22nd Jan 2021


Time to deliver, President Barroso

  • Ohlsson: 'Safeguarding the values of the European Union is crucial' (Photo:

In the shadow of the economic crisis we are witnessing a values crisis in Europe.

Europe’s major populist, xenophobic, and nationalist parties have, on average, almost doubled in national elections in recent years.

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In many member states we have seen attacks on freedom of the press, rule of law, and fundamental democratic principles.

Pride parades are being banned in EU capitals and Roma people are often treated as second class citizens. We still have challenges regarding Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and racism.

Safeguarding the values of the European Union is crucial - perhaps more now than ever.

President Barosso, one year ago, in your 2012 State of the Union address, you emphasised the need for a Europe with strong support for human rights.

You also criticised - and rightly so - the appalling developments in some EU member states. This situation, you said, “revealed limits” of the institutional arrangements in bringing these worrying developments into check.

So you presented an idea for a solution.

You said "we need a better developed set of instruments" - not just two alternatives, between the "soft power" of political persuasion and the "nuclear option" of article 7 of the Treaty on suspending EU Council voting rights.

Some of Europe’s fundamental values have become the victims of the economic crisis. So just as we need rules to stabilise member states’ budgets, we also need to improve respect for human rights, rule of law and fundamental values.

For this reason I was glad to hear you repeat this promise in your 2013 speech on Wednesday (11 September).

You said: “Experience has confirmed the usefulness of the commission role as an independent and objective referee. We should consolidate this experience through a more general framework … This does not mean that national sovereignty or democracy are constrained. But we do need a robust European mechanism to influence the equation when basic common principles are at stake.”

As early as in 2003, the commission presented a communication on article 7, calling for new powers to monitor the respect for human rights and to swiftly react to violations.

This issue was discussed twice in the General Affairs Council during the 2013 Irish presidency, and several member states have requested that the commission present a new communication on how to improve the monitoring of human rights and rule of law.

I am greatly looking forward to hearing more from the commission on this matter soon.

You’ve made this promise twice now. It’s time to deliver, President Barroso.

The author is minister for EU affairs in Sweden


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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