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EU Accession Exposes Double Standards on Minority Rights

14 April 2003

The European Union’s role in promoting ratification of the Council of Europe (CoE) Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM) among European Union (EU) accession States reveals double standards since some existing EU countries have themselves failed to ratify and implement the Convention. Minority Rights Group International (MRG) today highlighted the fact that countries including the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France and Greece are among EU States which have not ratified the Convention, which forms the only legally binding treaty specifically to protect minorities.

The European Union has stated that how Council of Europe States implement the FCNM will be an important factor in considering how the EU accession criteria on minority rights are met. Due to the strict accession criteria and pressure from the EU, of the ten States due to sign the EU Accession Treaties in Athens on 16 April, only Latvia has so far failed to ratify the Convention although it has indicated that it too is prepared to do so. Out of a total of ten CoE States who have not ratified, five are existing EU members including Greece who are hosting the treaty signing ceremony. These States continue to fail to embrace pluralism and to protect minorities by failing to implement the FCNM, offering encouragement for prospective new member States such as Turkey to do likewise.

The Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, which celebrates its 5th anniversary in 2003, provides an essential mechanism for responding to the needs of minorities by agreeing legally binding minimum standards that must be met by States. The FCNM has been praised for the effectiveness of its monitoring mechanisms which involve country visits and constructive dialogue between CoE, governments and minorities. Ratification by CoE States has been widespread and has offered an important indication of countries’ willingness to protect and promote the rights of minorities. In EU countries there continues to be intolerance and prejudice towards immigrants, asylum-seekers and ethnic minorities such as the Roma, which the FCNM seeks to address through standards including the right to full and effective equality, education in minority languages and effective participation.

Minority Rights Group International calls upon all European Union states and members of the Council of Europe to ratify the FCNM and implement its principles in practice. States should continue to develop the scope of application of the FCNM, seeking to protect all established minorities.

For further information on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities MRG have published a briefing paper (FCNM: From Analysis to Action) and policy paper (FCNM: A Policy Analysis) which are available to download from this website ‘MRG publications and resources’ pages.