Special status for national regions

Proposal regarding the title, subject matter and objective of EU citizens’ initiative
In the past year, the EU citizens’ initiative has attracted considerable attention. First the Szekler National Council, then several other actors in the Transylvanian Hungarian public life have announced, that they wish to make use of this new opportunity. Not much has been said however of its limits, the conditions that must be met in order to proceed with gathering the signatures. People unfamiliar with EU law will sometimes come up with interesting, but entirely unfeasible ideas. The creation of Hungarian universities, or Hungarian faculties through EU level legal act, is such a well meaning but ultimately naive and hopeless idea. Let’s take a closer look at what can, and what cannot be initiated by Citizens of the European Union.

EU law and Citizens’ Initiative
On December the 17th 2007, the EU member states signed in the Portuguese capital the reform treaty that amends the two treaties which modify the constitutional basis of the European Union. One of the more important innovations of the Lisbon Treaty was the creating of the opportunity for the EU citizens’ to actively participate in EU decision making. More specifically, according to article 11 of paragraph 4 of the Treaty on European Union, “Not less than one million citizens who are nationals of a significant number of Member States may take the initiative of inviting the European Commission, within the framework of its powers, to submit any appropriate proposal on matters where citizens consider that a legal act of the Union is required for the purpose of implementing the Treaties”. Two months after the signing of the Lisbon Treaty (February 2008), the Szekler National Council adopted a decision, according to which they initiate an EU level legislation, about the rights of indigenous peoples and ethnic groups, particularly, their right to self determination. Being familiar with the draft of the implementing regulation of the citizens’ initiatives, we want to confirm this intent. On its first working session since the regulation’s adoption (June the 3rd, this year), the Szekler National Council adopted a decision that states its intention to make use of the possibility of EU level citizens’ initiative, in order to achieve the recognition in an EU level legal act the right to self determination of those communities in EU member states, having specific national characteristics, traditions and possessing particular regional or national identity, and the right of the regions inhabited by these communities to gain special legal status. It should be noted that the EU level citizens’ initiative is strictly bounded to the fundamental EU treaties. If anyone is to make such a proposal, it is imperative for them to be familiar with these two treaties.

The current version of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) – the one modified by the Lisbon Treaty – is divided into six parts (titles) and contains 55 articles, whereas the Treaty on the functioning of the European Union (TFEU) is split into seven parts, with individual parts divided into titles, which in turn may be further divided into chapters, but the numbering of the articles is continuous, and goes all the way up to 358. In addition, the annexes and 37 protocols count as an integral part of the treaties – they are compulsory, as if they were in the treaties’ main text. Together, these form the Union’s primary legislation. In order to realize the principles, goals, tasks set by the primary legislation, the EU institutions may adopt legal acts, which – as they are being derived from the primary legislation – are known as the Union’s secondary legislation. EU Citizens’ initiative may only refer to the adoption of secondary legal acts which are required in order to fulfill a goal or carry out a task set by the primary legislation.

According to article 288 of the TFEU, the legal acts of the EU are regulations, directives, decisions, recommendations and opinions. The first three are obligatory, while the remaining two have no such force.

The objective can not be a general minority protection law
The Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania has raised the issue of citizens’ initiative to the Federal Union of European Nationalities, and it seems that they expect support from Europe’s traditional minorities in gathering signatures. The news on this matter don’t say anything about the contents of this initiative, but it’s reliable to assume, that the DAHR believes, that the much lacked EU minority protection laws can be created, using the possibilities of a citizens’ initiative.

This idea is probably based on the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which has the same legal value as the Treaties, according to article 6 of the TEU. The same article however, also states that “the provisions of the Charter shall not extend in any way the competences of the Union as defined in the Treaties.” i.e. the Union can not adopt legal acts for the protection of fundamental human rights. Respecting these rights is an obligation imposed on the member states, while the Union has the passive obligation not to adopt legal acts that violate these rights. The same applies for accession to the European Convention on Human Rights, which also does not affect the Union's competences as defined in the Treaties.

Similarly, legislative powers can not derive from the Union’s fundamental values, respecting these being also a passive obligation, imposed on the Union’s institutions. However, according to regulation 211/2011/EU, the Commission will only register the proposed citizens’ initiative (prerequisite of the signature gathering), if it “does not manifestly fall outside the framework of the Commission’s powers to submit a proposal for a legal act of the Union for the purpose of implementing the Treaties.”

However regrettable it is, we need to face the conclusion, that: it is hopeless any initiative that does not count with both the provisions of the Treaties and the limitations of the EU’s legislative powers. It’s impossible to initiate a general minority protection law, since the Treaties have no provisions that can not be fulfilled without the adoption of such an act; the available reference bases (Charter of Fundamental Rights, the Union's core values) do not grant legislative powers for the Union’s institutions.

Regions with national ambitions
When speaking of Europe’s national regions, we refer to geographical zones that exhibit unique national, ethnic, religious or linguistic characteristics, through being inhabited by an indigenous national minority that forms a majority on this particular territory, and is historically linked to it. These are the regions referred to by article 11 of recommendation 1201/1993 of the Council of Europe, and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, when defining the "territory in which the regional or minority language is used". Accordingly, this is a geographical zone wherein the regional language is used as a method of expression by the sufficient number of people required to justify the security and incentive measures provided by the charter. Also, these are the regions referred to in multiple provisions of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, as “areas inhabited by persons belonging to national minorities traditionally or in substantial numbers”.

Article 28.2 of Recommendation 1811/2007 of the CE speaks about “regions with national ambitions”, while article 6 states “that a majority of Council of Europe member states include communities with a strong cultural, political and historical identity, which are not mere regions but peoples and societies with a marked collective personality (described as regions, nations, nationalities, countries, etc.) that did not establish their own state but retain visible differentiating features that inform a political will for self government”.

Therefore, when speaking of national regions, we are talking about areas that have already been defined by the Council of Europe, and in this perspective, it is not important what kind of administrative status they have at the moment. In other words, the above definitions are equally valid for regions with territorial autonomy and legal status guaranteed by law, like Catalonia, and regions not recognized as an administrative-territorial entity, like Szeklerland, which lets us refer to them generally as Europe’s national regions.

Title XVIII of part 3 (internal policies and activity) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union concerns economic, social and territorial cohesion. Article 174 makes it clear that “In order to promote its overall harmonious development, the Union shall develop and pursue its actions leading to the strengthening of its economic, social and territorial cohesion. In particular, the Union shall aim at reducing disparities between the levels of development of the various regions and the backwardness of the least favored regions.” Following this statement, article 174 also states that “among the regions concerned, particular attention shall be paid to rural areas, areas affected by industrial transition, and regions which suffer from severe and permanent natural or demographic handicaps such as the northernmost regions with very low population density and island, cross-border and mountain regions.” The following articles provide directions regarding the usage of the EU structural funds and other financial assets, so that the goals specified in article 174 can be attained.

Naturally, the provisions of title XVIII of part 3 also cover Europe’s national regions. However, the economical, social and territorial cohesion of these regions must be strengthened, their backwardness prevented, their access to EU funds and equality of opportunity must be provided in a way that does not alter their national, linguistic and cultural characteristics, as this would be a violation of the linguistic and cultural diversity protected by article 3 of the Treaty on European Union. These two standards can form the pillars of an EU level citizens’ initiative, allowing for the commission to submit, with the support of one million signatories, a draft law to the European Parliament, on the special status of Europe’s national regions. In such an initiative, the Commission may recognize the codification task within its competence, so the gathering of signatures can begin.

Doubtlessly, there’s a big difference between the regions perceived as instruments in the EU’s internal policies, and the regionalism-perception of the recommendations of the Council of Europe. However, it is the interest of the inhabitants of the national regions to bring them closer to each other, so that the spirit of the Council of Europe’s recommendations, its definitions and principles, assessable as the achievements of Democracy, can be integrated into the EU law. This can be interpreted as the strategic objective of the citizens’ initiative; in any case, the above formulated goals and arguments share their foundation with this strategic objective.

Title, subject, objectives
Taking into account article 4 of regulation 211/2011/EU, as well as Appendix No. 2 of the regulation, the information required to register the citizens’ initiative regarding the special status of National Regions, shall to be formulated as follows:

The title of the proposed citizens’ initiative: The special status of regions with specific national, ethnic, religious or linguistic characteristics

The subject matter:  To grant special status to regions in which the majority is formed by an autochthonous national minority, and which are specified by national, ethnic, religious or linguistic characteristics, that distinguishes them from the surrounding regions

A description of the objectives of the proposed citizens’ initiative on which the Commission is invited to act: In the case of the regions indicated in the title - including geographic areas with no administrative competencies - , the prevention of the economic backlog, the sustainment of the development, the preservation of the conditions for their economic, social and territorial cohesion should be done in a way that guarantees their national, ethnic, religious or linguistic characteristics remain unchanged. For this purpose these regions must be provided with the institutions of regional government that are given increased competences, and possessing sufficient power to preserve the region’s characteristics, and ensure appropriate economic development, in order for the EU’s comprehensive and harmonious development could be sustained, and at the same time, its cultural diversity preserved.

Tasks for the near future
Space limitations does not permit a more detailed breakdown, but the initiators may specify more information about the proposed initiative’s subject, objectives and background, in an annex. Moreover, the submission may be accompanied by a draft law elaborated by the initiators.

We should distinguish the two phases of the EU legislation launched with the citizens’ initiative. The first begins with the registration of the initiative and ends with the submission of the signatures. The second phase is the actual legislative process, which ends when the desired EU legal act is adopted. For the success of the first phase, it’s enough to provide a brief description of the title, the subject and the goals, and collect one million signatures, as specified in recommendation 211/2011/EU. However in order for the second phase to succeed, the detailed breakdown, the annex, and even the draft law is required. In order to develop the later, we can already state the basic principles, and the minimum that should be accomplished by the desired EU act, however, the detailed breakdown is something we must develop in cooperation with our potential allies, the indigenous national communities of Europe’s national regions.

Izsák Balázs
President of the Szekler National Council

The people of Europe are Equal

Declaration of Principles referring to the cooperation of the European Union’s national regions 
Having in mind, that the Szekler National Council is interested in promoting and strengthening any process that brings it closer to it’s goal, Szeklerland’s territorial autonomy, regardless that this process takes place somewhere in the world, in the European Union, in Romania or - on a regional level - in Szeklerland.
Having in mind, that the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly recognizes that there are many communities living in Europe with a strong cultural, political and historical identity, described as regions, nations, nationalities or countries, that did not establish their own state.
Having in mind, that these communities were involved in the historical process by which the values that serve as foundations for the EU's existence and functioning were formed, and therefore these communities are equal to the peoples of Europe that form a majority in their own, independent states.
Considering that article 3 of the Treaty of the European Union states, that the Union shall contribute to the respecting of the principles of the United Nations Charter, and in that Charter, the people of the world affirm their belief in the peoples’ right to self determination and the equality between small and large nations,
The Szekler National Council declares
Respect for the European Union’s core values, and protection and long term preservation of it’s cultural diversity can only be accomplished if the equality of the people of Europe is universally recognized, regardless if a community, identifying itself as people or nation, has founded it’s own country, or lives on the territory of another, as an indigenous community.
Strengthening the solidarity and mutual respect between the indigenous people living on its territory is a prerequisite to Europe’s cultural diversity.
These regions in Europe, having a strong cultural, political and historical identity must work together to ensure that these goals and principles are realized. These regions are the homelands of nations, their citizens are citizens of the European Union, their numbers measure in tens of millions and are bound together by common goals, regardless of which member states they live in.
Basque Country, Bretagne, Catalonia, Corsica, Galicia, Frisia,  Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Northern Ireland, Scotland, South-Tyrol, Szeklerland, Valle d'Aosta, Wales and other such regions of the European Union, must see these common goals, and must create the institutions of cooperation.
The Szekler National Council
Marosvásárhely, June the 3rd, 2011