The call for a new human rights policy derives both from an assessment of the current internal situation and from the particular historical context in which the Union finds itself. It must be emphasized, however, that the need for such a policy is far greater now than it was, even in the recent past. We discuss elsewhere in this article32 the judgment of the European Court of Justice of 12 May 1998, which has highlighted the disarray of important aspects of existing policies. Other current developments within the Union, in Europe as a whole, and in the world at large, also make it imperative for action to be taken now. This is demonstrated by a variety of factors, including those noted below.
The approach adopted in this article is not driven primarily by a sense that there are systematic violations of human rights occurring within the Union which remain entirely unaddressed. But, by the same token, there clearly are many human rights challenges which persist and to which greater attention must be given. This is clear from a wide range of sources, including various reports by the European Parliament, by the European Commission, and by non-governmental groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.33 We do not intend to replicate that information or to dwell on the details of the violations that persist. Suffice it to note that they include a resurgence in racist and xenophobic behaviour, a failure to fully live up to equality norms or to eliminate various types of discrimination, major shortcomings in the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights of disadvantaged and vulnerable groups, unsatisfactory treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, inhumane and degrading treatment of detainees, and so on.34
Although (for reasons of Community competences vis-à-vis those of the Member States) it is not for the institutions of the Union to take it upon themselves to seek to resolve these problems, it can equally well not stand passively by and chant the mantra of exclusive individual Member State competence while taking no steps to contribute to an improvement of the situation. In short, the Union must have a human rights policy, albeit one that takes appropriate account of the various principles upon which it has been established.
The European Union is a key player in world affairs. It has close to 7 per cent of the world's population and almost as many people as the USA and Japan combined. It accounts for 27 per cent of the world's Gross Domestic Product, almost one-fifth of its trade flows and well over half of the total official development assistance flows to developing countries. While it is true that these figures are only the aggregate of 15 different sets of national statistics, the Union's determination to be more than the sum of its parts is reflected in a wide range of treaty commitments, policies and programmes. Along with the power and influence that these statistics represent comes responsibility. The Union cannot be a credible defender of human rights in multilateral fora and in other countries (as it has long sought to be) while insisting that it has no general competence of its own in relation to those same human rights.
Thus, for example, the EU strongly supports UN measures to persuade governments to establish national human rights institutions, but it does not have such an institution itself and nor has it encouraged its own Member States to establish them. To take another current example, the Union adopted, in May 1998, a `Common Position on Human Rights, Democratic Principles, the Rule of Law and Good Governance in Africa', which proclaimed its objective of working `in partnership with African countries to promote respect for human rights' and the other stated objectives.35 There is, however, no equivalent policy which commits the EU to work actively within Europe in relation to human rights. The need to end this double standard can perhaps best be expressed in biblical language by noting that, if it is to be consistent and have credibility, the EU must do unto itself as it would have others do unto themselves.
In short, as Europe finds itself increasingly playing a major role in world politics, the commitment to human rights, democracy and the rule of law will acquire not simply a greater urgency but will require a much more coherent and consistent policy towards other countries.
The Union is poised to realize Economic and Monetary Union. Hesitatingly, but steadily, the matching of Europe's external political presence with its internal economic might is occurring. Already from 1 January 1999 EMU will bring a single currency to some 290 million people. Its economic and political significance to the entire Union cannot be overestimated. But it is no secret that, even among the enthusiasts, expectations have been mingled with anxiety and even fear.36 In part this is fear of the unknown and anxiety over the need to re-imagine oneself as part of a new economic polity. Inevitably the increased economic freedoms of an economic and monetary union make each individual feel smaller and fear the impact on his or her daily activities, especially since EMU is associated with a monetary discipline which poses a particular challenge to the tradition of human solidarity that has characterized the European approach to social and economic policy. It would be appropriate, precisely at this moment of EMU-propelled monetary rigour, to find equally visible and tangible ways to affirm the European humanist tradition.
There is something terribly wrong with a polity which acts vigorously to realize its economic ambitions, as it clearly should, but which, at the same time, conspicuously neglects its parallel ethical and legal obligations to ensure that those policies result in the fullest possible enjoyment of human rights.
Eventual enlargement towards Eastern Europe will create the world's largest trading bloc and zone of economic liberty. At present, five new members look very likely and in the longer term the number may be as high as thirteen countries. To many, enlargement is a moral imperative. And rightly so. But it will not come without costs - and our concern is not simply or primarily with economic costs. Enlargement inevitably means a further diminution in the sense of importance felt by each individual within the polity. As the Union widens and the machinery of governance grows more complex, the sense of individual alienation, of despair at being able both to influence decision-making and understand its rationale, will correspondingly deepen. `European citizenship' must not become a beautiful phrase devoid of meaningful tools for individual empowerment. Moreover, the challenges posed by enlargement are not only structural or size-related. With enlargement, the Union will be importing a new set of unresolved minority issues as well as additional human rights challenges, whose solutions will test the strength of many Community policies.
In some respects the Union has looked ahead to this prospect. Articles 6(1) and 49 TEU together provide that only a European state which respects the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law may apply to become a member of the Union. And, as noted earlier, there is a new procedure for the suspension of the rights of Member States in case of a `serious and persistent breach' of these principles.37 But such policies and procedures look very strange alongside the Union's continuing insistence that it cannot itself have an overall policy to promote human rights within the Union. Now is the time to act to remedy this deficiency. The motivation of action taken only after the enlargement process has borne fruit will be suspect and a strong policy will be much more difficult to achieve at that late stage.
The globalization of the world economy, coinciding with the acceleration of measures to consolidate the European advanced market place, gives rise to a variety of additional human rights-related challenges. Some of these are linked to the diminishing capacity of individual governments to deal adequately with certain problems, either because of the increasingly transnational character of the problem or because of the pressures on governments themselves to `downsize'.38 Other challenges arise in relation to the new information technologies which are the engine for much of the thrust towards globalization. Issues of privacy and equal access are the most visible of what a new generation of rights must address.
Likewise, the breakdown of traditional distinctions between trade in goods and services, between information and entertainment, between the commercial and material and the cultural and spiritual, highlight the need to rethink the compartmentalized ad hoc approach to rights which hitherto has characterized the Union's approach. These developments call for new and innovative thinking and approaches, which in turn will inevitably require a significant component of EU-level implementation. In addition, globalization has been accompanied by significant growth in the importance of non-governmental groups and coalitions whose activities and influence transcend the borders of even strong regional groupings of states.
As the Community assumes far greater administrative and legislative responsibility in relation to Justice and Home Affairs, the need to assure, at the Community level, the rights of those affected by this new jurisdiction becomes more pressing. As long as responsibility in these areas was kept almost entirely outside the competence of the Community, the absence of a strong human rights policy in relation to those matters was defensible. As cooperation develops and the Community moves towards assuming considerably expanded powers, a parallel human rights policy must be seen as an indispensable counterpart.
The Treaty of Amsterdam of 1997 introduced a number of elements which require the development of a new human rights policy:
In summary, although there is just cause for satisfaction with a Europe which is taking formidable steps to realize its aspirations, two hard and discomforting truths must also be faced. First, current policies such as monetary union, enlargement and ever greater engagement with the global economy pose new threats, and create new challenges, to the European commitment towards the safeguarding of fundamental human rights. Second, public opinion is deeply ambivalent towards some of the principal developments within the Union. A cleavage between the increasingly generous verbal affirmation of commitment to human rights without matching the rhetoric with visible, systematic and comprehensive action will eventually undermine the legitimacy of the European construct. In the pursuit of this grand design that is the European Union it is essential to keep constantly in mind the centrality of the individual - the men and women of whom and for whom ultimately Europe is made.
32 See text accompanying note 18.
33 For example Communication from the Commission: An Action Plan against Racism, Doc. COM(1998) 183 final (25 March 1998); European Parliament, Annual Report on human rights throughout the world in 1995-1996 and the Union's human rights policy (Rapporteur: Mrs C. Lalumière), Doc. A4-0400/96 (28 Nov 1996) (the next Annual Report on that issue is due in late 1998); European Parliament, Annual Report on respect for human rights in the European Union in 1994 (Rapporteur: Mrs L .de Esteban Martin), Doc. A4-0223/96 (1 July 1996); European Parliament, Annual Report on respect for human rights in the European Union (1996) (Rapporteur: Mrs A. Pailler), Doc. A4-0034/98 (28 Jan 1998); Human Rights Watch World Report 1998(1998) (citing `significant blemishes on Europe's record in promoting human rights'. Ibid, at xxv); Amnesty International, Annual Report 1998 (1998).
34 Some of these issues are addressed in more detail below.
35 Common Position of 25 May 1998 defined by the Council on the basis of Article J.2. of the Treaty on European Union, concerning human rights, democratic principles, the rule of law and good governance in Africa, OJ C L.158/1 (2 June 1998).
36 See in general H. Ungerer, A Concise History of European Monetary Integration: From EPU to EMU (1997); and L. Tsoukalis, `Economic and Monetary Union', in H. Wallace and W. Wallace (eds), Policy-Making in the European Union (3rd ed., 1996) 279.
37 Article 7 TEU.
38 See generally Alston, `The Myopia of the Handmaidens: International Lawyers and Globalization', 8 EJIL (1997) 435; R. Axtmann (ed.), Globalization and Europe: Theoretical and Empirical Investigations (1998); A. Razin and E. Sadka (eds), The Economics of Globalization (1998).
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