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Olivér Várhelyi, the European commissioner for neighbourhood and enlargement, and MEPs of Hungary’s ruling Fidesz on Tuesday emphasised the importance of protecting minorities and their rights for accession to the European Union. Addressing a conference on minority rights and EU enlargement in Brussels, Várhelyi noted that the bloc’s fundamental principles, including the protection of human rights, was included among the conditions for enlargement. Countries wishing to join the EU need to be helped in fully embracing EU values, and their commitments need to be enshrined into national law, the Hungarian commissioner said. Also, these countries need to remember that respect for EU values is also required once they are fully-fledged EU members, he added. Concerning Ukraine, Várhelyi said the conflict in the country made the situation of the minorities there and in neighbouring countries more difficult. He said the enlargement procedure should help improve the living conditions of minorities. The commissioner added, at the same time, that there were serious problems to be resolved in Ukraine, including in connection with minority education and language use. These problems should be resolved together with the minorities, he said.
Fidesz MEP Kinga Gál said that the experience of the last 20 years showed that the accession procedure helps guarantee the rights of minorities.
She said Ukraine could only join the EU if it respected fundamental human rights and guaranteed equal rights to its minority citizens. But recently approved laws in the country curbing minority rights do not promote this, she added. Gál said the first step in guaranteeing minority and linguistic rights in Ukraine needed to be restoring national minorities’ previously acquired rights.
Andrea Bocskor, a Fidesz MEP for Ukraine’s Transcarpathia region, said minorities in Ukraine supported launching the country’s EU accession procedure. She underlined the importance of resolving the issue of minority rights in the country, because the minority law passed last December did not regard minority communities as equal partners.