Tag Archives: priorities

Is the European Union Losing Leadership on Human Rights?

For a long time the European Union has been considered a beacon of human rights protection, democracy and rule of law in the world. Now there are worrying signals that this leadership is weakening.

Susi Dennison and Anthony Dworkin from the European Council on Foreign Relations have written a policy brief proposing an EU human rights strategy for a post-western world. I had a very informative and interesting discussion with Anthony Dworkin on this policy brief. Below is a brief account of the main findings and policy recommendations.

The Problem

The European Union and the US are losing their influence in the world. The military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan have to some extent delegitimised the idea of democracy promotion for many, and led people to associate the concept with that of regime change. The success and growing assertiveness of authoritarian capitalist countries, and China in particular, have broken the link between liberal democracy and economic and social development. According to Mr. Dworkin as a result the West has less influence and less ability to try and affect what’s happening. For example China is now much more successful than Europe in winning support for its position on human rights resolutions in the United Nations.

I asked Mr. Dworkin if he believes that the China model is sustainable in the long term given the rising economic inequalities there. He said that China is changing rapidly and that it’s too soon to say if it’s sustainable.

The European Difficulties

In the European Union there are a number of reasons for this relative loss of leadership on the promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. First, there is some loss of confidence in the ability of the European Union to make a difference in the world in terms of human rights protection. Certain instruments, such as sanctions, simply don’t work very well. EU Member States have sometimes sacrificed their long-time commitment to human rights and democracy in their pursuit of geopolitical interests. For example Member States in the Mediterranean states have been most keen to engage with regimes in North Africa, while forgetting about the human rights perspective. Certain immigration policy measures may have a serious impact on the legitimacy of the European Union in the developing countries. The expulsion of Roma from France has most likely exacerbated that trend.

The Road Ahead

The authors of the policy brief outline a number of very practical policy recommendations that certainly deserve further consideration and discussion. The European Union needs a new, strategic approach for the promotion of human rights and democratic values. This approach must be realistic in the first place. It needs to take into account the shifting world balance of power. In a nutshell the EU must break down the abstract package of democracy and human rights to emphasise those issues that are most relevant to particular societies. The EU must set clear enough priorities – key issues on which to make progress with separate countries. The authors call these “pressure points”, relating to fundamental values on which the EU can reasonably expect to have an impact. In doing that the EU should rely primarily on a policy of graduated engagement using concerted pressure on key concerns and, wherever possible, offering specific incentives for carefully chosen objectives.

The tools for this new policy approach are already available. There are also some new opportunities – such as the use of trade relations to advance human rights, where some Internet restrictions for example may be considered contrary to WTO rules. There are also important partnerships with developing countries that must be explored, such as Brazil, India, Indonesia and South Africa. Turkey in particular may be a valuable partner because of its closeness to the EU and its growing role as an influential regional power in the Middle East.

The Institutional Dimension

For the new approach to work there must be high level alignment of different EU policies with the priorities of the promotion of human rights and democracy. Mr. Dworkin sees here a role both for the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and the President of the European Council. There must be a clear statement on these priorities and very senior level policymakers must be engaged in the process. A structure in the European External Action Service can also provide coordination.

This post is written specially for the Day of Multilingual Blogging. The Bulgarian version of this blog post is here. This blog has been published in both Bulgarian and English since February 2009.

Hearings of Diplomats – List of Priorities or What?

The Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament has decided to ask the EU’s new ambassadors to China, Georgia, Japan, Lebanon and Pakistan and the EU Special Representative (EUSR) to Sudan to come in for hearings. The aim is to check for knowledge of the dossier.

Now, the committee has not demanded hearings of all the nominees for diplomatic jobs. So two interpretations are possible – either the committee members consider those particular candidates problematic, or we are looking at a list of foreign policy priorities. If the latter is true, then the committee has shown considerable insight. However, for some reason Afghanistan is missing.

Committee of the Regions 2009 Ageing Report

The 2009 Ageing Report of the Committee of the Regions provides some interesting proposals for managing the ageing of populations in the European Union. The topic is very important given the fact that 9 out of the 10 countries with the oldest population in the world are EU Member States.

The report proposes three main priorities:

(1) healthy ageing;

(2) labour market participation and productivity; and

(3) access to services and facilities.

The idea is to merge those priorities in the Europe 2020 strategy.

Priorities of the Belgian Presidency of the Council 2010

The Belgian presidency of the Council has started, and it has published its six-month programme. The objectives and priorities are:

  • a return to maintained, sustainable and balanced growth throughout the European Union;
  • fulfilling the objectives of the EU 2020 strategy;
  • a new regulatory and supervisory structure for the financial sector;
  • green jobs and white jobs (health and social services jobs);
  • objectives and performance indicators for social protection, social inclusion, pensions and healthcare;
  • negotiations for a European patent;
  • guidelines for better coordination of Member States’ policy for research, development and innovation;
  • securing the energy supply;
  • agreement on European legislation which would allow Member States to recover the external costs generated by road transport from users;
  • establishing a single asylum procedure and a uniform international protection statute by 2012
  • fight against terrorism, organised crime, illegal immigration and human trafficking;
  • legal migration will also be a priority for the Presidency.

Interestingly, the program uses the motto “Let’s put Europe back into action!”. I wonder if this has anything to do with the outgoing Spanish presidency.

Priorities of the Spanish Presidency of the Council

Spain now holds the presidency of the Council of the EU. It will work in close coordination with the other members of the trio – Belgium and Hungary, as well as with the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, and the High Representative for the Foreign and Security Policy, Mrs. Catherine Ashton.

The Spanish presidency has four main priorities:

  • Full and effective application of the Lisbon Treaty;
  • Greater co-ordination of economic policies of Member States and the approval of the European strategy for sustainable growth for 2020;
  • Reinforcement of the presence and influence of the European Union in the new world order;
  • Placing European citizens at the centre of EU policy, with initiatives designed to develop their rights and freedoms.