European Commission work programme 2017 – defending borders over people’s human rights?

The European Commission has set out its work programme for next year, prioritising the need to ‘focus on the important things’ and ‘do things better’ to gain citizens’ trust that the EU is ‘at their service’. A key focus is to review existing laws to evaluate if they are effective or obsolete, as well as sort through pending proposals so that the Council can focus on those ‘that really matter’. Reading the work programme with human rights, equality and migration ‘glasses’ left me with a quick read; unfortunately these are not among the more ‘important things’ that the Commission aims to do better during 2017.

In the area of justice and fundamental rights – the Commission’s focus is on controling European borders in the fight against terrorism, updating the data protection regulation, continuing the work towards the accession of the Union to the European Convention on Human Rights, and promoting and defending the rule of law. Nowhere are issues such as combating discrimination, violence and hate crime mentioned. Although some key proposals remain on the Council’s table, such as the 2008 proposal for a directive implementing the principle of equal treatment outside employment and the 2015 European accessibility act, their future is bleak as Member States do not demonstrate the political will to adopt them.

The Commission will also focus on protecting and managing its border in terms of migration. The ‘EU-Turkey statement’ (that aims to resettle migrants arriving to Turkey in the EU), is described as the way to ‘stop migrant smuggling, put order in flow and prevent the loss of lives’. The Commission calls for a swift adoption of all the asylum reform proposals on the table of the European Parliament and the Council (read my blog post about some of our concerns). Furthermore, it will continue ‘work to bring direct support to refugees and their integration in host communities in Europe and in third countries’. The last words reflect the intensified work to deter migrants from coming to the EU. Earlier this year the EU adopted an Action Plan on Integration of Third Country Nationals, yet its implementation is not mentioned. A related activity is the roadmap on legal migration fitness check that will be carried out during 2017.

The Commission proposal for a European Pillar of Social Rights will ‘address the challenges of work-life balance faced by working families’ (see the ongoing roadmap). The Pillar is a key priority for Social Platform (see our infographic). Another ongoing roadmap (not mentioned in the work programme) is on the EU Accession to the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (the Istanbul Convention) – we support our members work’in this area, led by the European Women’s Lobby.

The Commission invites the European Parliament and Council to join the new Interinstitutional Agreement on a mandatory transparency register, as a way to be accountable to citizens about lobbying across all stages of European law-making. Earlier this year we supported such a mandatory register, together with Transparency International (read our joint letter).

As Social Platform we will in 2017, among other priorities, promote equality in practice; as a first step we will work to improve our own diversity so we can better lead by example. We will promote non-discriminatory practices across the EU in access to services, including the use of digital technology to promote inclusion. Cultural, social and economic inclusion of migrants and ethnic and religious minorities will be a key priority for us in the coming years, and in 2017 we will focus on the social and economic inclusion of low- and medium-skilled migrants.