“The Brussels Diary With Yana Toom”: The Dark Side of Brussels


No one likes to admit defeat. But sometimes one has to. Last week, the European Commission showed itself in the most unfavourable light when millions of Europeans had faith in it, including myself and other Estonian residents, though not everybody.


– Could Europe help solve the problems of national minorities? What do you think?


Sherali: It could, yes. Alien's passport holders are a real problem here, in Estonia. And Russian-speaking schools should be continued.


Priit: Yeah, Europe could get a great deal of help from Brussels through its decisions...


Oliver: Indeed, yes. After all, these people live in the member states of the European Union.


Denis: Only Europe, and Europe alone, can help! The European Union has more experience than Estonia. Only Europe!


Ditto, I think that Europe should help. But alas! If you remember, I have repeatedly spoken about the European civil initiative called the Minority SafePack, which has collected over one million signatures in support of national minorities. The European Commission immediately tried to duck out, but the organisers, through the court, ensured that Brussels accepted the initiative.


In December, the European Parliament voted for it. That said, the initiative was casually castrated. Initially, it was about non-citizens and the protection of education in minority languages. But the amendment on non-citizens was killed, and as for schools, the resolution contains a wishy-washy text about nothing. However, something remained, and this “something” was transferred to the European Commission.


On 14 January, the European Commission responded. On twenty pages, although two words would have been enough: "Up yours!". Of the nine proposals of the initiative, the European Commissioners deemed that none required any action. I repeat, none of them.


I am furious, like the Head of the Federal Union of European Nationalities, Loránt Vincze, who said that the European Commission has turned its back on national minorities. I would put it in more harsh words. Vincze, by the way, belongs to a minority himself, as an ethnic Hungarian from Romania. Maybe this is one of the reasons for the failure, as there was talk that he allegedly worked in the interests of Viktor Orban, who has fallen out of favour with Brussels. If so, 50 million people – in effect all of the EU's minorities – have fallen victim to political intrigue.


But I am afraid the point is different: Brussels is simply afraid. National minorities are not only Russians in Estonia; they are also Basques and Catalans in Spain, Turks in Germany, etc. This implies a lot of uncomfortable problems, and it is better just to sweep them under the rug and forget about them. Well, yes, there is of course the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights with the well-known Articles 21 and 22, which state: “Any discrimination… shall be prohibited”, including “on any ground such as… ethnic or social origin”, “The Union shall respect cultural, religious and linguistic diversity”. But these are just empty words, nothing else.


At the same time, the European Commission not only took the European Parliament down a notch; it also put an end to civil initiatives: what is the use of collecting a million signatures throughout the EU if these are thrown into the dustbin? To be honest, I did not expect this. Of course, the MEPs will not remain silent: I and many of my colleagues signed a letter to Ursula von der Leyen in protest. Only that letters are of little use. We must admit: the battle is lost, and the national minorities should not wait for help from the European Commission. A battle is not a whole war, of course, so there will be other battles. But for now, this is how it is.