Transnational Minority Activism in Europe Beyond The Minority Safepack Initiative

At the time of writing, the results of the 2024 European elections were not known.


Ahead of the June 2024 elections to the European Parliament, there was much talk of the challenge to the European Union (EU) posed by so-called “sovereigntist” movements—rightist political forces advocating a return to a Europe defined by sovereign nation-states. Far less remarked upon is how, over the past three decades, institutions and frameworks adopted by the EU, Council of Europe (CoE), and Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have opened up space for transnational activism focused on achieving stronger rights and protections for national minorities at the international level. Especially notable in this regard is the Minority SafePack[1] (MSPI)—a European Citizen’s Initiative (ECI) launched in 2013 that called upon the European Commission to legislate for firmer minority rights guarantees within EU member states. The MSPI was organized by the Federal Union of European Nationalities (FUEN), which has declared itself to be the largest umbrella organization representing Europe’s “autochthonous national minorities, nationalities and language groups” (FUEN 2022).

Having successfully met the requirements to become an ECI, i.e., attracting 1.12 million signatures and meeting the requisite threshold in eleven EU member states (FUEN 2020), the MSPI merits consideration in its own right. It is all the more interesting in bringing to light a neglected century-long tradition of transnational minority activism that has proven deeply contentious both at the level of European international governmental organizations and within many of Europe’s individual member states. This contentiousness can be seen in how the MSPI, despite obtaining backing from the European Parliament, was ultimately rejected by the Commission in January 2021. What then, is the nature of and true agenda behind this activism? How representative were the claims presented through the MSPI? One key line of debate surrounding the initiative relates to the growing influence of Hungarian minorities within FUEN—led since 2016 by Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Lorant Vincze,[2] of the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (RMDSZ)—and, behind this influence, the role of Hungary as an increasingly assertive, illiberal, and Eurosceptic “kin-state” to Hungarians living beyond its borders (Mueller 2014; Brubaker 2017; Kim 2023). As well as bringing into focus the credibility and sustainability of existing EU provisions for minority rights protection, the rejection of the MSPI also raises questions concerning the future of FUEN: while on one level, the initiative boosted its visibility at the European level and demonstrated its substance and ambition, the organization now finds itself searching for a new focus after the failure of a campaign that lasted a full ten years. At the same time, FUEN’s growing links to the Hungarian state have begun to bring forth not only external scrutiny but internal questioning, particularly after the 2022 annual congress in Berlin, which saw a proposed resolution to criticize Hungary for its democratic backsliding abruptly dismissed by FUEN’s president (von Tiedemann 2022). The question of where the organization goes from here forms the central focus of this article.


FUEN and the road to the Minority SafePack

Established in 1949, the same year as the Council of Europe, FUEN began life lobbying in Strasbourg for the addition of specific minority rights clauses to the European Convention on Human Rights. Though it originally emerged from an initiative by French federalists, from the 1950s the organization came under the leadership of the Danish minority in Germany and the German minorities in Denmark and Italy. Headquartered in Flensburg, FUEN has long sought to propagate the internationally acknowledged good practices of minority protection embodied by the post-war contexts of the Danish-German borderland region of Schleswig/Slesvig and the Italian province of South Tyrol, respectively (Smith et al. 2019).

The fact that FUEN celebrates its 75th anniversary in 2024 is in many ways remarkable, given that for 40 years until 1989, the organization cut an insignificant figure at the margins of European politics. Indeed, FUEN embodies an activist tradition stretching back a century, since it is understood to be the successor to the European Congress of Nationalities (ENC), which had been established in 1925 to lobby the inter-war League of Nations for a pan-European guarantee of minority rights, based on the principle of collective autonomy within states and direct representation at the League for minorities as well as states. The link to this pre-existing organization, however, highlights a key point of controversy surrounding transnational minority movements, which is their vulnerability to external instrumentalization by powerful states and particular national interests. This was the eventual fate of the ENC, which, in the 1930s, became a front organization for the Association for German Minorities in Europe and ultimately came under the control of Nazi Germany (Smith et al. 2019).

The enduring negative connotations attached to this inter-war experience perhaps explain why FUEN only obtained official consultative status at the Council of Europe (CoE) in 1989, despite consistently underlining its support for the guiding principles of European integration. This recognition came at a time when the end of the Cold War was placing the “minority question” back on the European agenda, however, culminating in the CoE’s adoption of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM, entered into force in 1998), Europe’s only current legally binding instrument on minority rights. FUEN’s leadership understandably welcomed the adoption of the FCNM, which has set a benchmark for the EU’s own approach to issues of minority rights protection. At the same time, FUEN’s leaders have characterized the FCNM as a “light product” (Hansen 2009, 3-4), since it lacks any effective enforcement mechanism and gives individual states’ parties wide latitude to define what constitutes a “national minority” and thus determine the Convention’s scope of application in particular state settings. The FCNM also eschews any conception of collective rights, speaking instead of protecting persons belonging to minorities. FUEN’s activism, by contrast, has traditionally sought to gain recognition for minorities as collective legal subjects and political actors in their own right, both within the states where they reside and at the level of international organizations.

The year 1989 also marked a significant Zeitenwende for FUEN in that it could then invite member organizations from Central and Eastern Europe to join in the transnational movement for autochthonous minority rights. Soon after, in 1991, FUEN held its annual congress in Budapest (FUEN n.d.a), paving the way for membership by Hungarian minorities in states neighboring Hungary but also by an array of German minorities in various states. While further reinforcing the German minority presence in those states, this development also reconfigured FUEN’s membership, which would grow to encompass over 100 organizations across 36 states by 2024. The influence of central and eastern European minority organizations has grown accordingly, with the creation of a Slavic minorities working group in 1996 (agsm n.d.) but also the election of representatives to the organization’s presidium. Lorant Vincze was one such representative, serving as vice-president from 2013 to 2016.

During the same period, developments at the EU level provided FUEN with important new arenas and avenues for political action. A good example is the European Citizen’s Initiative (ECI) provision introduced under the 2007 Lisbon Treaty, which became the basis for the subsequent MSPI. An overview of the ECI was provided at FUEN’s 2010 annual congress in Ljubljana (FUEN 2010) by Gabriel Toggenburg of the European Fundamental Rights Agency—an academic with expertise on national minorities.[3] Further to this, a working team was established (FUEN 2013) that included representatives of FUEN as well as the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (RMDSZ), but also the South Tyrolean People’s Party—the latter possibly due to its links to Toggenburg. The plans were later discussed at great length during the 2012 FUEN conference in Moscow, before the working team was formalized as a Committee when FUEN registered its initiative as the MSPI in 2013.


The MSPI years

It was not until 2017, however, that the MSPI could finally be registered and signature collection began, due to an initial rejection by the Commission and subsequent successful appeal in court.[4] Although the campaign collected the necessary one million signatures and met the threshold in the required seven different member states, over 75 percent of these signatures were collected in only two states: Hungary and Romania (European Citizen’s Initiative, n.d.; Varlam 2020). Furthermore, it is insightful to examine the financing of the MSPI. In fact, while the official MSPI EU webpage lists FUEN as the initiative’s only sponsor, FUEN’s annual budget sheets provide a more nuanced understanding, as they list more precisely where support comes from. Officially, the campaign received a total of €348,500.00 between 2012 and 2018, most of which came in the last two years of the signature collection active campaign (ibid.). The FUEN annual reports[5] first mention the MSPI in the 2013 income statement (FUEN 2017, 12), which accounts for a sum of €5,000 coming from the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and €5,000 from the Hungarian Parliament, but also €47,500.00 as “support from regions and members” and €7,500.00 from “members of the MSPI committee”—these latter two are the only non-Hungarian MSPI funding sources explicitly mentioned in any year. In 2016, a total of €48,513.86 was provided by the “Hungarian Government” for “Funding the MSPI and Europeada” (ibid.).[6] From 2017 onwards, a specific line for the Minority SafePack Initiative was included in FUEN’s annual income statement. The 2017 statement shows that the MSPI received a sum of €139,817.99 that year from the “Bethlen Gábor Alapkezelő Zrt.” [sic] (FUEN 2018a, 12). The Bethlen Gábor Alapkezelő Zrt. (hereinafter Bethlen Gábor Fund) describes itself as a state fund that aims at realizing the goals of the Hungarian Government relating to Hungarians living abroad (Bethlen Gábor Alapkezelő Zrt. n.d.). The budget line concerning the Bethlen Gábor Fund was then renamed in 2018 as “MSPI / FUEN development and European engagement.” In 2018, FUEN received for the MSPI €310,208.00 from the Bethlen Gábor Fund, €267,590.99 from the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and €60,000.00 from the Autonomous Region of South Tyrol (FUEN 2019, 12). This increase in incoming funds appears logical given the signature collection was at the time reaching its final phase. What is more intriguing is that the Bethlen Gábor Fund continued to provide funding in subsequent years, as shown under the same budget line, providing amounts of €459,184.69 in 2019, €371,202.63 in 2020, €465,282.03 in2021, and €531,337.35 in 2022, as shown in the most recent available report (FUEN 2023a, 13). These combined figures amount to over €2.5 million, far more than the official €348,500 stated on the EU Citizen’s Initiative webpage. Unlike the German government, which reports on funds it grants for projects each year, FUEN does not provide a breakdown of expenditure; so it is unclear what the additional approximately €1.8m emanating from the Bethlen Gábor Fund since 2017 have been spent on, other than “European engagement.”

Beyond examining the operational and financial elements of the MSPI campaign, exploring other aspects of the campaign, such as support from the EU Parliament and the subsequent activities FUEN has been engaging in, is revealing. Although enough signatures were collected by mid-2018, FUEN decided not to submit the validated signatures to the EU Commission until early 2020. Its rationale was that the then Commission led by Jean-Claude Juncker would not support the initiative. During the 2018 FUEN Congress, MSPI Citizen’s Committee member, Hunor Kelemen—also of the RMDSZ, as Lorant Vincze—stated, “we have to be smart, we cannot risk seven years of work and 1.3 million signatures … I believe that we should wait until next year’s EP elections and for a new European Commission” (FUEN 2018b). Vincze later stated that FUEN would be focusing on lobbying the Commission and the EU Parliament but also national and regional parliaments and governments, “in order to secure the support of the majorities” (FUEN 2018c). Thus, it was only in October 2020 that FUEN presented the MSPI to the Commission, commencing a three-month response period during which the organization received support from the EU Parliament as well as the German Bundestag, the Dutch House of Representatives, and several regional parliaments across the EU (European Parliament 2020; Deutscher Bundestag 2020; Tweede Kamer der Staten-Generaal 2020). Ultimately, this support was to no avail, as the Commission rejected all nine proposals in its response in January 2021 (European Commission 2021). While this rejection was subsequently appealed by FUEN, the Commission’s decision was upheld by the General Court.[7] This final adjudication essentially brought the process to a close, leaving FUEN looking in a new, post-MSPI direction, fourteen years after it first began pursuing the idea to organize an ECI.


Fishing in new waters?

In recent years, FUEN appears to have actively sought to engage with minorities in parts of Europe where there were no FUEN member organizations. On the one hand, this engagement occurred in the scope of the MSPI campaign—for example in Spain, FUEN met the signature threshold and received statements of support from Catalan MEPs in the European Parliament. However, FUEN has also engaged with areas where very few signatures were collected, such as Finland or Ireland. In order to reach minorities in these countries, FUEN has used its annual Forum of Minority Regions,[8] focusing on socioeconomic topics and inviting a mix of FUEN established and prospective members (from FUEN’s perspective at least) and academics. The 2021 Forum was held in Helsinki and included organizations representing Swedish speakers in Finland as well as Sámi people in Finland and Sweden (FUEN 2021), while the 2022 Forum was held in Galway, Ireland, and hosted by newly admitted member organization Udaras na Gaeltachta (FUEN 2022b). Similarly, it was announced that the 2024 Forum would take place in Donostia, Basque Country, Spain (FUEN 2024a). A meeting of the Non-kin-state Working Group in Barcelona in June 2023 appears to have been another opportunity to reach out to potential new members such as organizations from the Basque Country and Galicia, and to build upon the membership of Catalan NGO Plataforma per la Llengua. The latter joined FUEN as a “supporting member” in 2018, and its status was upgraded to that of “associate member” in 2022 (FUEN n.d.b). FUEN’s collaboration with Plataforma per la Llengua can also be seen at the EU Parliament level, where Vincze sits as a co-chair of the Intergroup on Traditional Minorities alongside Fidesz MEP Kinga Gál (Hungary) and François Alfonsi of the Régions et Peuples Solidaires party in France (European Parliament n.d.). The Intergroup is an interesting mix of MEPs from ideologically contrasting political parties and EU parliamentary groups; it is also representative of various geographies, with members from Central and Eastern Europe as well as the Basque Country and Catalonia. The strategic collaboration with this Intergroup is possibly what FUEN has been attempting to enhance within its own organization as well.


Hungary: helpful or limiting?

It is in the post-MSPI context that the tensions within FUEN arose publicly at the 2022 Annual Congress. Since the resolution that had been proposed by the Minority Council in Germany (Minderheitensekrekatiat) was rejected by Vincze—who later stated that FUEN should only criticize governments on their treatment of minority rights (von Tiedemann 2022)—that organization made an official statement, supported by the Sorbian organization Domowina, to call for the FUEN presidium to express a commitment to non-discrimination and equal treatment (Domowina 2022). Even more striking was the open statement from Hans Heinrich Hansen (former FUEN president from 2007 to 2016), who suggested that Hungary and Viktor Orbán were damaging to FUEN and that FUEN should return to an “independent and credible course” [original in German: “einen unabhängigen und glaubwürdigen Kurs”] (Hansen 2022). The FUEN presidium did respond with an official statement whereby it criticized the Minderheitensekretariat on procedural grounds because the latter did not submit its resolution on time; the presidium also suggested that funds from Hungary and the Bethlen Gábor Fund had actually increased FUEN’s independence, as the organization had become more secure financially because the Bethlen Gábor Fund does not specify how FUEN should spend the money received (FUEN 2022c). This last aspect clearly echoes the budget lines described above, which show the income from Bethlen Gábor Fund as a lump sum, while the funds granted by the German government are closely tied to specific projects.

Despite this backlash, FUEN appears to have quelled or at least dampened internal dissent for the time being. During its 2023 annual congress, it adopted two resolutions, seemingly as an attempt to satisfy both sides of the fallout. One of the two resolutions was proposed by nine member organizations that included those that had dissented in 2022; that resolution sought to emphasize “the importance of the rule of law in ensuring human rights and the protection of minorities in the EU,” but it did not mention any particular member state (FUEN 2023b). The second resolution that was passed related to the role and priorities of FUEN, putting emphasis specifically on minority rights. It was proposed by the RMDSZ as well as four other member organizations (FUEN 2023c). How sustainable the attempt to satisfy both sides through the two resolutions is remains to be seen and is probably mostly dependent on external actions beyond FUEN’s control—i.e., how the Hungarian government acts in the future. In the meantime, FUEN has continued its European-level engagement, with much of its 2024 focus directed towards the football tournament it holds every four years, the Europeada.[9] The Danish-German border region was chosen as the host, and the timing coincides with the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) 2024 tournament in Germany, to which FUEN has been keen to attach itself. The Europeada’s host team was invited to a high-profile event in Berlin marking 100 days until the UEFA tournament (Europeada 2024), and Mads Buttgereit, of the German men’s football coaching team, was appointed as the official Europeada ambassador (Deutscher Fussball-Bund n.d.). Additionally, German Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck was chosen as one of the event’s “patrons” (FUEN 2023d). Moreover, FUEN has launched a side campaign titled “Mute Hate Speech,” which aims at linking UEFA 2024 with the Europeada and at highlighting the concerns of minorities (FUEN 2023e). All of these activities relate to the German government granting additional project funding to FUEN (FUEN 2023f), despite the approximately €500,000 a year the latter continues to receive from the Bethlen Gábor Fund. In addition, FUEN has also been increasing its focus on Brussels. To this effect, it hired a project officer in 2023 and, in March 2024, gathered minority experts in a workshop to brainstorm solutions for minority protection on a European level (FUEN 2024b). This strategy has also involved a renewed attention to the European Dialogue Forum, which seeks to engage with European-level policymakers, including in the EU Parliament and the Council of Europe (FUEN 2023g). A new project, Women in Minorities, is also a noteworthy addition to FUEN’s recent activities and constitutes a possible recognition of the lack of gender equality in FUEN’s own leadership, as there is only one woman member out of the eight representatives that share the current FUEN presidium. A first workshop on this topic was held in late 2023 in Vienna, funded by the German government (FUEN 2023h). At the same time as FUEN organized a series of activities turned toward western Europe, it created a working group composed of Hungarian minority communities (FUEN 2024c). To summarize, it appears that many of FUEN’s activities recently and since 2021 have particularly focused on Germany, Brussels and Europe broadly, or areas in western and northern Europe, where FUEN membership is low. This geographical focus indicates that FUEN is keen to expand its existing membership. This desire is based less on financial necessity than on political motivations, given that funding from the Bethlen Gábor Fund continues to flow. Moreover, almost all of FUEN’s salient activities and events are funded through project funding obtained from the German government, whereas explicit expenditures linked to the Bethlen Gábor Fund are hard to identify—even on the FUEN budget sheets.[10]


What comes next?

Where do all of these developments leave FUEN going forward? Looking at the coming years, several factors are likely to shape FUEN’s situation and the position of national and linguistic minorities more broadly. The EU parliamentary elections are of relevance to Vincze, as he stands for re-election; but these elections may also result in an increased representation of right-wing parties hostile to minority rights. Moreover, the constellation of the Intergroup on Traditional Minorities could also be affected. Further down the line, FUEN itself will elect a new president in 2025, as Vincze is currently in his third and final term (FUEN 2022d). If the new president is more aligned with member organizations that are hostile to the Hungarian government, how will this change in orientation affect the substantial project funding provided by the Bethlen Gábor Fund (representing almost 50 percent of FUEN’s annual budget in recent years)? However, if the new president is close to the faction that supports the current leadership and thus the Hungarian government, will FUEN become further embedded in the Hungarian sphere of influence and alienate other members? In this regard, will the EU come to see the MSPI as a missed opportunity to engage with FUEN and provide funds for national minorities through EU channels rather than force these minorities to continue to rely on member states? Even if one excludes the Hungarian question, a strong sense remains that the Commission—which tried to block the MSPI as inadmissible at its very outset—has been reluctant to countenance any change to the EU’s existing identity as a union of nation-states, as opposed to a union based on multi-level governance involving a plurality of state and non-state actors. In declining to propose any further legal acts in the areas covered by the MSPI, the Commission called instead for the fuller implementation of existing EU legislation and policies, arguing that such an approach would provide “a powerful arsenal to support the Initiative’s goals” (European Commission 2021). This response, though, invites the question of what would oblige individual member states to double down on implementation, especially when the legitimacy of minority rights is increasingly challenged by sovereigntist movements speaking in the name of national majorities.



David Smith is the Alec Nove Professor of East European Studies at the School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Glasgow. He has published extensively on issues of nationalism, ethnic politics, and minority activism, including Ethnic Diversity and the Nation State (Routledge 2012, with John Hiden).


Craig Willis is a researcher at the European Centre for Minority Issues and a PhD candidate at the Europa-Universität Flensburg. His main research interests are that of national and linguistic minorities, in particular through minority language media but also in pan-European activism.




agsm. n.d. “Arbeitsgemeinschaft Slawischer Minderheiten.

Bethlen Gábor Alapkezelő Zrt. n.d. “Üdvözli Önt a Bethlen Gábor Alapkezelő Zrt.” Brubaker, Rogers. 2017. “Between nationalism and civilizationism: the European populist moment in comparative perspective.” Ethnic and Racial Studies, 40 (8): 1191-1226, DOI: 10.1080/01419870.2017.1294700.

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Deutscher Fussball-Bund n.d. “Buttgereit wird Botschafter der Europeada 2024.”,im%20deutsch%2Dd%C3%A4nischen%20Grenzgebiet%20stattfindet.

Domowina. 2022. “Domowina kritisiert „Orbanismus“ an der Spitze des europäischen Dachverbands FUEN – Statnik: Minderheitenpolitik ohne Respekt vor Menschenrechten geht gar nichts.” Domowina Pressbereich, October 13.

Europeada. 2024. Europeada Instagram Post, March 7.

European Citizens’ Initiative. n.d. “Minority SafePack – one million signatures for diversity in Europe.”

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European Parliament. 2020. “European Parliament resolution of 17 December 2020 on the European Citizens’ Initiative ‘Minority SafePack – one million signatures for diversity in Europe’ (2020/2846(RSP)).”

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FUEN. 2013. “Activity Report 2012.”

FUEN. 2017. “Federal Union of European Nationalities. Financial Report and Audit Report 2016.”

FUEN. 2018a. “Federal Union of European Nationalities. Financial Report and Audit Report 2017.”

FUEN. 2018b. “We have the million, we have the answers: celebrating the success of the Minority SafePack Inititative at the FUEN Congress.”

FUEN. 2018c. “Minority SafePack: we have got the validated signatures; we need to secure the support of the majority.”

FUEN. 2019. “Federal Union of European Nationalities. Financial Report and Audit Report 2018.”

FUEN. 2020. “The signatures for the Minority SafePack Initiative have been registered online at the European Commission.” FUEN, January 10.

FUEN. 2021. “The Forum of the European Minority Regions starts on Thursday in Helsinki – Watch it live!”, FUEN, October 13.

FUEN. 2022a. <>

FUEN. 2022b. “ Minorities mean business: the Forum of European Minority Regions goes to Ireland,” FUEN, October 20.

FUEN. 2022c. “Statement of the FUEN Presidium on the criticism published after the FUEN Congress,” October 13.

FUEN. 2022d. “Loránt Vincze re-elected as FUEN President, FUEN, October 1,

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FUEN. 2023c. “Resolution 2023-9.”

FUEN. 2023d. “German Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck becomes patron of EUROPEADA,” FUEN, May 3.

FUEN. 2023e. “ Let’s get loud to mute hate! Campaign against hate speech,” FUEN, December 13.

FUEN. 2023f. “The German Bundestag backs EUROPEADA: 250,000 euros in funding for the European Minority Football Championship 2024,” FUEN, October 24.

FUEN. 2023g. “FUEN’s European Dialogue Forum meets Council of Europe leaders, Members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg,” FUEN, December 14.

FUEN. 2023h. “”Change must come from within and begins in the mind”: Workshop collects important ideas for more gender equality,” FUEN, November 27.

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Hansen, Hans Heinrich. 2022. “Offener Brief von Hans Heinrich Hansen zur FUEN.” Der Nordschleswiger, October 10.

Jacob Owens, Timothy, and Willis, Craig. 2023. “Case T-158/21 Minority SafePack: No hope for minority rights in EU law?”, European Law Blog, January 30.

Kim, S. 2023. “‘Illiberal Democracy’after Post‐Democracy: Revisiting the Case of Hungary.” The Political Quarterly, 94(3): 437-444. DOI:

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Varlam, Vasile-Mircea. 2020. “The hidden dangers behind the Minority SafePack Initiative,” 45North, 11 October.






[4] see Crepaz (2020) for an in-depth overview of this process.

[5] Available online from 2015 onwards, at:

[6] Europeada is a football tournament organised every four years by FUEN.

[7] see Jacob-Owens and Willis (2023) for a detailed overview.






Published on June 17, 2024.


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