January 17, 2014
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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Related earlier updates:EU ZMK's Diary