Thursday

16th Sep 2021

Austerity stripping away Europe's human rights, watchdog says

Austerity measures imposed by international creditors on member states are eroding the social and economic rights of people, says human rights watchdog, the Council of Europe.

“The crisis is both a context and a constraint on government policy but some responses to the crisis have created much collateral damage to human rights,” Nils Muiznieks, the commissioner for human rights at the Strasbourg-based watchdog, told reporters on Tuesday (3 December).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Over 30 percent of children in Spain live in poverty, says Muiznieks (Photo: Aégis)

Muiznieks, who presented a report on safeguarding human rights in times of economic crisis, said cuts in public expenditure and selective tax hikes aimed a curbing public deficits have not achieved their stated aims.

Instead, the rights to decent work and adequate standards of living have rolled back, contributing to deepening poverty in Europe.

The report notes civil and political rights have also eroded as some governments exclude people on having any say in austerity proposals, provoking large-scale demonstrations.

Spain’s new €600,000 fine for civil disobedience

The latest twist came over the weekend when Spain backed a draft law on public order that cracks down on civil disobedience.

The revised draft, if ratified, means Spaniards can be fined up to €30,000 for insulting a government official, burning a flag, or protesting outside the parliament without a permit.

Covering faces or wearing hoods at demonstrations is also an offence.

Judges would also be able to impose fines of up to €600,000 for picketing at nuclear plants, airports, or if demonstrators interfere with elections.

“This new report of a draft law extending the scope and severity of sanctions against peaceful demonstrators is of serious concern,” said Muiznieks.

“When I see a potential fine of up to €600,000, I’d like for someone to convince me that that is a proportionate penalty,” he added.

Muiznieks said the proposed measures, tabled last month by Spain’s interior minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz, run counter to the freedom of assembly.

“If you don’t let people have their say before, they’ll have their say afterwards in the streets,” he pointed out.

The Council of Europe in a report in October slammed the Spanish security troops for their disproportionate use of force against anti-austerity protests.

Undercover police officers at the demonstrations are not held accountable for their actions, it says.

The European Commission says it is unable to comment on Spain’s new draft law because it is a national issue.

“Member states are themselves responsible for the maintenance of law and order and the safeguarding of internal security on their territory,” said Mina Andreeva, the commission’s spokesperson on justice affairs, in an email.

She noted that the commission’s powers regarding acts and omissions by member states are limited to overseeing the application of European Union law.

But Muiznieks’ says human rights norms have to be respected in economic decision-making, including in national and international responses to the crisis.

The report says most national deficits did not result in unsustainable public expenditure from before the crisis but from the public rescue of financial markets.

The rescue cost an estimated €4.5 trillion between 2008-11. The economic downturn and historic unemployment rates means the worst affected member states lost out on vital tax revenue streams.

The worst affected are children, young people, the disabled, the elderly with low pensions, and many women.

“Human rights are not expendable in times of economic hardship but are essential if we want to have a sustained and an inclusive recovery,” said Muiznieks.

Magazine

Risk of poverty greatest in Bulgaria

Bulgaria has the highest percentage of citizens at risk of poverty in the EU while the UK is home to the greatest wealth disparity between regions.

Frontex chief: 'about time' MEPs probe his agency

Some 14 MEPs have created a group to probe allegations of rights abuse by the EU's border agency Frontex. Its head, Fabrice Leggeri, welcomed its creation and said it "is about time".

Romania denies forcing migrant-boat back to Turkish waters

Romania's ministry of internal affairs wrote to Frontex claiming it did not engage in any illegal pushbacks of people on rubber boats into Turkish territorial waters. The country says it followed EU engagement rules and Greek orders.

LGBTI fears over new Polish member at EU institution

A letter sent to the European Economic and Social Committee by a group of cross-party MEPs fighting for LGBTi rights expresses fears that a recently-appointed Polish member may try to undermine those rights.

EU condemns Slovenian PM's harassment of journalist

Slovenia's populist prime minister Janez Janša attempted to discredit a Brussels reporter after she published a critical article about the state of media freedoms in the country. The European Commission condemned the PM's language - but refrained from naming him.

News in Brief

  1. Bulgaria's president appoints interim government
  2. Navalny poised to win EU human rights prize
  3. Poland will not leave EU, says Kaczyński
  4. Eurozone wages fall for first time in a decade
  5. Israel joins EU digital Covid-certificate programme
  6. Johnson reshuffles UK cabinet: new foreign minister
  7. Macron says French forces killed Islamic State leader in Sahara
  8. Finance minister tipped to become Sweden's first female PM

Feature

Covid-hit homeless find Xmas relief at Brussels food centre

The Kamiano food distribution centre in Brussels is expecting 20 people every half hour on Christmas Day. For many, Kamiano is also more than that - a support system for those made homeless or impoverished.

Top court finds Hungary and Poland broke EU rules

EU tribunal said Hungary's legislation made it "virtually impossible" to make an asylum application. Restricting access to international protection procedure is a violation of EU rules.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNATO Secretary General guest at the Session of the Nordic Council
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCan you love whoever you want in care homes?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed

Latest News

  1. Von der Leyen issues rallying cry for more EU sovereignty
  2. Von der Leyen doubles up on vaccine-donation pledge
  3. Why won't EU forces fight together, von der Leyen asks?
  4. EU pitches infrastructure investment plan to rival China
  5. EU diplomats oppose common forest-monitoring rules
  6. EU 'stands by Afghans' but wants most kept away
  7. Russia's biggest enemy? Its own economy
  8. Textbook hypocrisy: EU's new low point on Palestine

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us