are no EU-level specific legal acts protecting them. The lack of a minimum set of EU rules allows member states to deprive ethnic minorities of their earlier acquired rights.

This controversy was addressed by the Minority SafePack Initiative, a proposal claiming EU-wide protection of national and linguistic minorities. In addition to overwhelming support by European citizens, among others, the German Bundestag unanimously adopted a decision in favor of the proposal. The European Parliament also passed a resolution requesting the EU Commission launch a legislative procedure on the matter. Yet, in January 2021, the Commission rejected the package and refused to initiate any of the proposals.

The European flag waves
The European flag waves in front of the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, on March 25, 2021. ARIS OIKONOMOU/AFP via Getty Images

When it comes to safeguarding the rights of ethnic minorities, the EU Commission continues to highlight the limits of its own incompetence. This was the case when Spanish authorities incarcerated the legitimate leaders of the Catalan community purely on a political basis—EU officials were largely silent. The same approach prevailed recently in Slovakia with regard to the application of the Benes decrees—laws of the post-World War II period punishing Hungarians and Germans among others by confiscating their land. Even though the Slovak authorities are still applying the principle of collective guilt to unlawfully confiscate private properties of citizens having German and Hungarian origin, the EU Commission refrained from taking any action.

Concerns about lack of competence have never bothered the Commission when standing up for the rights of other minorities, namely the rights of LGBTQ+ people. The problem lies in not defending the rights of other minorities, particularly ethnic minorities.

Ignoring the daily challenges faced by ethnic minorities could lead to the disappearance of Europe's unique regional cultures. This would change Europe's rich and multicolored cultural landscape as we know it today. Tackling this threat is the subject-matter of the Initiative for National Regions, which recently gathered an outstanding number of supportive signatures from EU citizens, demonstrating that the sustainability of regional cultures is still an important issue to Europeans.

In Europe, national, ethnic and linguistic identities are a valued asset. The European Union itself was founded on the idea of uniting these very different nations while preserving their distinct ethnic and regional identities, including minorities' identities. However, the EU Commission is not only ignorant about the potential loss of these identities, but it seems that eliminating Europe's national and regional characteristics is part of its political agenda.

A possible reason for this is the desire—by top EU political leaders—to create a "European superstate." According to lawyer Georg Jellinek, the attributes of statehood are territory, population and recognition by other states. The EU struggles with the second one. It is difficult to speak about a "European population" since national identities are still strong in Europe. Therefore, the EU Commission through a top-bottom approach is trying to promote a singular European identity that overshadows national and regional identities. The protection of ethnic minorities—helping them preserve their national identities and regional characteristics—is clearly in contradiction to this agenda.

What the EU Commission wants is a homogeneous European population, without strong ethnic identities and even weaker regional characteristics. This, however, means destroying the true and inherited cultural diversity of the continent—an action contrary to the vision dreamed by the EU Founding Fathers: a Europe which is united in diversity.

Dr. Balázs Tárnok is Hungary Foundation's Visiting Research Fellow at Kellogg Institute for International Studies, University of Notre Dame, and researcher at Europe Strategy Research Institute, Ludovika-University of Public Service, Budapest. He is also vice-chair of the Rákóczi Associaton, one of the biggest Hungarian cultural non-profits with over 500 branches across Central and Eastern Europe.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.