– The European General Court on Friday, 3 February 2017, annulled the European Commission's decision refusing registration of a proposed European citizens’ initiative, the Minority SafePack [PDF], that called on the EU to improve the protection of persons belonging to national and linguistic minorities and to strengthen cultural and linguistic diversity in the EU.
While the initiative acknowledged that “major steps have been taken in the last few years” to address Roma exclusion (through the EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies up to 2020), it highlighted that Roma minorities are still “the largest and most excluded group of minorities in Europe.” Statelessness is a particular concern for Roma minorities, and this is one aspect that the initiative aimed at addressing. “There are hundreds of thousands of stateless persons in Europe. Many of these persons belong to national minorities, and have been living in the EU for decades. They risk being excluded from education, healthcare, social assistance and the right to vote. A stateless person may not be able to travel or work legally. As a result they have to contend with inequality and discrimination. A great number of stateless persons in Europe are Roma.”
The initiative acknowledged that it is beyond to competencies of the EU to provide citizenship for the stateless, but clarified that a “number of directives have been adopted that deal with the rights of certain categories of third-country nationals (including stateless persons) [but] there are still categories of persons who are excluded from this framework, and differences exist between the rights of stateless persons and those of EU-citizens in a similar situation, e.g. in regard to work permits, family reunification and in regard to the provision of services.” The initiative adds that “an extension of citizens-related rights to stateless persons and their families, who have been living in their country of origin for the whole of their lives, can alleviate a lot of these persons’ problems.”
The initiative specifically proposed to address this issue by calling on the commission to adopt “an amendment to the directives that allows for the approximation of the rights of long-term stateless persons and their families to those of EU-citizens.”
In September 2013, the Commission refused to register the proposal on the grounds that it “manifestly fell outside the powers which enabled the Commission to submit a proposal for the adoption of an EU legal act for the purpose of implementing the Treaties”.
Friday’s court decision held that the Commission’s reasoning for refusing the registration of the proposal is “manifestly inadequate”, and the Commission ought to have indicated which measures fall outside its competences as well as set out the reasons in support of that conclusion. By not setting out the reasons, the citizens proposing the initiative were prevented from contesting the merits of the Commission’s assessment, “just as the Court is prevented from exercising its review of the legality of the Commission’s assessment”.
According to Hans Heinrich Hansen, chairman of the citizens’ committee for the Minority SafePack Initiative, the decision “is an important step for citizens’ involvement in the European Union.” The Commission may however appeal the decision within two months.