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EU court finds Brussels is doing enough to protect minority languages

The European Commission has been fighting against a citizens’ initiative to protect national and linguistic minorities and their cultural heritages for nearly 10 years.

LUXEMBOURG (CN) — The European Union’s second-highest court on Wednesday backed a refusal from Brussels to implement proposals from a citizens' petition to protect minority languages, finding the bloc's leaders are already acting on signers' demands. 

The General Court of the European Court of Justice rejected a call from organizers of the Minority SafePack - an initiative aimed at improving the protection of racial and linguistic minorities - to force the European Commission, the EU's executive body, to adopt several legislative proposals. Of the petition’s nine recommendations, the Luxembourg-based court ruled EU legislation was already implementing four. 

Concerned that minority languages in Europe are slowly disappearing, the Federal Union of European Nationalities, an umbrella organization that represents minority European cultures and languages, initiated a citizens’ petition to force the EU to protect cultural and linguistic minorities in an effort to strengthen diversity across the continent. EU citizens can propose legislation if they get 1 million signatures from at least a quarter of the bloc’s 27 member states.

Some 50 million people living in the EU speak a minority language or belong to an autochthonous minority group or a European ethnic minority not represented by a national government. 

In 2013, the group presented Minority SafePack to the European Commission. Brussels balked, refusing to certify the petition on the basis that it fell outside what the commission is allowed to propose as law.

Supporters of the initiative appealed, and in 2017 they prevailed at the General Court, which ruled the commission failed to provide a legitimate reason for its denial.

The group then proposed its initiative at a public hearing in October 2020, and a month later the European Parliament backed the proposals. 

However, in January 2021, the commission once again rejected the proposals, now claiming more legislation was not needed as the EU was already undertaking initiatives that accomplished the same goals. Brussels pointed to a group of regulations – including the EU Anti-Racism Action Plan, the Gender Equality Strategy, the LGBTIQ Strategy, and the Roma Strategic Framework for Equality, Inclusion and Participation – as evidence it takes the concerns of minority groups seriously.

“The respect for the rights of persons belonging to a minority is one of the core Union values, and the Commission is committed to promoting this agenda,” Věra Jourová, the bloc's commissioner for values and transparency, said at the time. 

A three-judge panel of the General Court broadly agreed Wednesday, concluding the EU already has in place sufficient protections for minority languages.

“The existing legislative framework provides substantial support for the achievement of the applicant’s objectives,” the court wrote.  

The Federal Union of European Nationalities expressed disappointment in the ruling and vowed to continue its mission to protect minority languages and cultures.

“FUEN will continue its work to protect and to promote the rich European linguistic and cultural diversity of the autochthonous national minorities and language groups and will find ways to implement the proposals, which benefit the minorities,” the group said in a statement. It said it is considering next steps and that appealing the decision is a “strong possibility.” 

The European Commission wasn’t the only one that contested the petition. In 2017, Romania filed a suit with the Court of Justice, arguing the proposals fell outside of the EU’s authority. The General Court disagreed, finding Brussels was able to consider FUEN’s demands. That decision was later upheld on appeal

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