3rd Mar 2024

Ashton to face MEPs' questions on human rights

EU high representative for foreign affairs Cathy Ashton is to face tough questions from MEPs next Wednesday (15 December) over her strategy to promote European human rights values through the bloc's new external action service.

On the same day as Norway's Nobel Prize committee handed this year's prestigious award to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo in absentia, European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek said he was keen to hear how Ms Ashton intended to work in the field.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

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

... or subscribe as a group

  • Buzek and Ashton. The Nobel and Sakharov prizes are being collected in absentia (Photo:

"Today is a sad day for human rights defenders," Mr Buzek said in a statement on Friday (10 December). "Instead of going to Oslo to receive his Nobel Peace Prize, he [Mr Liu] is still in prison while his wife is under house arrest."

The Polish politician who campaigned hard against Communism in his country throughout the 1980s insisted it is the EU's duty to take the lead in the defence of human rights.

"Next Wednesday in Strasbourg we are expecting to hear from Baroness Ashton how she intends to implement the commitments she made on this matter during the negotiations leading up to the establishment of the EEAS," he said.

Ms Ashton has faced criticism from a number of MEPs for not attending Friday's award ceremony in Oslo although her spokesman insisted she had not been officially invited. Beijing has conducted an intense diplomatic campaign in recent weeks to dissuade international diplomats from showing up.

EU accession candidate Serbia appeared to reverse an initial decision not to attend, after earlier statements that relations with China were more important than human rights raised a number of eyebrows in Brussels.

At the same time, Beijing has distanced itself from a human rights award recently set up by a Chinese civil society group in an apparent attempt to counteract the Nobel award.

On Thursday the Confucius Peace Prize appeared to fall flat when the winner, former vice-president of Taiwan Lien Chan, failed to turn up, with an unnamed six-year old girl collecting the prize money instead.

"It's a farce," one Chinese official in Brussels told this website on condition of anonymity. "It's not meaningful at all. They are a very low-key organisation."

Despite Beijing's deep opposition to this year's Nobel prize being giving to Liu Xiaobo, the Communist regime had nothing to do we the competing award, insisted the official. "On the government level, if we tried to off-set the Nobel award like that it would be very stupid and naive," they said.

Cuba looks set to follow China's example next week, with the regime on Raul and Fidel Castro so far giving no indication they will allow Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas to travel to Strasbourg to collect the 2010 Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought, parliament's most important prize in the human rights field.

"Remember that they consider us to be 21st Century slaves without freedom of movement," Mr Farinas said of the Cuban regime in October, while speaking to EUobserver by phone.

MEPs questions next week are likely to focus on how Ms Ashton intends to counteract these apparent breaches of civil liberties, with parliament's subcommittee on human rights also set to present its annual report on the subject, drafted by centre-right MEP Laima Andrikiene.

In a letter sent earlier this week, a collection of former EU leaders and commissioners urged Ms Ashton to take stronger against Israel after settlement building recently restarted on Palestinian land.

The group, which includes Ms Ashton's predecessor Javier Solana, urged the EU to impose sanctions for breaking international law, but the EU top diplomat's reply suggest sanctions are unlikely.

EU docks €32m in funding to UN Gaza agency pending audit

The European Commission will release €50m out of €82m in funds for the UN aid agency (UNRWA) operating in Gaza. The remaining €32m will come pending an audit. The commission has received no evidence to support Israeli allegations against UNRWA.

Russian oligarchs failed to get off EU blacklist

Hungary failed to get three Russian and three Chinese names deleted, as the EU approved its 13th package of sanctions ahead of an anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.


The macabre saga of Navalny's corpse

With Alexei Navalny's funeral in Moscow on Friday, Vladimir Putin's regime haven't just insulted his mother and widow with their treatment of his corpse — they've breached international treaties and conventions.

Latest News

  1. EU docks €32m in funding to UN Gaza agency pending audit
  2. 'Outdated' rules bar MEP from entering plenary with child
  3. Commission plays down row over Rwanda minerals pact
  4. EU socialists set to anoint placeholder candidate
  5. Why are the banking lobby afraid of a digital euro?
  6. Deepfake dystopia — Russia's disinformation in Spain and Italy
  7. Putin's nuclear riposte to Macron fails to impress EU diplomats
  8. EU won't yet commit funding UN agency in Gaza amid hunger

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us