The EU's Relationship with Minority Rights

Tawhida Ahmed


This chapter provides an analysis in overview of the relationship between the European Union (EU or the Union) and minority rights protection, highlighting the emergence, development, strengths and shortfalls of minority rights protection in the EU. Minority protection may not be a comprehensive affair in EU law. However, the EU's legal framework still pertains to minority issues in ways sufficient to warrant lengthy analysis (Ahmed, 2009a, 2009b, 2010, 2012, 2013; Arzoz, 2008b; de Witte, 2002; Jovanovic, 2012; Nic Shuibhne, 2002; Palermo and Woelk, 2003-2004; Piccoli, 2011; Toggenburg, 2004; Topidi, 2010). This chapter analyses some of the key features of that framework. These include the emergence of EU minority rights in the context of EU enlargement and the importance of minority protection as a value of the EU in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU). Article 2 TEU cements the EU's express commitment to minority protection, but remains a provision to be elaborated by the EU institutions. Substantively, EU anti-discrimination law is the predominant legally binding tool for minority protection in EU law and provides protection for minorities who are discriminated against, on a number of grounds relevant to minority group characteristics. However, the scope of protection for each ground differs (religion being most restrictive), and while policy measures in EU anti-discrimination law can target group problems, litigation challenging breaches of relevant EU law rights is based on an individual model and cannot therefore be used to tackle issues of a collective nature.

Outside non-discrimination, positive action towards identity protection has been applied in the realm of cultural diversity, linguistic diversity and religious diversity, and in the field of democratic representation and participation. However, these are policy areas that are either absent of legally binding force, or are, as in the case of cultural diversity, little able to protect minorities in any substantial sense. As a result, they do not occupy a strong place in EU law. Thus, overall, despite some positive recent developments, minority protection in the EU remains fragmented and without policy direction.

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