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Home >> Resources >> External publications >> Towards a Comprehensive EU Protection System for Minorities

Towards a Comprehensive EU Protection System for Minorities

September 1st 2017

This study, commissioned by the European Parliament’s Policy Department for Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs at the request of the LIBE Committee, examines the added value of developing a democratic rule of law and fundamental rights-based approach to the protection of minorities in the EU legal system, from an ‘intersectional’ viewpoint.

It presents the state of play regarding the main challenges characterising the protection of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities in a selection of 11 European countries, in light of existing international and regional legal standards. Minority protection has been an EU priority in enlargement processes as a conditional criterion for candidate countries to accede to the Union. Yet a similar scrutiny mechanism is lacking after accession.

The study puts forward several policy options to address this gap. It suggests specific ways in which a Union Pact for democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights, could help to ensure a comprehensive EU approach to minority protection.

Equality body’s input

In order to meet the research objectives, this study has adopted an interdisciplinary methodology. It has employed policy and legal analyses, combined with an online questionnaire and interactive discussion methods to engage legal practitioners and experts on the interim findings as well as the feasibility and added value of interim policy options or ‘scenarios’.

The online questionnaires involved i) a civil society questionnaire in cooperation with Minority Rights Group International (MRG), which gathered 75 responses in total from all 11 countries selected for this study; and ii) an equality bodies questionnaire disseminated in cooperation with Equinet (the European Network of Equality Bodies), which gathered 9 responses and covered 7 countries from the proposed sample. The partners – MRG and Equinet – contributed through a timely and swift dissemination of their respective questionnaires among the relevant respondents in the selected sample of EU Member States. The CEPS & Equinet, ’Equality Bodies Survey on Minority Protection’ was carried out in June-July 2017.

Equinet’s Tamas Kadar and Katrine Steinfeld were on the Advisory Board for this publication written by CEPS.

Ch.4 Challenges and promising practices in effective minority rights protection in selected countries - 4.1.2. Key challenge 2: Lack of capacity among minority groups, watchdog civil society and equality bodies

"The EU should financially support and ensure the independence of national equality and human rights bodies and ombudspersons." - Executive Summary

Challenges in capacity and in the financial and political independence of equality bodies
The issues concerning capacity, as well as financial and political independence, are also relevant to equality bodies. In their respective questionnaire, equality bodies identified the importance of an independent mandate and funding for their institutions, as they are placed in a very inconvenient position: “between two fires – civil society representing minorities and government”. The focus group discussion revealed that equality bodies lack the capacity to meet the expectations of the society.

For example, one equality body consisted of ten persons, only three of whom are lawyers dealing with the complaints. Some equality bodies can and do engage in strategic litigation, but this can be at the cost of individual complaints. In addition, equality bodies are tasked with gathering information about the situation in the country and to report it to international and regional actors. Yet, the majority of the equality bodies are heavily dependent on state funding, whereas in other cases equality bodies are proactive in obtaining additional funding from EU-level projects.

During the focus group discussion, the equality bodies representatives noted that even though their decisions may be quasi-legally binding, governments may not want to comply in practice because they lack enforcement powers. In Serbia, an equality body had positive experiences with releasing information about the government’s non-compliance in the media. In Estonia, such a strategy has not proved to have visible outputs as both media and society seemed to be ‘fatigued’ with the negative decisions coming from the equality body. Such structural and contextual challenges need to be taken into account when proposing and applying ‘promising practices’ in these domains...

...Even the best intended minority protection standards can be counterproductive, if they are intentionally misplaced or misinterpreted at the national level. This can happen more easily when voices of minority representatives are not heard, when otherwise vigilant civil society engages in (self)censorship, and when equality bodies are not sufficiently independent from the ‘good will’ or ‘bad will’ of governments.’

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