Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

EC’s Treatment for the Symptoms of the Recurring Illness of the Anti-Democratism

Zhaneta Kuyumdzhieva, trainee, July 26, 2012

The 2011 report of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) at the Council of Europe, that was published in May, clearly marks some disturbing trends in the consciousness of the Europeans and hence (to a certain grade) of the political elites. The crude measures for finding a way out of the crisis acted as an allergen on Europe’s sensitivity for topics such as immigration, minorities, working place discrimination, racial or religious discrimination etc. According to the report, due to the economic crisis the most vulnerable groups are caught in a vicious circle that questions multiculturalism as a value in Europe. The lack of economic opportunities as a result of tightened tax policies, welfare cuts, and freezing of wages contribute to the perception of immigrants and some other minorities as being a burden to societies. In addition, the report points out that some of the European and national bodies entitled to protect human rights have also fallen victim of jobs and budgetary cuts “at a time when they [the institutions] are most needed”.

The protection of the Old Continent from Islam, of societies from the “thiefs of jobs”, and from anti-social behaviour of immigrants and minorities is a rhethoric that successfully gains confidence in countries such as Denmark, Netherlands etc. We all remember the clearly anti-immigration website of the Dutch Freedom Party. Similar trends could be noticed not only in Northern and Western Europe. Some publications in the Bulgarian press, too, on the pre-election fights in Greece presented the ultra right party “Golden Dawn” with a particular emphasis on one of its views: to place landmines along the country’s borders in order to stop the influx of illegal immigrants. The xenophobic discourse has gained significant support in the recent years and such kind of parties entered the parliaments of a number of Member States.

According to the data in the reports of the Open Society and Amnesty International, Muslims are one of the most discriminated groups as they find it difficult to integrate in full scale into the European societies. The anti-Islamisation movements replace the language of traditional right-wing parties with the language of cultural and identity wars thus creating a new vision of the extreme right. Those are some of the conclusions in an article on a report, ordered by the Fund to Counter Xenophobia of the Open Society Foundation. The study covers not only the parties that use similar rhetoric but also websites, blogs, street bands and groups with similar interests in all Europe. The analysis plainfully warns that the swelling of those attitudes in the last couple of years, particularly after the terrifying assault in NOrway, cannot be ignored anymore.

Another recent report of Freedom House studies the democratic representation of 29 countries in Europe and Eurasia, among them Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Turkey etc. The study covers the responsibility and the transparency of the institutions according to several benchmarks: elections organisation, the existence of civil society, media freedom, democratic governance on national and local level, judicial independence and corruption level. The press release about the report is entitled “Ukraine and Hungary at Forefront of Democratic Decline in Central and Eastern Europe”. It notes that Hungary's PM Viktor Orban and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych “appear to be pursuing the ‘Putinization’ of their countries”. In other five countries – the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Bulgaria - decline is noticed during the last five years. In Bulgaria that decline is noticed in the election process and the judiciary.

Against such an environment, in the end of June appeared the EU’s Strategic Framework and Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy. The strategy aims to safeguard the economic, social and cultural rights, such as religious freedom and freedom of beliefs, to fight all forms of discrimination – racial, ethnic, age, gender or sexual – and to protect the rights of the children, minorities, refugees, immigrants and the people with special needs. The framework also aims to protect the women’s rights and to support their combat against discriminatory legislation. In the document the EU confirms its determination to work for the abolition of death penalty, to cooperate with civic organisations and with national institutions for the enforcement of universal human rights principles and their preservation, to respect the international humanitarian agreements and to integrate the human rights policy in its external actions. In order to move the project outside of the “wish list”, the project is supported by an action plan of 36 steps.

Such a framework was extremely necessary because, although currently it says that the legal principles - those of human rights and democracy - are immanent to EU’s internal and external policies and despite the European Charter of Fundamental Rights and the numerous statements on the topic – the Union had not a written engagement in this direction. The values represented by this framework will be essential to the enlargement policy. This is an important element for countries such as (but not only) Serbia, that has to cope with the painful subject of Kosovo, and Turkey with the Kurds and the Cyprus issues and also with the problems with the rights of the minorities and women and with the freedom of expression.

The topic has always been and will be delicate because – although the protection of human rights is a subject to universal rules – its universality often gives way to national peculiarities, such as cultural and economic specifics. This will be the biggest challenge ahead of the policy. Of course, EU’s framework is not limited to the commitment only of the EU Member States and the candidate countries. As a global player, the EU is responsible for the global promotion of the universal human rights principles. This commitment has been confirmed by the EU’s first diplomat Baroness Catherine Ashton in a speech in Luxembourg on 25 June. In her speech she pointed out the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the recent assaults in Nigeria, Syria and to other hot topics.

Such a framework will certainly add value to EU’s profile. And because “the reanimation” of the EU’s perception as a strong and decisive player in all spheres on the global stage is urgent. Baroness Ashton proposed the appointment of a special representative on human rights and democracy to become “the face” of the framework and to watch over its implementation. The High Representative confirmed that in the short term a selection will be held for the new position and proposed its mandate to be 2 years.

The new framework is particularly timely with regard to the flourishing of extreme right- and left-wing parties, the territorial issues that are pending for years, the refugees and immigrants’ influx after the "Arab spring”. The action plan definitely demonstrates that cohesion is not only a financial priority but that there are problems that are yet to challenge the democratic Western world. It shows, encouragingly, that the EU has the vision of how to do it.