Committee guide 2020 | DROI: Ambitious and vigilant

Written by Maria Arena on 3 February 2020 in Feature
Feature

Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights will continue to keep a critical eye on the EU’s external policies while playing a constructive role in upholding international law and human rights standards, explains Maria Arena.

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The Subcommittee on Human Rights’ (DROI) principle priorities are defined by both emerging challenges and our citizens’ expectations.

The issue of business and human rights is currently one of the most high-profile areas of attention, with a focus on moving towards more responsible business conduct globally, through the introduction of new voluntary standards as well as compulsory company due diligence.

Compulsory due diligence at EU level was a key European Parliament demand during the previous parliamentary term and we are determined to deliver on this. There is also a clear need to face up to new challenges and threats such as climate change.


Migration linked to serious human rights violations and conflicts continues to be a global challenge. DROI members are keen to continue their task of scrutinising all new EU policy developments, particularly the recently announced EU human rights sanctions regime; legislation repeatedly called for by Parliament.

As the Subcommittee’s chair, I am also determined to look for new and more effective ways to protect human rights defenders. I must emphasise right at the outset: the Subcommittee cannot do this alone. This is a task for Parliament as a whole.

One of our biggest challenges is upholding European ambitions on universal values and human rights standards, against the backdrop of a weakened multilateral system.

We need to work towards safeguarding and improving the EU’s credibility in the world as an actor that recognises human rights and a rules-based international system as a strategic interest, not as a distraction from other foreign policy objectives.

Another challenge for DROI, in addition to its Subcommittee status, is to remain relevant across all policies and to ensure that it is not perceived as a separate, detached parliamentary structure.

“DROI members are keen to continue their task of scrutinising all new EU policy developments, particularly the recently-announced EU human rights sanctions regime; legislation repeatedly called for by Parliament”

Citizens and policymakers are now waking up to the fact that global value chains are also about human rights. Climate change, deforestation, arms control, data protection and Artificial Intelligence all have major implications for human rights.

There can be no progress without injecting human rights into the policy debates about development, empowering women and civil society, as well as contributing to a stable and democratic neighbourhood for the EU.

Our aim is to bring these issues to the forefront of the EU policy debate. DROI must remain central to these debates.

Therefore, we will keep a critical eye on the EU’s external actions while striving to play a constructive role in working towards viable solutions in upholding international law and human rights standards.

Citizens’ expectations are clear: people across the EU want us to stand up for universal values and deliver active and effective EU external action that protects and promotes human rights. I will never side with those who say that security or economic interest should trump human rights.

I do not underestimate the challenge, but I do believe it is possible to reconcile these objectives.

Taking the lead in promoting human rights is a clear treaty obligation and we should be faithful to the spirit and the letter of the EU Treaty.

“One of our biggest challenges is upholding European ambitions on universal values and human rights standards, against the backdrop of a weakened multilateral system”

While it is true that the world has become multipolar, we are facing a pushback against multilateralism and the rules-based international order, often from the newly emerging powers and even from our traditional allies.

They are becoming increasingly assertive, including in our direct neighbourhood, repeatedly undermining international law and cooperation.

But I am not an EU pessimist. The EU still has a responsibility and the potential to live up to this challenge, by taking the lead in promoting human rights, making use of its leverage and acting as a responsible and reliable partner within both multilateral and bilateral frameworks.

Balancing the need to develop international trade with the promotion of human rights is often presented in an antagonistic manner and as a zero-sum game. We need to challenge this view.

I recognise the need for the EU to remain competitive, innovative and to offer opportunities for all economic actors. But this need not come at the expense of a race to the bottom on labour and environmental standards and human rights.

On the contrary. We need to demonstrate that we understand what is at stake beyond pure economic interest and that there is a European way of doing this.

This requires some political courage and ambition when we deal with trade and investment agreements.

For example, we could greatly improve the use of human rights clauses and their implementation in our international agreements.

The EU should not shy away from establishing redress and complaints mechanisms. We need to deliver true and measurable improvements on the ground before granting trade preferences and should raise the bar on implementing international commitments with our partners.

I also think we should be more ambitious about understanding the full environmental and human rights impact of our trade relations and perhaps be more vigilant about inward investment to the EU.

About the author

Maria Arena (BE, S&D) is chair of Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights

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