The EU is based on the values of human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights. All of these are enshrined in its Charter of Fundamental Rights. The promoting and safeguarding of these principles makes Europe a unique and worthy political project that places citizens at its core.
There is only one way to counteract Euroscepticism and (re)engage with those citizens still struggling with the consequences of the economic crisis and the severe austerity measures imposed by the EU. That is to place people’s wellbeing and respect for their personal, civil, political, economic and social rights at the heart of Europe’s policies and decisions.
The recent vote in favour of my colleague Judith Sargentini’s report on Hungary - one of this legislature’s milestones - has given the European Union a new political impetus by putting fundamental rights back on the political agenda as a core value of the integration process.
The start of proceedings against the Hungarian government for breaching European values on the rule of law establishes a positive precedent and sends a warning to other member states where human rights and rule of law are under serious threat.
Hungary is not an isolated case. In Poland, for example, there are grave concerns regarding judicial independence.
The unsolved killings of journalists Daphne Galizia in Malta and Ján Kuciak and his partner in Slovakia, threaten investigative journalism and reflect the culture of impunity and collusion between political and financial elite.
In Spain, nine Catalan social and political leaders have had been preventively imprisoned for almost a year, while seven had to go into exile. This alarming situation shows that, without doubt, there are political prisoners in the EU. Clearly, breaches of fundamental rights and rule of law can happen in any member state.
With these concerns in mind, my report on the situation of fundamental rights 2017 aims to gather the main topics that were at the forefront of the EU’s daily political life last year. The topics were chosen for their social and political impact and because of a perceived urgency to address them.
In 2017, 650,000 first-time asylum seekers applied for international protection in EU member states. Meanwhile, more than 1000 refugees drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. These deaths lifted the lid on the darkest side of Europe, where member states have hijacked any type of common action based on the principle of common responsibility and solidarity.
The issues raised in many member states on the issue of separation of powers, corruption and the triggering of Article 7 have once again highlighted the rule of law as a major concern.
Womens’ fight for equality and against discrimination gained momentum with the #MeToo campaign. This gave victims of sexual assault and harassment the courage to speak out against their alleged abusers. The initiative became a worldwide phenomenon that highlighted the magnitude and severity of the situation and the need to act urgently to eradicate any form of violence against females.
Last year, we also witnessed severe backlash in several member states in the field of civil liberties, particularly those related to freedom of expression, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly. Journalists in the EU continue to be the target of attacks and pressures.
Violence, harassment, threats and xenophobic speech targeting - in particular, LGTBI people, ethnic minorities, Muslims and asylum seekers and migrants - has remained pervasive and grave across the European Union in 2017, according to the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA).
There are other ongoing critical topics that require special attention, such as the rights of, and discrimination faced by, minorities, people with disabilities, Roma and elderly people. The protection of the most vulnerable must be EU’s driving motto. In the European Union that we believe in, no one must be left behind.
Following the FRA’s second independent external evaluation, I decided to include a specific point about the agency. The aim was to reflect the need to acknowledge its role as expert advice and as a safeguard of the fundamental rights of people living in the EU, and the need to border its scope and powers.
Finally, although the Charter of Fundamental Rights sets out those basic rights that must be respected by the EU and its member states when implementing EU law, we continue to witness worrying breaches and violations of their provisions. The purpose of Parliament’s report is to detect these and enhance the Union and members states’ compliance with our founding values.