Source: European Community, 2002

Although the European Union has expressed a commitment protecting and promoting the rights of minorities, there has been some criticism of how the individual EU Member States handle minority rights. This is a controversial topic for many EU Member States because, unlike Canada, they claim they are unaccustomed to immigration.

This, however, does not mean they are unaccustomed to having other minorities living within their borders. Many European states have had minorities incorporated into their territories because of territorial resettlement after the First World War and the Second World War. Slovakia has a sizable Hungarian minority. Both Latvia and Estonia have large Russian minorities. In addition, all EU Member States also face the challenge of dealing with the mixing of cultures, as immigration becomes more common.

Most of the EU member states are signatories of the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities | FR. Although the Council of Europe is not an EU body, both organizations work closely together in dealing with issues of minority rights. Since many of the 12 new states that joined the EU in May 2004 have diverse ethnic groups within their borders, the EU has made the protection of minorities a criterion for joining the EU.

(Photo: European Commission)

However, one of the major issues with minority rights is that they only apply to citizens who belong to recognized national minorities. The Framework Convention does not mention what define national minorities, nor does it have provisions to protect national minorities who are NOT citizens. This makes monitoring progress on minority protection more difficult.

Another issue is that minority rights are not applied evenly throughout the other EU member states. Critics argue that several pre-accession EU member states, including Belgium, France, and Greece have not ratified the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, which is the only legally binding document referring to the protection of national minorities (Click HERE for more information).


  • How would YOU define what a national minority is? What criteria would you assign to define minority groups? For example: should minority groups be defined by a certain percentage of the national population? If so, what should that percentage be? Should the definition of a minority group be related to how long that group has lived in its country? Should the definition be tied strictly to ethnicity and culture?

Read these articles and documents on national minorities. Do any of them actually define what a national minority is?

Should minority groups who ARE NOT citizens of countries in which they reside, still be granted the same minority rights as minority groups who ARE citizens? Why or why not?


Now you’re ready to look at the controversial topic of headscarves in French schools.