EU has 'unique' opportunity to return to founding principles

The EU must use 2014 to shape the future of human rights protection and put people before politics, says Nicolas Beger.

By Nicolas Beger

27 Jan 2014

On 16 May 1949 in Strasbourg, Robert Schuman spoke of the 'European spirit' and the values of Europe. This led to the guiding EU principles of democracy, human rights, non-discrimination, justice, freedom and equality.

It was these principles that paved the way for the EU's potential to be a beacon of light for human rights on the global stage.

The EU has significantly contributed to international human rights protection. Recently, it played a key role in achieving the United Nations' arms trade treaty, and its external human rights strategy has led to a strong commitment by all EU actors to prioritise human rights in its external policy.

What is missing though is a concrete and coherent examination of, and action around, what is happening on the EU's own soil.

There are numerous significant human rights concerns and questions within Europe. And the institutions and member states are failing to address them. One of these is the systematic discrimination across Europe of the eight to 12 million Roma.

Amnesty International has clear evidence of Roma being denied access to housing, education and employment. And of being subjected to hate motivated violence simply because of who they are.

Yet despite such blatant flouting of the EU race equality directive, the European commission so far refuses to use its legislative tools to prevent and address these violations.

The EU and member states have also failed to remedy the human rights violations they have and are committing at their borders and in detention centres. Despite the Lampedusa tragedy, which many thought would be a wake-up call, Europe remains solely focused on controlling its borders and keeping people out.

This is risking lives. [pullquote]For no matter how dangerous the route, people will continue to flee from war, persecution, or grinding poverty[/pullquote]. The EU must do its fair share and show global solidarity towards refugees. It must also increase search and rescue capacities, stop outsourcing its migration control to countries with dubious human rights records, and create safe routes for claiming asylum or applying for work visas.

Such questionable policies and practices, and the ongoing refusal to find a mechanism to discuss in the council the human rights situation in the EU, put a stain on the EU's credibility as a human rights actor abroad. And beyond the issue of external credibility, the question of failures to respect international human rights and EU law must urgently be addressed.

That is why we are calling for a concrete internal human rights framework. This would enable the union to review the situation, enforce existing human rights legislation, and address any gaps.

As the current European parliament and commission reach the end of their mandates, and the council prepares to draft strategic guidelines on freedom, security and justice, the institutions, member states, and their current and future representatives have a unique opportunity to return to the EU’s founding principles, and ensure people-centred policies and practices.

As a starting point, we, along with a broad coalition of human rights NGOs, are asking European parliamentary candidates to sign a pledge to promote and protect human rights.

To learn more about and to sign the pledge, please visit

Read the most recent articles written by Nicolas Beger - EU seeking 'quick answer' to 'wrong question' in migration debate

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