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21st Jan 2018

UK obstructing EU accession to human rights convention

  • The ruling British Conservative party believe the ECHR is overstepping its mandate (Photo: Paul Vallejo)

The United Kingdom is obstructing attempts by European Union institutions to accede to the European Convention of Human Rights, British centre-left MEP Richard Howitt has said.

"The United Kingdom in a working group in the council for the past year has at every stage dragged out and tried to delay recommendations on the accession," Howitt, the assembly's rapporteur on human rights, told EUobserver over the phone on Thursday (19 April).

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"At first it was France and the United Kingdom, now it's just the United Kingdom. It's shameful," he added.

EU institutions obliged themselves to accede to the convention, a 60-year old international treaty on respect for basic rights, under the terms of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009.

EU member states are already signatories. But individuals or companies who feel the European Commission, for example, has caused them a grievance cannot take it to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), the guardian of the convention, as things stand.

The commission itself supports the move, even though some analysts, such as Benjamin Ward at Human Rights Watch, believe it could see a spate of corporate cases brought against the EU bodies.

On the flip side, an upsurge in workload would be a strong argument for expanding ECHR funding and staff - something Britain is keen to avoid.

The UK is at the same time trying to weaken the ECHR's mandate to make it into more of an advisory-type body for member states.

It aims to replace its own soc-alled UK Human Rights Act with a new Bill of Rights, which would absolve it of complying with court rulings.

For their part, British MEPs from the ruling Conservative Party say the ECHR has got too big for its boots and has begun to interfere with national sovereignty.

Tory deputy Ashley Fox in a statement on Thursday said "individual member states already reflect the content of the convention in their domestic law and are subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg - so it is hard to see how EU accession will bring any better protection of human rights."

Rights NGOs face fresh threats in EU

While ongoing crackdowns in Poland and Hungary have put the spotlight on rights groups, NGOs are now under new political and financial pressure across the EU, the Fundamental Rights Agency said.

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