“Diversity means Europe! If you don’t understand this, you can’t actually understand Europe!” – Interview with Jordi Sebastià #UnityInDiversity

News / 17.7.15

The Centre Maurits Coppieters has had the chance to interview Jordi Sebastià, MEP and Co-chair of the Intergroup on Traditional Minorities, National Communities and Languages, on the topic of his work in the Intergroup and overall developments within the latter. Eva Bidania, advisor to the European Free Alliance, conducted the interview.

Along with the video, we will also provide you with the full interview in written form further down.

What can you tell us about the parliamentary Intergroup and what is your role there?

I am a Co-chair of the parliamentary Intergroup on Traditional Minorities, National Communities and Languages, where I am residing as member of the EFA group. The main focus is to empower national minorities in Europe, but also minority languages or languages considered as a minority language. Because this area directly correlates with the aims of the European Free Alliance, I was considered as one of the Co-chairs of the Intergroup.

What do you think is the reason for it having been re-established and why is it important?

We can say that a large share of the population in Europe is part of minority groups, national minorities, ethnic or linguistic minorities, which means that many of these groups share the same problem that could be solved through a common “acqui” with regard to minority issues. Unfortunately this does not exist, as of yet. The European Commission (also in previous legislative periods) has never considered the problems concerning minorities as a main issue, which is why it is important to have an Intergroup in the Parliament to fight for the rights of minorities.

You are saying that many people are affected by these issues. What would you consider the current priorities of the Intergroup? Are there specific areas that require special attention?

Yes, after 2004 and the last round of enlargement in Eastern Europe, we have discovered that a lot of minorities are suffering from discrimination in their respective states. At the same, of course, we are also focusing on the “traditional” minorities in the old member states, like the Basque or the Catalans. But it has become clear for us with regard to the Eastern member states, that discrimination and persecution has increased especially after their accession to the EU. For instance, the Turkish minority in Bulgaria is not allowed to freely express themselves in their native Turkish language, which constitutes a direct attack against human rights. This is example of an area of attention in the Intergroup, apart from the more general aims of preserving ethnic and linguistic diversity in Europe. Diversity means Europe! If you don’t understand this, you can’t actually understand Europe!

It seems that there are problems that persist over time. How do you then see previous efforts with regard to the protection of minority languages, like the report by Francois Alfonsi?

I think that the Alfonsi report was a very important moment in parliamentary history, because it was the first time that the European Parliament approved with a large majority a declaration which highlighted the importance to defend linguistic diversity in Europe in a very clear way. Thus, the European Parliament showed their sincerity to act on these matters. What we need now, is to implement this declaration in real politics.

And how do you see it implemented?

It means that we need an effort in the European Parliament, beyond merely stating our intention to act on linguistic diversity, to support the protection of minority languages first inside the European Parliament itself. This concerns the Basque, Catalan, Welsh or Gaelic languages among many others. We also need a clear intention to act on the side of the European Commission, which currently shows no signs of efforts towards achieving a greater linguistic diversity.

What about the NPLD’s (Network of the Protection of Language Diversity) Roadmap for Linguistic Diversity, to be launched at the end of 2015?

I think it is a very interesting concept. Some of the network’s representatives have already shown their work to the members of the Intergroup, which is the draft of the Roadmap and the theoretical part. What remains now, is the main part, the implementation. Our work now, as members of the Parliament and the Intergroup is to push, to highlight and to remind the other European institutions of the importance of linguistic diversity and of the work that is being done by the stakeholders involved.

How is the Intergroup connected to other institutions like the CoE’s secretariat of the framework for regional and minority languages, the OSCE’s High Commissioner for National Minorities or the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights?

This is part of our daily work. We have regular meetings with representatives of the institutions where we discuss our current issues and encourage them to press for the implementation of initiatives. But we have to admit that there are no signs on the part of the European Commission to act on these matter, although a lot of work has already been done. This is why we and the representatives of other institutions have to keep stressing and to keep bringing minority rights issues to the forefront. The institutions like the UN or the OSCE actually have the capacity to act on these issues in connection with European governments and also the Commission, this is why the members of the Intergroup keep reminding them of these responsibilities.

In 2014, the European Free Alliance published the Strasbourg Manifesto on the protection of national minorities and languages, stressing the need for a coherent monitoring mechanism for minorities’ protection on the European level, which is currently non-existent apart from the Copenhagen criteria for accession candidates. How could, in your opinion, such a mechanism look like?

I think the methodology for this mechanism is perfect. It could be very useful to detect the problems and also to denounce violations of minority rights. But we need the support of authorities, institutions and organisations to effectively establish this monitoring mechanism. Here we have the tool, a very good tool, but we need somebody with enough power to use and to implement it. I think we are already doing something in this direction with regional/national governments who have decided to act in this regard – the Basque or Catalan governments for example. And this is very important, because they are using a list with different criteria to monitor the developments in language policy. But, again, we need the support of institutions which themselves do not really have the power of state governments.

We are coming to the end of this interview which leads us to the last question: could you sum up, in one or two sentences what makes you optimistic for the future protection of minorities and minority languages?

Well, I am optimistic because I think we are living in a very “agitated” world, to put it like that. Globalisation is all over the world and therefore, we need to have direct links to our roots. If not, we are going to be completely lost, so minority languages are receiving increasing attention. Even if everybody speaks English in a globalised world, regional identities and languages are important for the discovery of ourselves and we need to protect this diversity all over the world. Even though globalisation is not, per se, negative, we still need to keep fighting for the preservation of identities through minorities and minority languages, which will also be important for our youth.

Thank you very much for this interesting input, Jordi! We wish you every success in your work as an MEP and your work in the parliamentary Intergroup.

Thank you very much for your invitation and the possibility to express these kind of opinions that are not so popular in the media, but they are very important to a lot of people in Europe.