The European Commission has formulated a number of questions for its interactive conference scheduled for 28 April. Below are answers to these questions by Izsák Balázs, representative of the citizens' committee of the citizens' initiative for national regions.
Among the various tools for citizens’ involvement, why did you decide to start an ECI?
The European Citizens’ Initiative “National Regions” originated in the middle of Romania, in Szeklerland, or Terra Siculorum in Latin. The majority of this region’s population is Hungarian-speaking, with Hungarian culture, which distinguishes it from the neighboring Romanian-inhabited regions. We have to face the situation that Szeklerland’s development is not one of the Romanian state’s priorities. In other words, we have to endure different forms of economic discrimination. When we saw that we are one among many such regions in the EU, we realized the enormous potential of our issue as a European matter. The harmonious development of the European Union, reducing the gaps between the levels of development of different regions is within the EU’s competence. We believe that our proposal for European legislation could guarantee equality between regions precisely through cohesion policy, as well as the sustainability of regional cultures.
How launching an ECI contributed to expanding your personal/professional network?
The European Commission refused to register our citizens' initiative in 2013. We fought a six-year long lawsuit against the European Commission which we won in 2019. During this time, we built connections throughout the continent: The Breton Cultural Institute, the Basque National Party, the municipality of Debrőd in Slovakia and the Municipality of Covasna County in Romania intervened in the lawsuit. As such, we received confirmation from four different European countries that the issue we seek the solution to is a European matter, well before we even began collecting signatures. Our network of allies continued to expand. After the initiative was registered on 7 May 2019, the FUEN (The Federal Union of European Nationalities) decided to support it. A similar decision was made by the political party European Free Alliance (EFA). During the signature collection, we partnered up with the Catalan National Assembly, which helped collect the mandatory minimum threshold in Spain (40,500 signatures required). “National Regions” also cooperates with the Sardinian National Assembly and the Association of Poles in Lithuania. This is not an exhaustive list, but I believe that the common task has brought together a great many people for the sake of a common goal, and this is a good foundation for a European movement for the protection of national regions.
What did you learn during your ECI journey?
A great many things. The most surprising was that the inhabitants of the national regions feel that they are left to their own devices in solving their problems, and very few realize that common fate is a serious basis for cooperation among them. From whom could the Catalans expect more empathy than from the Szeklers, Flemings, Bretons or Corsicans? And vice versa. If we were to connect all regions on the map of Europe, with a line symbolizing a future partnership, the entire map would turn into one big network, and the great intellectual challenge for the future is to decide what plans, what concepts of development we want to run through this network. The task for the future is found at the end of all the lessons learned.
How did launching an ECI help spark a debate on the issue you care about?
People helped spark the debate. People across Europe recognized the importance of the issue of national regions and commented on it, debating one another. We can say that we have managed to turn national regions into a subject of public discussion, from Spain to the Baltics, and from Bulgaria to Belgium. The initiative’s Facebook page has more than 8,500 likes, from people living in different EU states and representing different cultures. It is a real intellectual adventure to present a question that concerns us all in an attempt to find a common solution for the future.
How did your ECI impact EU legislation or action in that area? Since the start of your initiative, have there been decisions at EU level that led to the achievement of the objectives of your initiative? Do you feel your objectives have been met after your ECI collected the 1 million signatures?
The European Union still does not recognize the concept of national regions, even though they do exist in reality. If they share specific needs and we find that they do, then EU law will also have to show progress and legislate on the existence of national regions, recognizing them as subjects of EU law. Only then can something be done to help them. More than a million signatures have been collected from ten countries. Only when the European Commission assumes a positive, proactive attitude on the issue of national regions and launches the legislative process to address it, then we will be able to say that our goals have been achieved.