A number of available legal instruments have the potential to contribute to the elaboration of an EU minority protection standard. These instruments, however, are mostly limited to guaranteeing simple nondiscrimination, which is not enough to ensure minority protection stricto sensu. The lack of any viable internal minority protection standard did not prevent the European Union from treating minority protection as one of the key elements of the pre-accession process leading to the Eastern enlargement, reinforcing the internal-external competence divide and reducing the effectiveness of minority protection in the European Union. Although minority protection was one of the Copenhagen political criteria—and thus at the core of the conditionality principle presupposing a fair assessment of the candidate countries’ progress on the merits—the Commission clearly used minority protection in a discriminatory way, tolerating the standard of assimilation in one group of candidate countries (Latvia, Estonia) and backing cultural autonomy in others. Thus, alongside the internal toleration or simple denial of minority problems in the European Union, the Commission simultaneously promoted two contradicting approaches in external relations: de facto assimilation, which is prohibited by article 5(2) of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, and cultural autonomy, which brings to life a complicated web of partly overlapping, partly contradicting standards
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