The European Parliament calls for a Union Pact for human rights

On 10 October the European Parliament adopted an important report with recommendations to the European Commission on how the EU institutions and Member States can better prevent and correct breaches of human rights within the Union. The report, drafted by Member of the European Parliament Sophie in ‘t Veld calls for a “Union Pact for democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights”.

Whether it’s down to inadequate tools and mechanisms at the European Commission’s disposal, or a lack of political will among Member States to act, it is clear that there is a need to tackle a worrying trend of Member States violating people’s rights and freedoms, and disrespecting the values of the Union they agreed to join. The Parliament states that while the Commission uses existing instruments to order Member States to adjust their budgets, public health schemes or tax rulings to make them compliant with EU law, it rarely intervenes to enforce Treaty obligations regarding democracy, rule of law and fundamental rights.

As Social Platform we have long called for an EU internal strategy to promote human rights; not only should the EU and its Member States be held accountable for breaches of human rights, we believe the EU should go beyond respecting and protecting rights, and take a proactive role to ensure the realisation of those rights. We therefore support the Parliament’s report, and hope that the Commission takes the proposal on board.

The opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee Committee to the Parliament’s report points out that EU institutions must respond more decisively to the deterioration of human rights in the EU, that rights belong to people and not states, and that “economic, social and cultural rights are ‘indivisible’ from civil and political rights”.

The Parliament’s report consists of a motion for a resolution, and an annex of a detailed draft of what such a “Union Pact” could look like. It is reassuring to read that civil society is mentioned as one of the important stakeholder groups for the European Commission to engage with, making sure that our contributions are taken into account and we are involved in developing and implementing an awareness raising campaign for people in the EU to know their rights. Furthermore, “it calls on the Council of Europe to open the signature of the European Social Charter to third parties, so that the Commission can initiate negotiations for the accession of the Union”, a development we would particularly welcome.

As for the pact, it includes proposals for an annual report followed by an inter-parliamentary debate, arrangements to address possible risks and breaches, and an expert panel to assess the state-of-play in individual Member States. The annual report should cover issues such as equality, non-discrimination and the promotion of civic space and effective civil dialogue, topics that are important for us. On the basis of the report and the following debate, the Commission may decide to launch “systematic infringement” procedures by bundling several infringement cases together. In other words, this would enable the Commission to sanction Member States for repeated violations of human rights, which one-by-one may not seem big but put together show an unacceptable pattern of behaviour.

Read my previous blog about the development of the report here (18 March 2016).