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FUEN presents itself, the outcomes of FUEN Congress in Greece and its plans for the coming year at the European Parliament

At a well-attended meeting in Strasbourg on 11 June, President Hans Heinrich Hansen presented FUEN to the Members of the European Parliament in the Intergroup for Traditional Minorities, National Communities and Languages. He spoke about the outcomes of its latest congress in Komotini, Greece in May and FUEN plans for the coming year.

The FUEN Congress in Greece showed that the minorities there are struggling to achieve equality and recognition, foremost the Turkish minority in Western Thrace. The Greek state does not officially recognise the Western Thrace Turks as what they are, namely a Turkish minority, but only as “Muslim minority”. According to FUEN the minority should be recognised in all its complexity, which means the Greek state has to accept the community as more than just a religious minority.

According to Hansen, Ukraine has brought the situation of the autochthonous minorities back on the political agenda in Europe. The war has changed things and a situation of fear and insecurity prevails. Although FUEN does not have a solution to the crisis either, it can give a voice to the national minorities and do what it possible to make a contribution to improve the situation. A first meeting in this sense will take place on 16-17 June in the German-Danish border region, in connection with the Forum “Minorities in border regions”, that FUEN organises in connection with the Association of European Border Regions (AEBR).

Hansen: “Many minorities and regions are still for waiting for their capabilities to be used. I could mention several examples of minorities in Europe, that are not recognised, that are not respected, discriminated or whose infrastructures are cut away for financial reasons. Where regions or administrative offices are merged, where calls for autonomy are seen as a national security risk.” Within its network FUEN has several good examples too, that can be an inspiration for others. The German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier has recognised this when he said: “we want to use your expertise for our foreign policy.”

FUEN had several meetings in Brussels over the past year, called on the new President Jean Claude Juncker to create a minority portfolio inside the Commission and advocated to give more attention to linguistic diversity. FUEN spoke with the First Vice President of the European Commission Timmermans, who is responsible for fundamental rights, and also with Education & Culture Commissioner Navracsics. Both Commissioners expressed their sympathy to the cause of the European minorities, but could offer us nothing concrete and in a letter of 8 June Timmermans even seems to deny that the European Commission has a responsibility of its own in regard to minorities, which is hugely disappointing.

Hansen told about the Minority SafePack, the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) for the minorities in Europe, which was rejected by the European Commission and is under appeal now at the court in Luxembourg, and that the instrument has not become the agenda-setting instrument as envisaged. FUEN also said this at the hearing on the ECI in February this year. Mr Schöpflin MEP, the rapporteur on the ECI in the European Parliament, added that almost everyone agrees that serious changes are necessary.

The FUEN President announced that in autumn a conference will take place in Belgium where a new advisory council will come together, consisting of the members of the citizens’ committee of the Minority SafePack, who are all respected high-ranking politicians, as well as further representatives from European regions. Their second meeting will be organised in conjunction with the EUROPEADA, the European Football Championship of the European minorities, in South Tyrol in June 2016.

Hansen ended his speech by calling the help from the Members gathered in the Intergroup. FUEN promotes dialogue and active participation in society, but often the financial means are lacking to operate effectively. Hansen therefore asked for the support of the Parliament in order to achieve that also the EU make a contribution so that the minorities will be able to become actively involved on the European level. He also suggested to set up a “Contact Forum at the European Parliament”, focusing on the issues and interests of the minorities with respect to the European Union. In order to facilitate the cooperation with the Intergroup, other MEPs and other institutions in Brussels, FUEN is planning to open an office in Brussels after the summer break.

Kinga Gál, co-chair of the Intergroup, highlighted the importance of cooperation with the minority organisations. “It is important that the Intergroup works with the minority organisations, because their efforts to achieve more effective minority protection are thereby acknowledged and because it enables them to raise attention in the European Parliament for the current problems that minorities face." 

“I am thankful for the positive reactions to our presentation at the Intergroup. The call for establishing a contact forum at the European Parliament was received positively, but it will be a major challenge to implement. But we will work hard to realise this forum”, said FUEN President Hans Heinrich Hansen.

Other topics that were discussed at the Intergroup were the territorial reform in France, where the region of Alsace will be merged into one new huge region that stretches from the border with Belgium to Switzerland, and the situation of the Polish schools in Lithuania.

Speech Hans Heinrich Hansen