Committee guide: Human rights must be at the heart of EU policymaking

Amid the many challenges it faces, the EU must not lose sight of the values on which it was founded, writes Pier Antonio Panzeri.

Pier Antonio Panzeri | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

By Pier Antonio Panzeri

03 Apr 2017

Human rights are a core part of the EU’s identity, and Parliament’s human rights subcommittee should be the organisation that makes sure it protects and speaks out for these values, both inside and outside the borders of Europe.

Unfortunately, efforts to date to do this have been inadequate, which is why we want to make sure our subcommittee takes on a larger role at European and international level, by bringing human rights into the heart of all relevant questions and conversations that the EU has with other countries. We are aware that such an ambitious project will require time.

I believe in a European Union that upholds the principles and values that are at its very core and turns them into a reality. To do this, we need to make sure that human rights are a part of each and every European debate, and that they run through every European policy. The EU, including all of its bodies and institutions, needs to speak about these values clearly, avoiding any ambiguity.

This is why the EU needs to change the way it works, as does this subcommittee, taking a role as a constant, timely presence, day in day out, combatting breaches of human rights.

This is why we need different political groups both showing greater involvement, and taking on greater responsibility. They are the vital tools that Parliament has to reach out to citizens and publicise our battles.

On many occasions, European citizens have expressed their views on European institutions, describing them as too bureaucratic and distant. It is our duty to promote our work, using all the tools available including traditional and social media.

In every sprawling department, there needs to be one point that is dedicated to press releases and immediate reactions that the subcommittee can publicise on subjects and events relating to human rights.

The Commission has recently launched a programme with the ultimate goal of making citizens feel more involved. This programme is called Refit, and includes measures to streamline and simplify the EU’s legislative work, making it more accessible to all citizens.

I believe that making the EU less bureaucratic and more accessible for citizens is a positive choice, but we will need to wait for the first results to see whether this programme will manage to achieve its targets, or if it will merely streamline legislative measures, without bringing any advantages.

Whether or not the Refit programme is a success, the EU urgently needs to reduce its perceived remoteness from citizens, particularly at a time when we face a steady stream of new challenges.

Although it often goes unnoticed or is not granted sufficient importance, the defence of human rights is a prevailing, wide-reaching component of these challenges.

One example of this - that everybody has heard about - relates to the conditions of immigrants and asylum-seekers, most notably minors. It would be completely incomprehensible to turn a blind eye to the infringements these people face and the desperate conditions in which they find themselves living in Europe.

This is a Europe where more and more hateful rhetoric is being disseminated, which seems to increasingly threaten fundamental rights. Are we headed towards a society that puts human rights behind everything else?

The examples of intolerance that we have had to witness are indicative of what might be committed under the drive of brutal nationalism.

Faced with a trend of seeking to reduce the protection offered by human rights, it would be good if a valuable tool such as this subcommittee could act as a vital point of reference to make a political U-turn, back towards democracy and the protection of rights.

In short, it is clear that we face numerous challenges, and that at the moment, the European Union does not seem to have the resources it needs to address them. This is why it is so important to change the rules of engagement and embrace reform.

Parliament’s human rights subcommittee needs to be firm in its own objective of protecting human rights and demand that this principle is seen as a priority for the whole of the EU and every one of its political actions. 

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