Sunday

27th May 2018

Opinion

To help restore confidence in Europe, protect rights

  • The recent elections showed voter disenchantment with the EU (Photo: electoralcommission.org.uk)

Europe is in a grumpy mood. The scale of voter disenchantment with the EU was manifest in May's European Parliament election results, with eurosceptic parties topping the polls in France, the UK, and Denmark and winning seats in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and elsewhere.

This pessimism carries serious risks for the protection of human rights and the rule of law.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Since the Lisbon treaty, there is growing recognition that to have meaning the values the Union is supposed to be founded on need protection.

There is now a Charter of Fundamental Rights and Fundamental Rights Agency. The EU Court of Justice applies human rights in its rulings. The European Commission includes a human rights commissioner. Parliament has stepped up its scrutiny of human rights abuse.

These measures are not perfect. The commission is reluctant to use infringement proceedings in human rights cases. Refugee pushbacks by Bulgaria are a recent example. The parliament's partisan instincts can prevent it from addressing problems in individual member states. The rights agency cannot compel action.

The EU Council has been the most reluctant. The recent Justice and Home Affairs Council endorsement of the idea of a strategy on fundamental rights inside the EU is positive. But the council's working group on fundamental rights is largely focused on technical issues.

Leaving these tasks to the Council of Europe is no solution either as its authority is moral rather than political.

Hungary illustrates its limits. With a parliamentary supermajority, Hungary's ruling party used its first term to impose a new constitution and weaken checks and balances on executive authority. Recent pressure on NGOs as well as media curbs suggests a similar trend in its second term.

Hungary's authoritarian slide triggered a strong response from the Council of Europe, including reviews by its Venice Commission, condemnation by its Human Rights Commissioner and statements by its Secretary General.

These were broadly useful but a determined government can ignore such admonitions.

EU efforts were slightly more successful.

The commission took legal action, and the Court of Justice forced Budapest to back down over the forced early retirement of judges although the ruling was largely symbolic since Hungary had already replaced many judges. No action followed a strong European Parliament report on Hungary.

The procedure under article 7 of the EU treaty for risks of a serious breach of EU values would have made sense.

But there was no appetite in the Council or most of the Commission for a procedure that could have ultimately led to suspension of Hungary's voting rights.

Recognition of the weak response to Hungary's crisis led foreign ministers in Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark and Finland in March 2013 to call for more vision in the EU's protection of human rights at home.

The commission's response, a communication on strengthening rule of law, is a modest step that could help in a crisis, althoguh it leaves unaddressed chronic rights abuses across member states.

The worry now is that the election results will derail momentum towards stronger EU rights protection.

There are already signs the commission's communication lacks full support. This may make the EU executive reluctant to act boldly for fear of further backlash. The parliament may also shy away from backing a positive EU role.

That would be a mistake. Giving the EU a stronger role in protecting human rights could actually cement public support for the Union and the values it embodies.

It would take leadership from EU governments, and commitment from EU institutions. But a Union that protects the rights of those living inside it would be a powerful rejoinder to those who assert that Europe is a bankrupt idea.

The writer is deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia division

Le Pen gathers allies for new far-right EP group

French leader Marine Le Pen of the National Front was in Brussels Wednesday to gather allies, but came up short in her bid to form a far-right European Parliament group.

Focus

Dutch euroscepticism moves mainstream

Dutch voters critical of the European Union will have an array of parties to choose from when they go to the polls in next month's EU elections.

The dangers of resurgent nationalism in Greece

Virulent nationalism in Greece has been stirred up in the context of austerity and renewed negotiations with Macedonia. Recent attempts by the government to address the inequalities suffered by LGBT persons have also been met with a reactionary backlash.

Integration of Syrian refugees in Europe needs scrutiny

Most refugee-related services are outsourced to the private sector and NGOs, which are not adequately monitored and evaluated. When governments and EU institutions provide funding for refugee projects, they should scrutinise the NGOs and private players they work with.

Europe's last wild rivers under threat at Balkans summit

The EU is prioritising motorways and gas pipelines across the potential accession Western Balkan countries, plus hydropower energy projects which threaten one of the world's freshwater biodiversity hotspots.

Integration of Syrian refugees in Europe needs scrutiny

Most refugee-related services are outsourced to the private sector and NGOs, which are not adequately monitored and evaluated. When governments and EU institutions provide funding for refugee projects, they should scrutinise the NGOs and private players they work with.

News in Brief

  1. Italy set to pick eurosceptic finance minister
  2. UK foreign minister fooled by Russian pranksters
  3. Rajoy ally gets 33 years in jail for corruption
  4. Close race as polls open in Irish abortion referendum
  5. Gazprom accepts EU conditions on gas supplies
  6. Facebook tells MEPs: non-users are not profiled
  7. Commission proposes ending France deficit procedure
  8. UK households hit with Brexit income loss

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman requests more lending transparency from European Investment Bank
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  3. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and reconciliation is a process that takes decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  4. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  5. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  6. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  8. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual Report celebrates organization’s tenth anniversary
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cooperation Needed on Green Exports and Funding
  11. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li Confirms China Will Continue to Open Up
  12. European Jewish CongressCalls on Brussels University to Revoke Decision to Honour Ken Loach

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Sustainable Energy Week 2018"Lead the Clean Energy Transition"- Register and Join Us in Brussels from 5 to 7 May
  2. EU Green Week 2018Green Cities for a Greener Future. Join the Debate in Brussels from 22 to 24 May
  3. Nordic Council of Ministers12 Recommendations for Nordic Leadership on Climate and Environment
  4. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOxford Professor Calls for an End to the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  5. ACCAPeople Who Speak-Up Should Feel Safe to Do So
  6. Mission of China to the EUProgress on China-EU Cooperation
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  8. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  9. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  10. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  11. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip
  12. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations