MEPs express support for petition by Slovenian minority

Brussels, 8 April - Four organisations of ethnic Slovenians in the Austrian state of Carinthia presented on Monday their petition regarding minority rights to the European Parliament's Committee on Petitions (PETI). Most problematic is the lack of Slovenian language in schooling and courts, said the petitioners, who received the support of MEPs.

Brussels, Belgium
The European Parliament.
Photo: Thierry Monasse/STA

The document was submitted to PETI last October by the representatives of the Unity List (EL), the Association of Slovenian Organisations (ZSO), the National Council of Carinthian Slovenians (NSKS) and the Community of Carinthian Slovenians (SKS).

The organisations see Austria's failure to implement minority rights as a violation of the rule of law, said Rudolf Vouk, the petitioners' legal advisor.

The Austrian State Treaty guarantees the right to primary education in Slovenian, while in practice bilingual classes are only offered the first four years of primary school, Vouk said. "This is one of the main reasons for a dramatic decrease in speakers of our language in Carinthia," he added.

A study commissioned by the Austrian government two years ago showed that the number of Slovenian-speaking people in Carinthia has decreased from 100,000 to less than 10,000 in the last century, said Roman Roblek, a representative of the petitioners.

Carinthian Slovenians cannot use Slovenian in administrative matters and in courts, said Vouk, adding that they have run out of legal means in Austria to challenge the current system.

A representative of the European Commission said that education and the use of language in public administration and in courts is the responsibility of EU member states. "Member states are responsible for the fundamental rights, related to ethnic minorities, being in line with the instruments of the Council of Europe," she said.

Slovenian MEP Franc Bogovič (EPP/SLS) said this response was a perfunctory assessment and called on the Commission to ensure the respect of rights of the Slovenian minority in Austria and other minorities in the EU.

"It's right that we listen to these problems and ask of the European Commission to encourage the country that is not meeting its responsibilities to do so," said Slovenian MEP Ljudmila Novak (EPP/NSi).

Other EPP and European Greens MEPs from France, Romania, Austria and Spain, including representatives of minorities, agreed with them. The committee decided to keep the petition open and is expecting a written response from the European Commission, said the committee vice-chair Ana Miranda.

Vouk and NSKS president Valentin Inzko welcomed the results of the discussion. "We wish the European Commission would say that Austria is a country based on the rule of law and should act as such and fulfil the promises it has already given," said Inzko.

© STA, 2024