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Self-interests & political games at play in weakening Fundamental Rights report

An EU Parliament report that would have called out member states that violate basic fundamental rights in the bloc has been hollowed out to such an extent that even its own author will be voting against it at the November plenary.

Irish MEP Clare Daly (Independents for Change), who is responsible for the civil liberties (LIBE) committee’s annual report on the ‘Situation of Fundamental Rights in the European Union’, blamed the big political groups in the Parliament of colluding to weaken her text.

This report could therefore have been an opportunity to step back and assess the state of fundamental rights in the EU, and ask member states why the situation is so dire with a Fundamental Rights charter still unimplemented after 10 years.

Instead, the right-wing EPP group, for example, managed to insert deeply problematic and dog-whistling amendments on radicalisation and migration in the final text before the Parliament vote.

Additionally, the exclusion of Julian Assange’s persecution – “the most important press freedom case of our generation” – from a text on EU fundamental rights, and a report that prevented the identification of specific eu countries where fundamental rights abuses took place, meant the Irish MEP had no choice but to vote against the report. 

When Daly was made Rapporteur for this file, one of her first aims was to make the report concise and focused. Having read similar annual reports, she felt that most of them just listed all the fundamental rights issues within the EU.

And because they prioritised everything, they also prioritised nothing.

The Irish MEP therefore proposed a strong chapter on economic and social rights in her draft report. She wanted to stress that only when people have a roof over their heads, and access to healthcare, education and other basic economic rights, can they think about having their fundamental rights protected.

Women’s rights were also a major theme in her report, and Daly criticised some EU member states’ attacks on such rights by focussing on reproductive rights. The situation with Roma women was investigated, as well as also systematic practices of forced sterilisation in Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

Elsewhere in the report, she looked at the disproportionate use of force against peaceful demonstrators across the EU, with law enforcement authorities in the likes of Romania, Spain and France now increasingly using less-lethal weapons on protesters.

On migration, her report expressed grave concerns about violent pushbacks by law enforcement officials at the EU’s external borders.

Above all though, the Irish MEP wanted to avoid being hypocritical in her report, and that all member states should be held to account equally. She believed that the Parliament only speaks out on breaches by Hungary and Poland, but then remains silent on others.

But therein lies the first hurdle she faced in the civil liberties committee: the bigger political groups – with parties currently in governments across the EU – vetoed the naming of any specific country in her report. Consequently, Daly could not name and call out Bulgaria for the way it segregates Roma women in maternity hospitals, for example, or France’s use of less-lethal weapons on protesters and migrants.

The word ‘austerity’ was also a problem for the big political groups. Women’s rights have, for example, been badly impacted by cuts to public services due to austerity, but the mere inclusion of ‘austerity’ in the text was enough for the big political groups to block the wording.

The other groups also forced Daly to tone down the section on police brutality. Elsewhere, they took the liberty to insert elements into the text which Daly did not agree with, from a wording on Eurosceptic communities to proposals that would strengthen security cooperation on terrorism and security threats in the EU.

Worst of all, the reference to Julian Assange was excluded from the final text when the biggest groups voted against it in the LIBE committee. As Daly stated, “Assange’s detention and the extradition proceeding against him sets a dangerous precedent for media freedom and journalists” in the EU. For Daly, that is the red line.

The Spanish chair of the civil liberties committee also behaved disgracefully in interfering in the report by expunging the Explanatory Statement which referenced the imprisonment of Catalan politicians. Daly feels particularly aggrieved by the failure to afford her any kind of due process prior to the decision to delete the statement by the committee chair, and duly complained to the EU Parliament’s president about this.

So despite important chapters on economic and social rights, women’s rights, freedoms and the wording on pushbacks being maintained and not undermined in the final report, the failure to call out abuses by naming and calling out EU countries that violate basic fundamental rights, plus Julian Assange being excluded from the text, meant Daly will be voting against the report.

As she said in the plenary session prior to the debate, “we have a fundamental rights report where we cannot mention in the text or in the footnotes of member states which violate fundamental rights.”

“It is utter madness.”

 

 

 

Photo credit: Gémes Sándor/SzomSzed

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