Thursday

27th Jul 2017

Opinion

Towards a common European space for human rights?

  • The Council of Europe – a 47-member intergovernmental organisation based in Strasbourg (Photo: EUobserver)

The on-going controversy surrounding the new Hungarian constitution and accompanying laws has focused attention on a key question: who exactly is responsible for upholding human rights standards in Europe? The answer, as ever, is far from straightforward.

The Council of Europe – a 47-member intergovernmental organisation based in Strasbourg – is often referred to as Europe’s “human rights watchdog”. It oversees the European Convention on Human Rights, the court in Strasbourg and some 200 other legally-binding treaties in areas ranging from data protection to fighting cybercrime and violence against women. It has monitoring bodies which regularly produce country-specific reports on issues including prison conditions, racism and corruption.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

However - and in addition to previously existing structures, such as the very active Committee on Human Rights within the European Parliament - the Lisbon Treaty and the EU’s subsequent Stockholm Programme significantly expanded the scope for EU action in areas which traditionally fall within the remit of the Council of Europe. The treaty introduced the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, watched over by the court in Luxembourg, which obliges the EU and its member states to respect basic rights when determining and implementing EU law.

The Lisbon Treaty can therefore be seen as a turning point for human rights in Europe, and has itself raised a number of important issues. How could these two separate legal orders co-exist? Which should take precedence? Most importantly, would human rights protection in Europe be strengthened or weakened?

Crucially, the Lisbon Treaty introduced a legal obligation for the EU itself to sign up to the European Convention on Human Rights.

This would subject the laws and actions of the EU to the same level of international human rights scrutiny as practically every country in Europe, including Russia, Turkey and Ukraine. The EU’s increased competences in areas with human rights implications, both directly and indirectly, would therefore be matched with increased accountability.

Signing up to the convention would also strengthen the relationship between the Luxembourg and Strasbourg courts, reducing the scope for discrepancies in decisions taken by the two bodies and ensuring the consistency of human rights case law in Europe. In short, EU accession to the convention would be a major step towards creating a “common European space” for human rights.

It would also represent a significant statement of intent on the part of the EU. No longer could the EU be accused of not living up to the very same standards it demanded of potential new members, for whom adherence to the European convention has long been a condition of membership. Furthermore, it would enhance the EU’s credibility in its human rights dialogues with countries around the world.

Both the European Parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, made up of national parliamentarians from the 47 member states, have expressed their strong support for this process. Indeed, both parliamentary bodies consider that accession to the convention should be just the first step, to be followed by greater EU involvement in a whole range of different Council of Europe bodies and agreements, and possibly even full membership.

Formal negotiations on accession to the human rights convention were launched by EU Commissioner Reding and Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland in June 2010. Despite the significant technical and legal complexities involved, they were successfully completed – on time – a year later.

However, almost as soon the process moved from the technical to the political level it ground to a shuddering halt. It is understood – although this is hard to verify, given that the poor flow of information – that objections almost exclusively from one large EU member state (no prizes for guessing which one) have made it impossible for the EU to find a common position.

The European Convention on Human Rights is the most advanced human rights mechanism in the world, and is something that we Europeans can be proud of. We should use it as the foundation for building a comprehensive and coherent “common space” for human rights in Europe.

EU accession is an essential first step in that process – what is needed now is a clear political commitment from all 27 EU member states to make it work, and the sooner the better.

Barbara Lochbihler MEP is Chair of the European Parliament Sub-Committee on Human Rights. Kerstin Lundgren is former PACE rapporteur on the impact of the Lisbon Treaty on the Council of Europe

EU becoming less tolerant, NGO says

Racist mobs in Greece and Hungary, mistreatment of Roma, Arab migrants and Muslim terrorist suspects and a feeble reaction by EU institutions point to a worrying right-wing shift inside the EU, Human Rights Watch says.

EU diplomats to tweet and blog for human rights

EU foreign relations chief Ashton wants member states to permanently post human rights experts to Brussels and to use social media to talk to foreign activists in what she calls "digital diplomacy."

Stop blaming Trump for Poland’s democratic crisis

If you were to judge events purely on the US media's headlines, you would be forgiven for wondering if the Polish government had anything to do with its recent controversial judicial reforms.

Stronger EU-Egypt ties must not disregard human rights

The EU’s apparent willingness to water down its stance on human rights in Egypt could seriously compromise its credibility and have far-reaching consequences for its relations with other countries in the region.

Winter is here for Spitzenkandidat, but he'll survive

Candidates from all political families should be presenting their vision on where the Union should be headed. European socialists want to keep the Spitzenkandidat procedure for future elections.

Stronger EU-Egypt ties must not disregard human rights

The EU’s apparent willingness to water down its stance on human rights in Egypt could seriously compromise its credibility and have far-reaching consequences for its relations with other countries in the region.

News in Brief

  1. Member states relocate 3,000 migrants in June
  2. Top EU jurist says Malta's finch-trapping against EU law
  3. EU judges rule to keep Hamas funds frozen
  4. EU court rejects passenger data deal with Canada
  5. US votes in favour of Nord Stream II sanctions
  6. Greece makes return to bond market
  7. Trump accuses the EU of protectionism
  8. EU parliament's Brexit group urges progress on talks

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU2017EELocal Leaders Push for Local and Regional Targets to Address Climate Change
  2. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceMore Women Than Men Have Died From Heart Disease in Past 30 Years
  3. European Jewish CongressJean-Marie Le Pen Faces Trial for Oven Comments About Jewish Singer
  4. ACCAAnnounces Belt & Road Research at Shanghai Conference
  5. ECPAFood waste in the field can double without crop protection. #WithOrWithout #pesticides
  6. EU2017EEEstonia Allocates €1 Million to Alleviate Migratory Pressure From Libya in Italy
  7. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen's Message on the Anniversary of the Coup Attempt in Turkey
  8. Martens CentreWeeding out Fake News: An Approach to Social Media Regulation
  9. European Jewish CongressEJC Concerned by Normalisation of Antisemitic Tropes in Hungary
  10. Counter BalanceOut for Summer Episode 1: How the EIB Sweeps a Development Fiasco Under the Rug
  11. CESICESI to Participate in Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee on Postal Services
  12. ILGA-EuropeMalta Keeps on Rocking: Marriage Equality on Its Way

Latest News

  1. EU defends airline data-sharing after court ruling
  2. Stop blaming Trump for Poland’s democratic crisis
  3. EU and US scrap on Russia sanctions gets worse
  4. Czechs, Hungarians, and Poles have one month to start taking migrants
  5. EU Commission sets red lines for Poland on Article 7
  6. Court told to 'dismiss' case against EU migrant quotas
  7. Russia's EU pipeline at 'risk' after US vote
  8. EU Commission to act on Poland

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Friends of ArmeniaEuFoA Director and MEPs Comment on the Recent Conflict Escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh
  2. EU2017EEEstonian Presidency Kicks off Youth Programme With Coding Summer School
  3. EPSUEP Support for Corporate Tax Transparency Principle Unlikely to Pass Reality Check
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament Improves the External Investment Plan but Significant Challenges Ahead
  5. EU2017EEPM Ratas: EU Is Not Only an Idea for the 500mn People in the Bloc, It Is Their Daily Reality
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersCloser Energy Co-Operation Keeps Nordic Region on Top in Green Energy
  7. ILGA-EuropeGermany Finally Says Ja - Bundestag Votes for Marriage Equality!
  8. EPSUJapanese and European Public Sector Unions Slam JEFTA
  9. World VisionEU, Young Leaders and Civil Society Join Forces to End Violence Against Girls
  10. UNICEFNarrowing the Gaps: The Power of Investing in the Health of the Poorest Children
  11. EU2017EEEstonia to Surprise Europe With Unique Cultural Programme
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Talks Should Insist on Ending Reprisals Vs. Critical Voices