Word around the block is that if the EU were to bid for its own membership it might not get in, on grounds of democratic deficits and legislation voids. All irony asside, it feels safe to assume that despite its noteworthy success in upholding human rights standards, economic cooperation (and progress) and democratization, the aquis communautaire does stand at a rather problemtic crossoards between a lack of clear enforcement measures (a carrot without a stick in very crude, realist-style perspective) and internal loop-holes (or legislation voids). In this brief article I will present a very intricate case-study highlighting some of these problems – the Aromanians spread throughout South-Eastern Europe. For the sake of space, I will not go into a full-on legal analysis of the EU’s minority protection schemes but limit myself to some of the most visible problems at stake.

Who are the Aromanians?
Well, if you were to ask the EU monitoring websites you would indeed find that they are a minority in “search of more recognition”, but that is about as far as the information goes (see Eurominority). With a history debated by anthropologists, historians, etnographers, linguists and sociologists suffice it to say here that the Aromanians are a plethora of Romance-Language speakers with a long-standing history in South-Eastern Europe, geographically spread between of the Balkan States (who continuously contest their identity, most notably Greece; for detailed scholarly works see Kyurchiev, Djuvara, to name just a few notable sources). The Aromanians’ identification matrix is generally composed of language, religion (dying out but still present) and customs and folklore (preserved by a docummented rigid community boundary-maintenance bordering on endogamy). Interesting to note, from a historical perspective, is that the Aromanians have contributed to most national liberation movements in the Balkan states, but figure most prominently in Romania and Greece’s nationalist rhetorics. What we can immediately draw from this already blurry equation is a triadic nexus style of relationship between the minority, its host-country and “perceived external homeland” (to use the framework of Brubaker), where the contentious issue is the perception of who is the homeland. As the nationalist narrative goes, Romania considers itself the “sole inheritor of the Eastern Romance Group” hence putting forward a very assimilationist claim to the Aromanian minorities. On the other side, the Aromanian communities seem to unite around just one common overarching cause: language rights. With secession off the table, the Aromanian community seems torn into three main currents: a so-called neo-Aromanian current stressing a unique identitarian discourse, a moderate core content with peaceful cohabitation and integration into host-countries they have inhabited for centuries, and a more conservative group highly influenced by the Romanian discourse.
Adding the EU into the picture: beneficial simplification or further complication?
In 1997 the Council of Europe grants Aromanians legal recognition, via Recommendation 1333, as a linguistic-cultural minority. One would expect that coupling this with the EU’s own and distinct efforts towards democratization, the situation of the Aromanians would be clarified. However, nothing seems to have changed due to a number of problematic issues that will be dissected individually: vague legislation on data gathering, rigid prioritizing between various minority groups and unclear enforcement mechanisms that pre-empt in-depth influence of EU legislation.
Firstly, when it comes to gathering meaningful data on such controversial groups the EU seems to be at the mercy of nation-states. This “void at the center” (Cahn) creates serious hurdles towards minority recognition legislation packages as it permits most states to use a fallacious argument: “we are not discriminating because there is no minority to be discriminated!” (for the extremely dubious case of Romania I point to some of my own research on the Aromanians – see Delcea) Despite financing a growing number of in-depth minority research projects the EU is still dependent on national censuses when it comes to concrete policy-making. What follows are highly contested data-sets which hinder the implementation of most policy recommendations due to the fact that national minority legislation generally puts forward some kind of rigid definition of group-sizing as necessary condition for recognition qua minority – for instance as of May 2013 under Romanian law all outside-Romania Eastern-Romance language minorities are to be named “Romanians from all-over the land”!
The issue of prioritizing between minorities is equally problematic. Most country-reports on minority issues tend to focus on the most visible cases – Hungarians in Romania, the Roma minority, the post-Yugoslav minority conflicts and so on, with very little attention being given to micro-cases. Paradoxically enough, the Aromanians have been used as a bargain-chip as recently as 2012 when Romanian President T. Basescu threatened to veto Serbia’s candidacy bid on grounds of minority-discrimination (the twisted irony is that he was referring to a mixture of Aromanians and Romanian minorities, using the occasion to further stress Romania’s assimilationist stance). Where the threat of violence is non-existent and where political interests are not of “wider” concern the EU seems to back off! The Aromanians are apparently a minority with a high emotional value (on a nationalistic scale), but with weak visibility and political importance for the Member States (or candidate-states) they live in. This emphasizes that despite an extremely open rhetoric, the EU is rather narrow in its actual interest-coverage.
Last but not least, it’s already becoming somewhat evident that the EU brings to the table a very attractive “carrot”, but backs its up with a somewhat soft stick when it comes to implementation of minority-specific legislation (for an interesting analysis of post-membership europeanization – a state with a documented Aromanian minority – see my colleague’s solid piece – Kopraleva). Political criticism asside, drastic sanctions have yet to be inflicted on most member-states on discrimination cases (The Roma schooling problems in the Czech Republic are a text-book case of a EU beneficial verdict with a non-existent aftermath, Hungary’s recent problems with Jobbik are also well documented). Keeping the line of cost-benefit analysis it seems that Member States gain more, particularly in internal politics, by continuing their respective branches of discrimination as EU penalties continue to be weak at best.
It seems ultimately that for most minorities the EU is not exactly a shining light at the end of the tunnel. Obviously the EU has scored some success (it would be unfair to argue that the Union has done nothing!), though there is still much to be done before the beautiful poetry that is the Union’s democratization process can become political reality.By solving the puzzles surrounding such contested minorities, european politicians might uncover some valuable lessons on the path to democratization.
Picture source: Eurac