Minorities from South East Europe respond to EC progress reports
Minority rights are not just important to Europe, they are central to the stability of the region and a crucial criteria in the accession process of South East European states, Mark Lattimer, Director of Minority Rights Group International (MRG) says.
Speaking at a meeting on 20 November 2007 at the European Parliament, Lattimer said, “It is unlikely that European Union enlargement will become a reality for South East Europe without proper minority rights protection.”
The meeting, jointly organized by MRG and MEP Kinga Gal, saw representatives from minority organizations from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia responding to the latest progress reports on their countries’ EU accession process.
MEP Kinga Gal in her introductory remarks said, “The accession process plays a crucial role in dealing with issues like minority protection because once a country becomes a member state there is much less opportunity for scrutiny.”
Pierre Mirel, of the European Commission Directorate-General for Enlargement, said, “Whilst minority rights are the most important political criteria in the EU enlargement process, they are also the most difficult to deal with.”
Representatives from minority groups, all of whom are MRG partner organizations, commented on the Commission’s treatment of minority rights in the progress reports. Whilst most of the groups acknowledged that the Commission had generally dealt with minority rights, their two main criticisms were that in some cases scant attention had been paid to minority protection and minority groups at a local level were not consulted in the reporting process.
On a more positive note, as the meeting came to a close, Commission officials requested a list of minority groups that could be included in further consultation processes and said that in the future they would consider pushing each of the concerned countries to set up a consultative forum that would give minority groups an opportunity to raise their concerns.
For more information, see MRG’s press release on the EC progress reports.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Name: Gordana Cicak
Organisation: Independent – Zenica
- The 2007 Progress Report, more than previous ones, deals with the issue of minority rights, namely women’s rights, rights of socially vulnerable groups and minorities, such as Roma
- Discrepancies exist in the report that indicate a lack of up to date information
- The Commission only briefly notes that the state has not adopted a comprehensive anti-discrimination law but this deserves more emphasis and should be included in short-term priorities of the European partnership
- A new constitution and a reformed electoral system are crucial for Bosnia.
- Processes of sustainable reform and economic development need to be complemented by strong provisions of full and effective implementation of human and minority rights
Name: Ljubomir Mikic
In its 2007 Progress Report on Croatia the EC tackled key issues of concern, including the rule of law and the effectiveness of the state administration and the judiciary. However a number of minority rights concerns exist. They include:
- Minorities remain highly under-represented in state administration, the judiciary and the police
- Exercising of the right to equal official use of minority languages remains problematic in some areas
- Exercising of minority educational rights has improved but some legal uncertainty remains with regard to the registration of schools functioning in minority languages (in particular Serbian language in eastern Croatia)
- There is a need for more broadcasting in minority languages
- There is a need to improve and strengthen participation of national minorities in public life and management of local councils
- Allegations of discrimination against minorities require closer monitoring
- Position of Roma minorities deserves special attention and the ‘National Programme for Roma’ and National Action Plan has to be improved
Name: Aleksandra Bojadzieva
Organisation: Roma Democratic Association Sonce
- Minority issues do not appear prominently in the EC report. This approach is astonishing considering that until recently the EU’s main concern in the region was conflict prevention. It is also shocking considering 35 percent of Macedonia’s population are minorities
- The Commission does not seek minorities’ opinion when assessing the failure and achievements of the Macedonian government
- The Commission in its reference to minorities does not consider all groups and mostly focuses on the dominant ones like the Albanians. Smaller minorities, such as Roma, Turks, Serbs and others are overlooked
- The EU should use the Council of Europe – European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages as a guiding instrument and benchmark for assessing Macedonia’s performance. The usage of minority languages is a chronic problem and needs to be tackled more effectively
- Stronger criticism and more specific recommendations should have been made on the issue of ill-treatment of minorities by the police
- EU should insist that candidate countries adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination laws and provide expertise and guidance in this process
- Stronger recommendations should be made in the progress report on the action plans linked to the ‘Decade of Roma Inclusion’
- Minority Turks were not even mentioned in the report. They are significantly represented in the eastern part of Macedonia and face similar problems to Roma. They also experience severe poverty and marginalization
Name: Djurdjica Zoric
Organisation: Bibija Roma Women’s Centre
- The first six months of the new Serbian parliament can be characterized as legislatively inactive. Only three laws were adopted by parliament. Among the 60 laws awaiting adoption are – Gender Equality Law, Anti-discrimination Law and Law on Civil Society Organisations. It is crucial that all of these are adopted
- Institutional changes detrimental to human rights have also taken place in Serbia. The Federal Ministry of Human and Minority Rights has been reduced to an Agency and as a result it has lost its competence, influence and visibility. The European Commission should take up this concern with the Serbian authorities
- There is a legal gap in the field of minority rights. A new law that will regulate the protection of minority rights has not yet been adopted and there has not been any public consultation on the draft legislation
- Serbia has no anti-discrimination laws so minorities have no effective means of protection
- The Roma National Strategy has still not been adopted
- The European Commission should mainstream gender in the minority rights protection section in their progress reports