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Conference on Minority Policy: Success in Germany, disillusionment at EU level

The German resettler and minority policy is a success story, but a unified European approach is still missing – this was examined from many angles at a digital conference of the Deutschen Gesellschaft on 28 October. FUEN was represented by two speakers. The aim of the event was to take stock of Germany's resettler and minority policy, to place it in the European comparison by looking at other states, and to discuss perspectives for a possible European regulation of the policy field.

"Resettler policy has been a focus of German government action for many decades," said Prof. Dr. Bernd Fabritius, Federal Government Commissioner for Matters Related to Ethnic German Resettlers and National Minorities. Since the 1950s, the Federal Republic has taken in more than 4.5 million resettlers and late resettlers and has continuously worked to improve their situation as well as that of German minorities abroad and national minorities in Germany.

"A review of the past 30 years of minority policy in Europe shows successes, but also many conflicts and steps backwards," warned Prof. Dr. Jørgen Kühl, Chairman of the Board of the European Centre for Minority Issues (ECMI), in his lecture. As a negative example, he mentioned that "the innovative Minority SafePack Initiative put forward by FUEN is still being ignored by the EU Commission".

In the panel discussion that followed, representatives of various model regions in which minority policy standards are set took a stand. In this context, FUEN Vice-President Daniel Alfreider, Deputy Governor of the Autonomous Province of Bolzano-South Tyrol, described what he sees as exemplary conditions in his home region, where Germans, Italians and Ladins live. "I see a huge potential of models and projects, especially in the field of education, which we absolutely have to exchange between the minorities," he said. This is what FUEN practices in its own working group on education, he said.

Should living together in the German-Danish border region serve as an international model? This question was discussed in depth. "Models only ever work if states play along," emphasised Jan Diedrichsen, Head of the Representation of the Schleswig-Holstein State Parliament to the European Union in Brussels. He warned against speaking of exemplary minority policy merely on the basis of good cross-border cooperation. At the same time, he said, the European Commission finally had a duty to safeguard cultural and linguistic diversity at the European level – this could not be dismissed with mere cross-border cooperation.

"The anchoring of minority rights at EU level is of enormous relevance – and we stand by the demands of the Minority SafePack Initiative," urged FUEN Vice-President Dr. Angelika Mlinar. In her presentation, she reminded that the Minority SafePack European Citizens' Initiative, which was signed by more than 1.2 million EU citizens, was rejected by the European Commission this year despite the broad support among European citizens. Currently, FUEN is in legal proceedings, a ruling by the European Court of Justice is expected by the end of 2022.

At EU level, minority policy is only considered under the heading of anti-discrimination, although there are increasing voices calling for specific regulation of minority policy issues by the EU. On the MSPI, the European Commission's policy officer Nikolaus von Peter, commented: "The Commission has only a limited area of competence. The EU Treaty already explicitly mentions the protection of minorities as one of its core values. We think we are already quite far there and there is no need for further action at this stage."

Angelika Mlinar and Hartmut Koschyk, former Parliamentary State Secretary and Vice-Chairman of the German Society, disagreed: "Politics sees itself as a power to shape internal and external affairs. The Commission should be more courageous on this issue," he demanded. "To consider the protection of minorities only from the point of view of anti-discrimination is not realistic enough for me."

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