76. Roma Summit without Roma involvement?

Good news is that the 3rd European Romma Summit has gathered high level political attention from both the EU Leaders (Commission President Barroso, Commissioners Reding, Andor and Vassiliou) and from Member States (Romanian President Basescu and 7 Ministers). Bad news is that that was it: there were no real chance either for Roma contribution or for meaningful civil society involvement.

Why do Roma matter at EU level?

Is Roma integration not a Member State issue with regard to the principle of subsidiarity?

Yes and no.

Yes, Member States have the lion’s share as regards Roma integration with particular emphasis on the local communities. Real Roma integration is not possible with the active involvement of the communities.

And No, because Roma integration is beyond the means of single Member States: look, 5 EU Member States (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria) host the biggest Roma communities which would constitute alone enough reason for EU level action. In addition to that, Roma are not only present in almost every Member States, but due to the free movement of persons – which is an inviolable right of EU citizens – Roma can easily move from one Member State to another. Finally, Roma are leaving outside of the EU – look at Albania, Serbia, Montenegro of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, just to name a few.

Roma integration in the binding EU law

Taking into account all of this factors, one of the biggest achievements of the successful Hungarian EU presidency in the first half of 2011 was to set up the European Roma Framework and the assessment of the national Roma integration strategies.

EU Framework for national Roma integration strategies

In the EU Framework for national Roma integration strategies, all Member States are expected to present to the European Commission a strategy for Roma inclusion or sets of policy measures within their social inclusions policies for improving the situation of Roma people on a yearly basis. For this purpose they set up national contact points .
The European Commission assesses these strategies and publishes its conclusions. The national strategies are available in the language version provided to the European Commission. Factsheets of the assessment made by the Commission are also available for each country on a yearly basis.
In 2012, the Commission assessed for the first time the national strategies on Roma presented by the Member States and adopted horizontal conclusion according to the relevant strengths and weaknesses. The Commission decided to publish the next set of assessment of national Roma Strategies on 4th April 2014, on this Roma Summit.

Commitments of Member states on Roma Integration

Member States made clear their political commitments on Roma integration. The Council adopted conclusions on May and June 2011 on Roma integration. Most recently, at its 9-10 December 2013 meeting, the Council of the European Union adopted unanimously the Council recommendations on effective Roma integration measures in the member states . They focus on the main vulnerability factors of Roma such as poor health, poor housing, poor nutrition, exclusion, discrimination, racism and violence. All of these pledges mark an unprecedented commitment by EU Member States to promoting the inclusion of Roma on their territory

Why does Roma integration need urgent action?

Because there is clear evidence that Roma suffer worse housing condiditons, education, employment situation and health outcomes than the majority population, and as a consequence, there is unacceptable differences between life expectancy of Roma and non-Roma. The discrimination comes to it as an additional factors: Roma are “ideal scapegoats ” for societal level frustration and are subject to discrimination.

What was good at the Roma Summit?

We have to be fair: Roma gathered considerable political attention and the Roma issue cannot be swept away from the European policy framework anymore. The high level attendance is a clear sign of it and we have to welcome these developments since they have the promise that Roma integration can be a reality in our lifetime. The presence of Traian Basescu can be considered as an apology from the Romanian president for his recent negative statement on Roma.

What was bad at the Roma Summit?

The lack of discussion. We have heard the statements of statesmen and stateswomen, Members of the European Parliament, Directors etc. without having the opportunity to have meaningful contributions. Despite the few Roma speakers, there were no civil society panel and the representative national and European NGO speakers adocating for better Roma integration were missing, too. Finally, due to the large size of panels, even the question and aswer session was far too short and from that point of view, we could consider the Roma summit as a missed opportunity for Roma dialogue.

Conclusions – an alternative Roma Summit?
If there are no improvements, I am afraid the pro-Roma civil society might organise an alternative Roma summit. But I am sure that this will not be necessary and the next Roma Summit may well integrate the inputs from civil society in an institutionalised way.

Source of the photos (Roma population in Europe © Wikipedia; Health Status of Roma and non-Roma © Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) Pilot survey 2011)

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Related earlier EU Hemicycle updates:

71. Coppenhagen Dilemma and Human Rights: the EU Crossed the Rubicon

67. Will the Visegrád quartett (PL-CZ-SK-HU) replace the DE-FR duo in shaping the EU’s future?

63. Minority Rights, Solidarity and Inequalities: question marks on Croatia’s EU Membership

61. A long road from the “Schumann-price” winner Hungarian EU Presidency to the possible suspension of voting rights

54. A Speech and What is Behind the “Splendid Isolation”

18. Last But Not Least: Strategy for Strengthening the Rights of Vulnerable Consumers and the Democratic Function of the EP

Zoltán MASSAY-KOSUBEK

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75. Tobacco Products Directive: Will the Council Vote on the Right Side?

On 14th March 2014, the Council will vote on the revised Tobacco Products Directive. After three years in the making, endorsing the EU’s tobacco products directive should be top of the Council’s ‘to-do-list’.

On 26th February 2014, the European parliament approved a better fit for purpose European regulation on tobacco.

The new tobacco products directive (TPD), with larger pictorial and text health warnings and a ban on flavoured cigarettes, will upgrade the obsolete 13 year old EU tobacco legislation.

While this renewed directive does not set global standards on public health protection when it comes to tackling the tobacco epidemic, it does allow member states to go further, if they wish to do so.

“While this renewed directive does not set global standards on public health protection when it comes to tackling the tobacco epidemic, it does allows member states to go further, if they wish to do so”

The measures adopted today by the parliament are supported by a solid body of evidence showing how these features encourage smokers to give up and discourages non-smokers from starting.

Tobacco smoking is a public health monster that kills around 700,000 people every year in Europe – an enormous number of people comparable to the population of cities like Frankfurt or Seville.

.

In order to protect the lives of thousands of European inhabitants, public health threats like tobacco and smoking related harm must become a priority in the agendas of our policymakers. This matter is arguably not always fully grasped in today’s political decision-making.

This vote comes after a long and bumpy road plagued by obstacles and delays caused by vested economic interests, like the tobacco industry’s intense lobbying to weaken and delay this directive.

As a result, this TPD falls short of matching the higher standards of public health protection around tobacco that other countries have set – such as Australia.

For example, the parliament reduced the size of warnings on the tobacco package from 75 per cent to 65 per cent and mandatory plain packaging did not even make it into the original European commission’s proposal.

Tobacco packaging is the last weapon in the hands of the tobacco industry to lure specific demographics – slim cigarettes target women and coloured packaging is appealing to children, both of whom are increasing users of tobacco, especially in central and Eastern Europe. This new TPD will make tobacco packages less attractive to these demographic groups.

The TPD also produced a list of banned additives, placed a ban on flavoured cigarettes, and ensured the product safety and quality of nicotine containing products (NCPs) including electronic cigarettes. All measures that will help prevent thousands of deaths every year and will go a long way to reduce the harm to health directly caused by smoking.

Most importantly, the reviewed TPD will allow EU member states to introduce more stringent measures to regulate tobacco products, such as mandatory standardised packaging. Ireland is already considering this approach which gives us hope that member states will have the political courage to go further and show the political leadership Europe desperately needs in the field of tobacco control.

With close to 13 million people suffering from smoking-related diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) in the EU, smoking has devastating effects on societies and healthcare systems. In monetary terms, the estimated annual cost of tobacco to the European economy is about 4.6 per cent of the EU’s GDP.

The Council now has to endorse the TPD for it to become binding European law. After three years in the making, the endorsement of this important piece of legislation should be topping the Council’s to-do-list.

I remain at your disposal.

(This update has been published in The Parliament Magazine on 26th February)

(source of the photo Wikipedia)

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Related earlier EU Hemicycle updates:

73. Yes, We Can – Stop the Tobacco Epidemic in Europe

72. Stronger European Tobacco Control is a Must for Solving the E-cigarette Problem

58. The “Silent Killer” Threatens the European Integration

45. Will Dalligate mean a delayed Tobacco Products Directive? Don’t Let it Happen!

43. What is the relevance of a break-in into the offices of 3 public health NGOs from a European perspective?

Zoltán MASSAY-KOSUBEK

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74. Will the ‘Water is a Human Right!’ campaign Shape the EU?

We, EU citizens, definitively made history when we have collected first in the EU history more than 1 million signatures to ensure that water will be provided on a human rights basis to everyone. But will it be enough to reduce the EU’s democratic deficit? Will the Commission listen to us and make real, legally binding follow up measures?

What is the European Citizens Initiative (ECI)?
In order to bring the EU closer to ordinary citizens, one of the rules of the Lisbon Treaty made it possible to collect signatures for a given cause which requires European legislation and the Commission is bound by the Treaties to come out with legal solutions, if such an initiative collects at least 1 million signatures in 7 Member States within a given timeframe.

The legal basis of the citizens’ initiative is set out in Article 11, Paragraph 4 (TEU) and Article 24, paragraph 1 (TFEU). The specific practical arrangements and procedures for launching an ECI are set out in the ECI regulation 211/2011 which is applicable since 1st of April 2012.

Article 11, Paragraph 4 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU)

Not less than one million citizens who are nationals of a significant number of Member States may take the initiative of inviting the European Commission, within the framework of its powers, to submit any appropriate proposal on matters where citizens consider that a legal act of the Union is required for the purpose of implementing the Treaties.
The procedures and conditions required for such a citizens’ initiative shall be determined in accordance with the first paragraph of Article 24 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

Article 24 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU)

The European Parliament and the Council, acting by means of regulations in accordance with the ordinary legislative procedure, shall adopt the provisions for the procedures and conditions required for a citizens’ initiative within the meaning of Article 11 of the Treaty on European Union, including the minimum number of Member States from which such citizens must come.

Will the ‘Water is a Human Right!’ campaign Shape the EU?
While many of you would say no, it is impossible, forget it, I still remain a believer by saying, yes it could and yes it will. Although I do not say that it is an easy task: a set of detailed conditions makes sure that only relevant initiatives would reach the high treshhold. As Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič highlighted when he met with us, representatives of European NGOs who were behind that campaign that there was fear that this new tool will be abused and he was happy to see that the first successful ECI has choosen water which is essential for European citizens (May I add silently that the possibility of abuse is not excluded and there is a danger that the ECI in the future will be used for strange purposes – such as the recent ‘European Free Vaping Initiative’)

Why is the ‘Water is a Human Right!’ campaign historic?
Because it gave back faith to everybody: it demonstrated that it is possible to collect such a huge amount of signatures. It has chosen an issue which is tangible and part of the everyday life of ordinary citizens. It made it clear that this tool can be used for a good purpose. And finally, it allowed to ordinary citizens to put their own concerns on the table of EU decision makers who simply cannot neglect the democratic will of EU citizens.


Is Water a Human Right?

As regards the demands of that campaign they are simple, fair and understandable. The campaign was very professional: it is fully in line with international obligations such as the UN resolution 64/292 in which the United Nations General Assembly explicitly recognized the human right to water and sanitation and acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realisation of all human rights.

The ‘Water is a human right!’ campaign had three main aims:

1.) The EU institutions and Member States be obliged to ensure that all inhabitants enjoy the right to water and sanitation.
2.) Water supply and management of water resources not be subject to ‘internal market rules’ and that water services are excluded from liberalisation.
3.) The EU increases its efforts to achieve universal access to water and sanitation.

What does this campaign mean for ordinary people in fact?
The water tap cannot be closed if you are not able to pay the bill. In a crisis and austerity hit Europe this can happen sooner and with more EU citizens than you can imagine. Water is essential for human life and a pre-condition for good health – therefore it cannot be regarded as a commodity. Some may say that it is an expensive resource and the same happens with gas and electricity. But it is not the same: life is simply not possible without water. And this is what I call a ‘human rights’ based approach: European citizens have right to water as a basic resource and it should not be subject to usual commercial rules.

What are the next steps – Conclusions
The campaign made history in the EU, let’s have no doubts about it. It filled the biggest Committee room in the European Parliament and Members of the European parliament have shown clear political support. Now, the legal requirements are clear: it is up the Commission to come out with a proposal by 20 March 2014. As far as I can see, there are only two real options the Commission can choose from: either it acknowledges the democratic will of EU citizens and will come out with legally binding measures ensuring that the aims of the campaign will be met or it will take it as a ‘thick box’ exercise and will issue some nice declaration and nothing more. It is impossible to say which choice will it make. But the European Civil society will keep a close eye on the Commission for sure. Alea Iacta est.

I remain at your disposal.

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Related earlier EU Hemicycle updates:

46. The Water Shortage as a Danger is not the Privilege of the Third World but the Cruel Reality in the EU

Zoltán MASSAY-KOSUBEK

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(Source of the photos made on the spot on 17 February in the Commission & in the European Parliament)

73. Yes, We Can – Stop the Tobacco Epidemic in Europe

Sad, but true: Europe lost its leadership in the world, as regards tobacco control. Despite the not strong enough, weakened Tobacco Products Directive (TPD), Member States still have the opportunity to go further and put Europe back on the right track of tobacco control.


(Source of the photo Official website of the Lithuanian EU presidency © author: AFP/Scanpix)

Is Tobacco really that bad?
Yes, it is. Scientific evidence is on the table: smoking leads to cardiovascular diseases. Smoking is by far the most important preventable cause of cancer in the world and far the most important risk factor of Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) which is a serious lung disease that gradually makes it harder and harder to breathe.

How can the EU regulate Tobacco products and why?
The legal basis of the TPD is the internal market clause, but the Commission should ensure a high level of health protection. That is why it was up to the Health Commissioner to put forward a proposal

Article 114

(ex Article 95 TEC)

1. Save where otherwise provided in the Treaties, the following provisions shall apply for the achievement of the objectives set out in Article 26. The European Parliament and the Council shall, acting in accordance with the ordinary legislative procedure and after consulting the Economic and Social Committee, adopt the measures for the approximation of the provisions laid down by law, regulation or administrative action in Member States which have as their object the establishment and functioning of the internal market.

(…)

3. The Commission, in its proposals envisaged in paragraph 1 concerning health, safety, environmental protection and consumer protection, will take as a base a high level of protection, taking account in particular of any new development based on scientific facts. Within their respective powers, the European Parliament and the Council will also seek to achieve this objective.

Why did the EU lost its ambitions on Tobacco Control?
There are powerful, vested interests which prevented the EU to follow the scientific evidence aiming at saving European citizens from disastrous diseases mentioned above. Those interests were powerful enough to remove the former Health Commissioner, John Dalli (Dalligate), and although they could not prevent – at least so far – the timely adoption of the TPD, they achieved that the final text was painfully weakened and watered down. While countries like Canada or Australia are leading the fight against the tobacco epidemic, even, if the EU manages to adopt the TPD Europe lost its leadership for a decade.

Is there still hope?

Yes it is. Individual Member States can save Europe’s renomee and put the old continent back at the top of public health leader regions of the world. In that regard nations of the Irish and British Islands (Ireland, United Kingdom, Scotland) are taking the leading role. This means for me that these countries are in that regards much more European than others who would like to blame them. Please, follow first the leading public health example before putting out any kind of harsh critic on “splendid isolation”.

On January 23, 2014 the Ireland’s Health Children Committee began public hearings on proposed Plain Packaging legislation contained in the “Public Health (Standardised packagin of Tobacco) Bill 2013.
The Scottish Government is pressing ahead with plans to introduce tobacco plain packaging, with a consultation on next steps planned early next year.
And most recently, the United Kingdom intends to ban smoking in cars with children since Smoke fumes in a car are 11 times more concentrated than in open space.

How can they do it?
The first step is to have the revised TPD adopted. For that, both the European Member States and the European Parliament should vote on the text. It is very important, since still a weak TPD is much better than preserving the old TPD (which dates back to 2001!) without any substantial modification.

The second step should be to adopt stronger national regulations – based on the new TPD. Although the latest version of the TPD is as weak as it is, it had open the window of opportunity to change the tendency in its article 24, by allowing member states to going further.

Article 24
2a. This Directive shall not affect the right of a Member State to maintain and introduce further requirements, applicable to all products placed on its market , in relation to standardisation of packaging of tobacco products, where it is justified on grounds of public health, taking into account the high level of protection achieved through this Directive. Such measures shall be proportionate and may not constitute a means of arbitrary discrimination or a disguised restriction on trade between Member States. They shall be notified to the Commission together with the grounds for maintaining or introducing them.

Why is the possibility of stricter national tobacco control measures is so crucial for European citizens?
Because it can put the European legislation back to the right track and would result a more robust, evidence based, European Tobacco legislation in the future. The more European countries follow the leading example of scientific evidence based tobacco control policy, the more healthy lives can be saved. The sooner we reach the critical number of member states going beyond the not strong enough European role the sooner a new revision of the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) will happen which could lead at the end a renewed European tobacco leadership.

I remain at your disposal.

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Zoltán MASSAY-KOSUBEK

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72. Stronger European Tobacco Control is a Must for Solving the E-cigarette Problem

Electronic cigarettes will be regulated by the recently negotiated Tobacco Products Directive (TPD). E-cigarettes (nicotine inhalators) are both helpful to quit smoking and source of new dangers: long term adverse effects and re-normalisation of smoking. In my opinion, the regulation of e-cigarettes should be linked to have much stronger European tobacco control measures.

What are e-cigarettes?
According to the Commission conception note from 2008, “electronic cigarettes” (e-cigarettes) or electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) look like cigarette, but they are actually nicotine inhalators. An e-cigarette contains pure nicotine to be inhaled.


(source of the photo © How much do we know about electronic cigarettes?)

The Controversial Nature of e-cigarettes
E-cigarettes have different dimensions. Smoked tobacco is the most dangerous form and that smokeless tobacco products are significantly less harmful. On the one hand, e-cigarettes have the full potential of a cessation aid, an alternative to regular tobacco cigarettes. On the other hand, electronic cigarettes can also be flavoured, and this could develop e-cigarettes into a gateway product, especially for the youth.

Why did e-cigarettes become so popular?
E-cigarettes have the potential to replace cigarettes in the XXIst century and would became the “tobacco of the new century”. In 1976 Professor Michael Russell wrote: “People smoke for nicotine but they die from the tar.” Indeed, the harm from smoking is caused almost exclusively by toxins present in tobacco released through combustion. What does it mean in practice? According to the available knowledge, e-cigarettes are far less harmful than conventional cigarettes. Thus, electronic cigarettes represent a safer alternative to conventional tobacco and putting a large number of smokers to a less dangerous product would be a definitive public health gain.

Why can not e-cigarettes be accepted, as the “wonder weapon” against smoking?
Because they are far from being harmless and there is little or no evidence on their long term effects. Nicotine is a toxic and addictive substance and there are also reports of other hazardous substances being used in electronic cigarettes. A study on indoor air quality said that e-cigarettes are putting detectable levels of several significant carcinogens and toxins in the air: averaging around 20% of what the conventional cigarette put into the air. The World Health Organization WHO stressed that the potential risks they pose for the health of users remain undetermined. It stressed also that their efficacy for helping people to quit smoking has not been scientifically demonstrated, yet.

The E-cigarette market as a public health minefield
Some people of the public health field became standard-bearer of the e-cigarette movement but the vast majority of well-known and recognised public health and tobacco community members remained cautious. Why? Despite the very impressive promise of having public health benefits, in light of the above presented dangers there are considerable dangers which would make public health advocates extremely careful before becoming fully convinced about their use.

Here are three of them.

1. The potential ‘gateway effect’: putting non-smoker on the vaping track and re-normalisation of smoking
There is well founded danger among the public health & tobacco control community members that e-cigarettes have the potential to make ‘smoking’ and ‘vaping’ ‘cool’ ‘fancy’ which could lead to the re-normalisation of smoking, as an accepted social norm. E-cigarette use can also promote indirectly smoking, forbidden by the way by the first international legally binding public health treaty on tobacco control: the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). Extremely effective marketing tactics can make e-cigarettes appealing by young adults which could undermine public health policies.Although flavours are essential to make e-cigarettes palatable, some flavours can be attractive for the youth and putting non-smoker young adults on the vaping field is an existing public health danger.

2. The lost European leadership in tobacco control policy
The Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) will be adopted hopefully before the end of the 2009-2014 political cycle (You can see here a concise summary on the TPD negotiation process as well as some questions and answers on the European regulation of e-cigarettes). Although the presumed adoption of the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) would be a considerable win for the public health & tobacco control community despite the delaying tactic of the tobacco industry, the proposal is a result of a usual European compromise and far less ambitious than it should be. The TPD will have more strict regulation on e-cigarettes than the previous legal situation of Nicotine Containing Products (NCPs) . However, not being ambitious enough in tobacco control makes me somehow cautious as regards allowing e-cigarettes to flourish in the EU.

The most visible example of the issue of plain packaging. Strong evidence show that cigarette package is the last weapon in the hand of the tobacco industry. Figures in Canada show that the smoking rate amongst 15-19 year-olds was 12% in 2011, half the rate of the same age group in 2000. In Uruguay, since the introduction of pictorial warnings in 2005, smoking among 15-17 year-olds has decreased by 8% annually. However, the original Commission proposal contained only 75% and the final compromise is only 65% coverage of the tobacco packet.

3. The growing involvement of the tobacco industry in the electronic cigarette market
This is not a new phenomenon: traditional cigarette companies are taking notice of the emerging products. One prominent tobacco manufacturer in the United States purchased an electronic cigarette company, making it the first major tobacco firm to buy or invest in electronic cigarettes. According to a report prepared by the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) secretariat, in 2009, a European company that produces a range of products that it describes as being for nicotine replacement therapy, and a producer of nicotine delivery systems has agreed a marketing and distribution agreement with a company within the corporate group of yet another major tobacco manufacturer.
Most recently, the spokesperson of a well known tobacco company declared that e-cigarettes are ‘substantially safer’ than conventional cigarette which made me thinking about the hidden messages behind these words.


(source of the photo © E-cigarette. Un vendeur attaqué en justice par un buraliste, illustration, AFP)

In my opinion, before answering the question of e-cigarettes, tobacco control should be the first priority of the European legislation. Not having an ambitious enough tobacco legislation is alarming and although the appropriate use and regulation of e-cigarettes can be part of the solution of the tobacco problem, e-cigarettes alone cannot be the only solution and can not put an end to the tobacco-epidemic: we need stronger tobacco control measures hands in hand with a European e-cigarette policy.

I remain at your disposal.

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Zoltán MASSAY-KOSUBEK

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71. Coppenhagen Dilemma and Human Rights: the EU Crossed the Rubicon

The European Union crossed the Rubicon of Fundamental Rights. The outbreak of the financial crisis turned into economic then political, institutional and social crisis. Despite evidence on the table, social consequences of the austerity policy were not taken into consideration, yet. It must end now. I will share you my short narrative on the way forward.


(Source of the photo Inquiry: how Parliament will evaluate the impact of Troika measures © European Parliament)

How could Europe abandon its core values?
The outbreak of the financial crisis in 2008 paved the way for the current situation. In responding to the financial turmoil, Member States pumped considerable amount of money into banks in order to save the trembling financial sector. In 2009 However, the next wave of the crisis touched upon member states: the high debt level initiated misplaced austerity policies. Although having balanced budget was a reasonable aim, the European wide austerity policy neglected the basic social consequences of cutting essential social services. The concept Social Welfare State failed its core mission: protect the most vulnerable, the poor, the true victims of the crisis.

For example, in Portugal, the number of employees covered by agreements fell from 1.9 million in 2008 to 328,000 in 2012. Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks urged Greece to end the “collective expulsions” of migrants.
The Russian Foreign Ministry (!) has issued a critical report on human rights in the European Union saying that Europe still faced serious problems, and that member states are avoiding obligations that would change things for the better. France evicted record number of Roma in 2013: 19,380 – more than double the previous year’s figure. Populist speeches are suggesting that Roma should not enjoy the same rights as others.

Maybe I completely missed the point but would somebody be so kind and explain me: how is it possible to pump money to save financial institutions responsible for the crisis situation and at the same time, depriving European people from basic social assistance who are not responsible for the crisis? I can identify two basic causes: the lack of appropriate Fundamental Rights protection instruments in the EU and the Coppenhagen dilemma.

The EU has no appropriate legal instrument to ensure the respect of Fundamental Rights
The EU recognised this well in advance of the crisis: the first European Convention has been convened which prepared and drafted the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union which was proclaimed on 7 December 2000 by the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers and the European Commission. However it only became legally binding after the coming into force of the Treaty of Lisbon on 1 December 2009, except those Member states (the United Kingdom, Poland and conditionally the Czech Republic) that opted-out.
The aquis communautaire was based on the assumption that fundamental rights would be safeguarded in the Union without the need of a specific EU Instituion. The recent, systematic and persistent violation of certain human rights across and in some Member States made clear that that faith was misplaced and that there are political difficulties and lack of real political will to activate the mechanism available under the Treaties (article 3 and 7 TFEU).

The “Coppenhagen dilemma”
While EU candidate countries are required to adhere to democratic principles, rule of law and fundamental rights before joining the EU, after their entry there is no appropriate instrument to address and redress violation in EU Member states (see the speeches of Commissioner Reding on 11 September 2012 and on 22 April 2013).

On a way to develop a new mechanism to bring Fundamental Rights back to the right track.
In order to initatie change, the Foreign Affairs Ministers of Denmark, Finland, Germany and the Netherlands sent a letter to President Barroso on 6 March 2013 raising the need to develop a new and more effective mechanism to safeguard fundamental values in the Member States. Following that move On 6-7 June 2013, the Council adopted Council conclusions on fundamental rights and rule of law and on the Commission 2012 Report on the Application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

The European Parliament takes to lead to hold the Troika accountable and put the EU back to its core values. The first time in the EU’s history, the European Parliament launched two initiatives never happened before.

1.) Since there have been many concerns over how the Troika operates, the European Parliament is conducting an inquiry. An EP delegation will visit the countries affected, while there are also hearings in the Parliament with people who have been involved with Troika decisions.

The weakening of collective agreements, high levels of unemployment and the violation of fundamental social rights were the main social consequences in Greece, Cyprus, Portugal, and Ireland, the four countries subject to the Troika’s programmes, said MEPs and experts at a public hearing on 9 January 2013. “The social side cannot stay out of the Troika programmes analysis. Millions of citizens are victims of those programmes. In order to avoid a fracture between institutions and citizens, there is a need for a democratic dialogue,” said MEP Alejandro Cercas (S&D, ES).

2.) On its 13 January session, the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) adopted a draft report stressing the need to develop EU instruments in the field of fundamental rights, the rule of law and democracy under the current Treaties and in the future

There are promising signs that decision makers have finally understood: the EU crossed the Rubicon. The respect of Fundamental Rights should be restored. No institution – including the most powerful financial institutions – can be exempted from democratic control of respect of Fundamental Rights. There is no way out of the economic crisis without fully respecting social rights of European citizens who will give a refreshed mandate to their elected representatives in the European Parliament to act on their behalf.

I remain at your disposal.

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Zoltán MASSAY-KOSUBEK

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70. Ten Reasons to Demonstrate: Criminalisation of Hungarian Homeless is not EU Conform

In 2010, a Hungarian Law was amended to allow municipalities to ban homeless people from public spaces. Although this law was ruled unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court, the Consitution has been modified to allow prohibition of homelessness in 2013. I’ve collected 10 reasons why is it totally contrary to European laws and values.

The incriminated text of the Constitution reads as follows:

Article XXII
(1) Hungary shall strive to provide every person with decent housing and access to public services.
(2) The State and local governments shall also contribute to creating the conditions of decent housing by striving to provide accommodation to all homeless people.
(3) In order to protect public order, public security, public health and cultural values, an act of parliament or a local ordinance may declare illegal staying in a public area as a permanent abode with respect to a specific part of such public area.

1. It is contrary to the Hungarian Constitution even though it has been included into the Fundamental Law. In its aforementioned decision No. II/01477/2012 of 12 November 2012, the Hungarian Constitutional Court declared that the restrictions of “residential habitation in public spaces” violate the right to human dignity. Although that incriminated text is part of the new Hungarian Constitution, there is a clear hierarchy within the Constitution: the right to human dignity (together with the right to life) is among the strongest constitutional rights which cannot be restricted even by the Constitution itself. Thus, the prohibition of homelessness in specific areas is clearly in contradiction with the Hungarian constitution itself. This is a legal fact, even though if the Hungarian Constitutional Court shall not examine the text of the Constitution.

2. It clearly violates European Fundamental Rights and Values. Although the legal protection of the Hungarian Constitution is limited as regards the violation of human dignity, there are important European legal provisions to protect homeless.
As regards European Human Rights, the European Convention of Human Rights provides legal protection comcermimg violation of Human dignity and the European Court of Human Rights can condemn even sovereign states in Strasbourg.
In the narrower EU legal framework, the Charter of the Fundamental Rights of the European Union is legally binding since the entry into fore of the Treaty of Lisbon (1 December 2009) in the vast majority of EU Member States, including Hungary. Article 1 of the Charter (see below) also contains the right to human dignity, as a Fundamental Right and the Court of Justice of the European Union located in Luxembourg can make legally binding decisions based directly on the provision of the Charter in any individual case.

Article 1

Human dignity

Human dignity is inviolable. It must be respected and protected.

3. The right to decent housing in the Constitution is just a political programme and not an enforceable legal obligation. Some defenders of the Criminalisation never forget to point out that the legal text also contains as “obligation” of the Hungarian State and local governments to provide “the conditions of decent housing”. However, as a matter of fact, paragraph (2) is not an enforceable right but only a political programme at Constitutional level. We can welcome the mention of the right to decent housing but it is too weak to protect the people from the behavior of the Hungarian state. Homeless people can be persecuted, fined and jailed based on paragraph (3) and paragraph (2) cannot prevent this from a legal point of view.

4. Homelessness is not only a Human Rights issue but also a public health problem.
There is a clear link between Health, Housing and Homelessness (see more in the following European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) article (No Place Called Home in Hungary for Homeless People). Homelessness is an extreme form of housing deprivation and it results poor health as a consequence. According to FEANTSA (the European Federation of National Organisations working with the Homeless) homeless are particularly affected by multiple morbidity including problematic alcohol or drug dependence, mental health issues, physical health problems and high rates of premature mortality.

(Number of Hungarian Homeless 1993-2011 – source of the photo www.bulvaros.hu

5. Criminalisation worsens homeless people’s mental health status and puts the stigma of criminal on them. Homelessness is visible in the whole EU, especially in crisis hit countries such as Hungary. However, homeless are not responsible for the crisis but victims of it and they are especially vulnerable. Making them subject to such repressive decisions can seriously damage their self-estimation, self-confidence and can put the stigma of ‘criminal’ on them.

6. The protection of “public order, security, health and cultural values” is not an appropriate reason to justify such an humiliating measure. By making a fair and equitable balance between the protection both the whole society and homeless people themselves, a core element is the approach taken by the State. Criminalisation justified by the interest of the society indirecty means that the State considers homeless people a ‘public enemy’ a society must be protected against. However, a more sensible and human social policy may consider homeless as partner and as part of the society.

7. Cleaning up the city centers hides the problem – and makes it even worst. Another argument is that the criminalisation can direct homeless to homeless shelters instead of the street. However, it might have the opposite impact. This video demonstrates the homeless-free zones of the Hungarian capital, Budapest. It is clear that due to the restrictions, homeless people will be less visible for social workers and restricting their habitual residence would make more difficult for homeless to ask for help both physically and mentally.

8. Criminalisation is neither efficient nor an appropriate ‘solution’. Homeless people cannot be provided with decent housing by such punishing measures. On the one hand, it demonstrates the anger of the states that it is not able to resolve the problem. On the other hand, it can deteriorate the physical and mental health condition of homeless which could make their chance to find appropriate housing even less likely.

9. Homelessness is a social and not a criminal issue. It cannot be swept under the carpet. Making it less visible is definitely not a solution. Social problems and poverty reduction would rather need “soft” measure: social issues, valuable time and work of social workers, and nonetheless: more time and patience.

(On the photo: Hungarian policemen give shoes to a homeless man, deserving the respect of the on-line community Source of the photo richpoi.com)

10. There are viable alternatives prepared by the Hungarian civil society. As the open letter of the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) pointed it out, the Hungarian civil society put on the table viable alternatives and possible solutions such as scientific articles, relevant studies or a proposal for a possible Hungarian Homeless Strategy. Homeless people are victims and not the cause of the crisis. Instead of punishment, they deserve hope.

I remain at your disposal.

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69. VISEGRAD NEWS – Hidden messages behind the Budapest Declaration

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The joint V4+Croatia Foreign Ministers Declaration has three important political messages: the declaration marks the growing political importance of the V4 countries (1), it is a window of opportunity for the European Integration of the Balkan countries (2) and finally, it is another visible result of a Hungarian pro-Croatian foreign policy (3).

Firstly, with the Budapest Declaration, the V4 countries expressed their political interest in the Balkan region and this message meant to be heard by the “old Europe” which had had some political interest here in the past. Just remember such old fashioned policies as ‘cordon sanitaire’ or ‘Drang nach Osten’. Due to geopolitical reasons, the Balkan is a natural area of interest for the Visegrád block and this declaration is a step to that direction but further action is needed to turn this good intention into political reality.

Secondly, this important political position is a promising sign for both Croatia and the remaining former Yugoslav countries outside the EU. As regards Croatia, such move can put a future Croatian V4 membership on the V4 political agenda. Concerning the remaining former Yugoslav successor states, an enhanced V4-Croatia co-operation could be the Trojan horse for their EU membership.

Thirdly, the historical Croatian-Hungarian tandem played an important role to make that Declaration happen: both Croatia and Hungary have been belonged to the same state for 800 years. On the very last days of the Hungarian EU presidency in 2011, the final political decision has been taken about the Croatian EU membership. Now, as Hungary takes up again presidential responsibility, the question emerges: can it repeat the same success? Will the Hungarian V4 presidency be enough to keep the political momentum and propose Croatia as the next V5 member?

(This blog entry has been published in the Euro Atlantic quarterly International affairs, security and defense 3/2013 issue )

I remain at your disposal.

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68. Afghanistan 2001, Iraq 2003, Lybia 2011 Syria 2013? – A Modern Crusade against the Arabic World?

At this stage, there are rumours about the new stage of the modern crusade of Western military powers lead by the U.S. Will the upcoming intervention in Syria facilitate somehow the European Foreign policy? Or will it demonstrate the weakness of Europe again? Actually, the chain of the recent arabic wars in this century exactly proved the opposite: there is no EU foreign policy as such, and Europe – again – remains silent and weak. Of course, the two traditional European military (and former global) powers, France and the United Kingdom try to make their voice be heard (with some succes I must say) but they are acting as sovereign states and their achievements may not be considered as part of a common European foreign strategy.

(Photo © Chris Beckett: Syria: Stop the War march, London, 31 August 2013)

Afghanistan 2001 and the re-birth of the NATO
A decade ago, 11 September had shaken the western world: America was under attack for the first time on its own territory and the cruel terrorist attempt gave the moral legitimacy to a war against the taliban in Afghanistan and most importantly, all European countries supported the United States. The whole process gave a new legitimacy to the NATO which lost its ‘raison d’être’ after the collapse of communism. Since then, the NATO serves as the framework for the Western countries led by the U.S. to fight terrorism everywhere in the world in accordance with international law and the principles of the UN Charter.

The problem of the invasion rose right after the military victory in Afghanistan: no one expected a 10 years long, costly occupation which could not either consolidate the country or destroy the Taliban hiding in Pakistan. Although an international coalition had been forged at that time to help this process – which included CEE countries such as the Visegrád Alliance (PL-CZ-SK-HU) – and to re-build the country, the end-balance of that operation remains still controversial.

Iraq 2003 – split between the “old” and “new” Europe
Only 2 years later the international unity had been broken. The traditional Franco-German alliance tried to lead Europe but they failed. The UK definitely supported the U.S. and having signed “the letter of eight” (CZ, DK, HU, IT, PL, PT, ES and the UK) it managed to have 7 European countries as allies against France and Germany. And as we know, the war has happened. Never ever was the lack of a European common military and foreign policy so visible then at that time.

However, the ‘new Europe’ failed to prove the legality of the Iraq war. US and UK officials have argued that existing UN Security Council resolutions related to the first Persian Gulf War and the subsequent ceasefire (660, 678), and to later inspections of Iraqi weapons programs (1441), had already authorized the invasion. However, the mentioned pieces of international law did not have authorisation for a specific war and – most importantly – the use of chemical weapons could not be proved. And as a consequence, British PM Tony Blair had to resign.

Lybia 2011 and the isolation of Germany
The recent bloodshed in Lybia was interesting in a way that the first time, the U.S. did not want to take a leading role in the operation. France and the UK used this opportunity to prove their determination and military capacity but it could not be possible without the technical and infrastructural help of the Americans. Another visible consequence of that situation was the isolation of Germany who only opposed an intervention when even global powers supported the UK and French determination. Developments later on proved that the fall of Kadhafi’s regime was a necessity and it helped Lybian people to start their long road to a democracy.

Syria 2013 will be the next stage of a modern crusade?

The world has not been changed so much since the ’80s: war after war, and rumours of war from the East. Will Syria mean the next stage of a modern crusade against the arabic world?

The existence of chemical weapons and their use is reported however, there are not clear evidences, yet. ‘It Seems Like The Same Thing Again’ The main difference between Iraq and Syria is that in case of Iraq, Western countries wanted to launch a war and searched for legal reason for it. In opposition to it, in the case of Syria – because of the support of Russia – western countries did not want war at all – even the weapon-embargo was fiercly discussed – but the chemical attack and the push of the general public put pressure on them.

The example of Afghanistan tought them to avoid a long term occupation, the fiasko in Iraq made them extremly prudent and the successful operation in Lybia gave additional arguments for a distance-war.

I am afraid that my previous analysis about the Fallen State Syria in March 2013 is still valid: “The regime of Bashar Al-Assad survived even the fall of Kadhafi. It is a shame to take note that the freedom fight has started already in March 2011 and although Syria is in the backdoor of the EU, the EU could not prevent the death of approximately 20,000 people since then. The Syrian state collapsed and open war is a daily reality. We must declare: neither the EU Foriegn Policy nor the EU Defence and Security Policy was able to resolve this problem. The EU shew a blind eye to the s.o.s. messages of Syrian refugees”

The hidden European power behind the scene

“What a world where the best rapper is white, the best golf player is black and Germans do not want to go to war.” – Aforisme from 2003

Another key player in that story is the one who is not part of it. Europe’s most powerful and influential power is still reluctant to take a leading role – the weight of its historical burden is too heavy. 60 years was not enough to forget what happened in WWII and Germany is still not ready to go to war. Even if German ships are fighting in Somalia against pirates, Germany’s humanitarian aid is even more relevant and this military action can be used as an excuse to prevent further German military actions.

Therefore, no common European foreign policy is possible without Germany. With the recently analysed Mali-case, France presented its ambitions to lead Europe in military affairs and the UK can be its ally in that sense, but I am strictly convinced, that without Germany it is not feasible.

Or does this incertitude indirectly means that there is already a decision taken that Europe is not ready for a common foreign policy, yet and it needs to became an economic and political union?
“To thine own self be true.”

I remain at your disposal.

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67. Will the Visegrád quartett (PL-CZ-SK-HU) replace the DE-FR duo in shaping the EU’s future?

The Franco-German leadership has gone. The time of the Visegrád group is about to come?

The German-French leadership is outdated in a way that the strong Kohl-Miterrand or Schröder-Chirac leadership – which could even confront with the United States about the Iraq war – has gone. Merkozy is broken, France is currently in an economic downturn and after two decades of the German reunification, Germany became both economically and politically far the most powerful EU country. Some say, even too powerful for a shaky Union. No major decision is possible if there is a German veto and this German dominance raised further concerns.

The Visegrád Group, also called the Visegrád Four or V4, is an alliance of four Central European states – Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia – for the purposes of cooperation and furthering their European integration. The natural question emerges: would these Eastern European countries – jointly with other allies – outweigh the new German dominance and play a dominant role in the EU’s future?

(source of the photo © www.thedaily.sk)

What about the 4 Visegrád countries? How do they perform one by one?

Poland is the most significant Visegrád country whose population alone is bigger than the 3 other partner states together. The Polish economy performed very well recently in spite of the economic crisis; Poland is the only country which produced continuous economic growth in spite of the economic crises from 2008 onwards. With the successful Polish EU presidency, the country proved its maturity to the EU membership. It has potential military capacities which allowed it to go along with the Unites States in recent wars in Afganisthan and Iraq – in the latter case in spite of Franco-German interests.
The weaknesses of Poland are not economic – it is its environmental and public health policy. Poland fiercly opposed the reform of the old-fashioned Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) (to secure subsidies to tobacco farmers), blocked the climate reform (maintaining Poland’s addiction to coal) and was not favour in a strong Tobacco Products Directive due to the interests of Polish tobacco farmers.

The Czech Republic – having had an iconic president (Václav Hável) – became a successful successor country of the former Czechoslovakia. (The collapse of communism required 10 years in Poland, 10 months in Hungary, and 10 days in Czechoslovakia.). The Velvet revolution in 1989 resulted the birth of a new democratic era.
However, the country witnesses its biggest political scandal ever: prime Minister Petr Nečas was forced to resign on June 17 following the arrest of his chief of staff Jana Nagyová (the lover of the Czech PM) and several people close to the government. All are accused of abuse of power and corruption.
Another shadow on the country after the long Eurosceptic presidency of Václav Klaus is the existence of the shameful Beneš decrees - which even prevented that the Czech Republic adopt the Charter of the Fundamental Rights of the EU.
Thus, the Czech Republic became one of the most eurosceptic countries – along with the UK – and the not very successful Czech EU presidency (having the resignation of the Topolánek government in the middle of the presidency period) could not really change that perception.

Slovakia might be the island of peace at the first glance. It is true from an economic point of view since the country uses the euro without having strong difficulties. However, from Fundamental Rights point of view, the country puts serious question mark. As regards its Roma population, Europe witnesses the rebirth of new forms of separation ( such as new Roma ghettos in Kassa (Kosice)). However, where the country has clearly homework to do is the collective rights of its largest minority: the south part of the country is populated by Hungarians (8,5% of the total population) but the Malina Hedvig case (where a Hungarian national was beated because of her ethnic origin and instead of protecting her, Slovak authorities charged her by false testimony), the recently adopted language law in Slovakia which was criticized by the Venice committee because of its discriminatory character and the continuity of the Beneš decrees in Slovakia (which condamned ethnic German and Hungarian population guilty as traitor of the state in the II World War are based on the principle of collective guilt which is inacceptable in modern states) generated serious concerns about the full respect of minority rights.

(Slovakia is the only Visegrád country which did not have an EU presidency, yet)


(source of the photo © Roma Scouting in Slovakia www.scout.org)

We examinded the controversial situation in Hungary several times, especially in respect of the recently adopted Tavares-report. (media law, new Constitution, rule of law) In addition to that we may mention the danger of the far-right party Jobbik which is in the Hungarian Parliament and sent 3 Members to the European Parliament and which is surprisingly popular among the youth (every third young Hungarian has sympathy with the Jobbik). One of the country’s most relevant social problem is the segregation of the Roma population which lives in most cases in deep poverty and in some cases it resulted almost civil war. – do you remember the case of Gyöngyöspata? Have you seen the famous film ‘Csak a szél? – Just the Wind? Moreover, Hungary, having a very tragic history – especially in the second World War – is still the home of Eastern Europe biggest jewish community which witnesses the re-birth of antisemitism.

The revision of the Tobacco Products Directive the test case showing that the Visegrád group is still far away from an EU leadership role

The recent joint statement of 6 Eastern European countries – including the Visegrád four – which said that “the European Union should scrap plans to ban characterising flavours and slim cigarettes because they would unfairly impact tobacco growers and processors.” clearly shows that these countries did not understood at all the true interests of European citizens – to have a smoke free, healthy environment – and are not ready to put the European interests in front of their national interests.

Quo Vadis, Visegrád?

Due to its economic and military power, taking into account the common slavic heritage with the Czech republic and Slovakia and based on the historic Hungarian-Polish friendship and alliance, Poland would be the natural leader of the Visegrád group. However, noting the weaknesses and internal problems of the other 3 remaining partner countries, the Visegrád group is not in the positon to shape Europe’s future for the time being.

But all of these countries have learned a lot since 1993 when this alliance had been created, they managed to become an important country group (such as the Benelux or the Scandinavian States) and having said that, they have the full potential to contribute to the European integration process – as a partner and not as a leader – which is already a great thing and a big achievments from former communist and EU candidates countries, I think.

I remain at your disposal.

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The Blog is managed by Zoltán Massay-Kosubek, a Hungarian qualified lawyer living in Brussels. ★ Zoltán works for the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) as Policy Coordinator. As the main author of this blog, he shares his own opinions & personal analyses only. more.



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    ★ Speaking English, French, German and Hungarian fluently, Zoltán is an EU Policy Officer & Public Affairs Expert and a Legal Adviser living in Brussels, and he is always very pleased to connect and to network with other EU-minded professionals ★ As a Hungarian qualified lawyer with 7+ years of experience, Zoltán relocated to Brussels with thorough knowledge of EU law and the EU legislation procedure. Zoltán is a former active member of the Hungarian EU presidency team (2008-2011), and EU policy expert in various fields of the health / environmental /social security sector. ★ Zoltán is currently temporary EU Health Policy Officer & Legal Adviser by the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) NGO. Mr Zoltán MASSAY-KOSUBEK ► EU policy expert ABOUT.ME► http://about.me/zoltanmassaykosubek EU-BLOG.ME ► http://massay.kosubek.zoltan.dinstudio.com/diary_1_7.html CONNECT.ME ► http://www.linkedin.com/pub/zoltan-massay-kosubek/3a/336/71a LIKE.ME ► http://facebook.com/ZoltanMassayKosubek FOLLOW.ME ► @MASSAYKOSUBEKZ - http://twitter.com/#!/massaykosubekz E-MAIL.ME ► zoltanmassaykosubek@yahoo.com

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