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EU lawmakers debate rights and protections of ethnic minority communities across Europe

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Romania's ethnic Hungarians
Romania's ethnic Hungarians   -   Copyright  AP Photo
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The rights and protections of millions of native ethnic minority communities across Europe were the subjects of debate at the European Parliament on Thursday.

MEPs discussed the topics of minority languages and cultures that are spread out across the continent.

The debate comes after a European citizens' initiative called the Minority SafePack registered more than 1.3 million signatures in April 2018. The signatures were then registered with the European Commission in January 2020, which meant the subject was considered for discussion.

The European Citizens’ Initiative is an instrument of direct democracy that was introduced by the EU in 2012. If more than 1 million European citizens from at least seven Member States support an initiative, the European Commission must look at the proposal.

The Minority SafePack is a package of proposed laws that advocate for the safety of national minorities, including the promotion of their general rights, language rights and protection of their cultures.

Lóránt Vincze is an MEP and a member of the Hungarian community in Romania, where his community struggles to maintain its national identity.

"The EU should focus on the standards of minority education. They should encourage the use of their mother tongue because multilingualism doesn't just mean the use of official languages, it also means the existence of many small regional languages which are in danger today," Vincze told Euronews.

Former MEP, Angelika Mlinar, is from the Slovenian community in south Austria and she wants to defend cultural diversity in Europe.

The ex-lawmaker believes the EU could help her community by allowing making sure online content for minorities is not geoblocked.

"The Slovene language is more or less limited to your family and to your friends who speak Slovene... When I cross the border, I do not have access to programmes in my own language, or in my mothertongue. You know it has even a bigger effect. It's not just entertainment, but it's basically the life-bond that I have with my language," Mlinar explained.

But the minority issue is a sensitive one for many in Brussels.

The Catalan independence movement, for example, resulted in violent protests and a standoff between Barcelona and Madrid.

But Minority SafePack organisers have also highlighted situations where cooperation prevailed, such as South Tirol in Italy, where the Austrian minority has its own language and education rights.

Daniel Alfreider, a representative of the South Tirol People's Party (Südtiroler Volkspartei) spoke to told Euronews: "For minorities, we have our own schools and so on. I always say its a small Europe in Europe, where we found a peaceful way to live together."

After the hearing in the European Parliament, a resolution will be drafted, which must then be debated and voted on in next week's plenary session. It will then be up to the Commission to submit legislative proposals related to the Minority SafePack's demands.

But with many countries still sceptical, the big test for minorities will be whether all 27 Member States agree the proposal has a future.