Jul 14, 2014

Self-determination: Old Debate, New Momentum

- A Challenge for the European Parliament?

 The European elections are over, and the election fury has settled.  As the names of the new Members of the European Parliament (EP) have been announced and Committees shaped, along with the election of their respective Chairs and Vice-Chairs, the EP is ready to start its work serving and representing the interests of the citizens of the European Union. At this interesting crossroads the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) reflects on the challenges ahead for the new parliament, from the perspective of the unrepresented.

The European Union (EU) is a democratic political and economic union consisting of 28 Member States, but within the largest supranational union one can find other groups and entities,  not just States. The EU envelops a huge variety of minorities, and even stateless people. For example, Europe’s largest ethnic minority are the Roma people, numbering approximately 6 million. They face a disturbing reality of discrimination, harassment and social exclusion.

The EU has a responsibility to ensure a more positive approach to acknowledging diversity and promoting the inclusion of marginalized communities, based on democratic principles. Therefore, UNPO hopes to see the new EP pay more attention to those who remain voiceless, and create a platform for them to be heard. Unrepresented minorities and stateless peoples need opportunities for active participation and inclusion, including the possibility to influence relevant stakeholders and regain ownership of their lives and the course of their communities. This  is linked to the safeguarding of basic human rights, which is the moral as well as legal duty of European leadership and the EU institutions.

Amidst debates about unemployment, new approaches to growth, climate change, energy policy and global influence, one less emphasized, yet as important challenge facing the newly elected EP is undoubtedly linked to the issue of self-determination, and the right of nations and peoples to decide their own destinies. The already confirmed Scottish independence referendum scheduled for 18 September 2014, Catalonia striving for the same opportunity to decide on the future of the Catalonian Autonomous Community of Spain, and the Basque Country and other communities in Europe expressing similar ideas clearly depict a new reality with which European national governments, as well as the European institutions will have to deal with.

Despite complex academic debates about the true meaning of the right to self-determination and the right to decide, these often misinterpreted concepts are fundamentally about being able to freely express one’s opinion on certain issues, or the future of one’s own nation or people. UNPO therefore sees one of the challenges for the next mandate of the EP as finding ways to allow different groups to voice their concerns and provide an opportunity for these groups to determine their own future via the implementation of the right to decide and the principle of self-determination, as well as other human rights. In this context, UNPO wishes to stress that minorities, stateless peoples and other unrepresented groups have equal rights to be heard and seen, and that the European Parliament working hand in with other political bodies, institutions and various NGOs is perfectly positioned to promote these rights in an inclusive manner.


Photo Flickr @European Parliament