Apr 07, 2014

UNPO Conference At European Parliament Sparks Discussion On Self-Determination In Today’s Globalised World

Brussels, 7 April 2014 - In view of the clear need of finding new models to make the minority dimension work within the framework of multinational states, the Unrepresented Nations and People Organization (UNPO), in cooperation with the Centre Internacional Escarré per les Minories Ètniques i Nacions (CIEMEN) and the Centre Maurits Coppieters, convened a conference entitled “Redefining self-determination in the 21th century” on 1 April 2014 at the European Parliament in Brussels. The conference was hosted by Members of the European Parliament Ramon Tremosa i Balcells (ALDE) and Raül Romeva i Rueda (Greens/EFA).

Michael Jewkes, PhD researcher at KU Leuven, started with a theoretical overview of the different models of self-determination, highlighting their strengths and weaknesses in achieving their main goals, namely protecting the culture of a given group, democratically determining the future directions of the group, and providing recognition and esteem between national groups. He argued that, no matter which model, priority must be given to the improvement of international recognition of the group.

                                Michael Jewkes

Ivan Serrano from the Open University of Catalonia noted that an internal constitutional regulation of secession can be useful, but only if states and secessionists cooperate and work in reference with international law. Alan Sandry, professor at University of Swansea (Wales), later added that since the birth of the concept of self-determination in Wilson’s 14 points, the key word has always been ‘mutual’. Self-determination is about building a common identity through permanent interaction between peoples, political actors, universities and all other stakeholders.

                                Alan Sandry

Danny Boyle, Parliamentary Officer with BEMIS Scotland, outlined the current Scottish situation, applying some of the theoretical analyses discussed earlier to a concrete case of self-determination. Commenting on the Scottish independence referendum to be held in September this year, he stated that regardless of its outcome, the legacy of this political event can only be positive, especially because it strengthens the political awareness of the young Scottish generation, and thus enables them to handle Scotland’s future challenges properly.

Closely linked to the concept of self-determination is the issue of minority language protection, addressed by Miquel Strubell representing the Open University of Catalonia. Coming from a mixed English-Catalan background, he based his presentation on both British and Spanish examples, highlighting the fundamental misunderstanding between a central power, which considers language to be nothing but a way of communicating, and a minority group, for whom language is part of a unique culture. He noted that there is a clear lack of support by the European Union in this regard, despite the interconnectedness between an increasing mobilisation towards independence and the linguistic element.

                              Miquel Strubell

An important conclusion to be drawn from this conference is that constructive debates about self-determination must allow for continuous dialogue and interaction between all stakeholders, all the while referring to international law. In addition, international organizations, including the European Union, should better recognize their role in accompanying this process in the 21st century.


Conference poster


Speaker Biographies

Michael Jewkes presentation