Tag Archives: EU

Watch: MEPs perform rap battle

A few weeks ago I reported on a story that was circulating about a planned rap battle in the European Parliament in an effort to win over ‘youth votes’.

It seemed too good to be true, but no…here it is.

I…am…lost…for…words!

Hat tip to Brussels based journo Andy Carling for tweeting this!

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UKIP – less popular but here to stay?

423px-Europarl_logo.svg
I have written before about why I thought that UKIP would, like other far-right groups, rise and fall in the polls. I expected the May 2014 elections to represent their high before starting to crumble before the 2015 elections.

However, a new FT/Populus poll today shows that most of those planning to vote UKIP in May are also planning on supporting the party in 2015. This could be bad news for both Labour and Conservatives in key marginal seats. The Lib Dems however would surely gain from a strong UKIP turnout in 2015 as they fight their marginal seats against divided votes.

As Lord Ashcroft pointed out last month, these findings also question the effectiveness of the proposed Tory ‘Vote UKIP get Labour’ messaging planned for the next general election. Most UKIP voters don’t care if they get Cameron or Miliband. It would appear that a ‘they’re as bad as each other’ feeling is permeating UKIP supporters.

However, the FT/Populus poll also shows support for UKIP for the May 2014 elections at a relative low of 25%. Significantly 2 percent behind the Conservatives and 6 percent behind Labour. This is a far cry from UKIP’s aim of topping the polls in May 2014.

The FT/Populus poll also spells bad news for The Green Party giving them just a 3% share of the national vote (about half the lowest vote share they secured anywhere in England and Wales in 2009)!

You can see the detailed results here.

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3 simple things the Green Party can do before the next election

The Green Party has a list of progressive policies that have been shown to be the most popular with the electorate. Despite this they have consistently failed to perform well elections.

Here are 3 simple things The Green Party could do to increase their chance of success in the up-coming May 2014 European elections:

1) Talk about issues that important to the electorate

This doesn’t mean selling out on core principles of social justice and environmentalism but simply relating them to ordinary people’s concerns and hopes.

At the top of this list (at the moment at least) has to be the economy but issues around immigration, unemployment and the NHS should all be regular features of their messaging.

issues-facing-britain-economy-preeminence

Note: The environment does not appear in the top 10.

2) Start thinking in terms of ‘voter’s feelings’ rather than policy outcomes

As I have argued elsewhere, UKIP have been soaring in the recent polls exactly because they have been able to install a general feeling amongst the electorate (despite having next to no coherent policies) about ‘standing up for Britain’.

The Green Party stands in complete contrast to UKIP in this sense – great policies but no one really knows what they stand for.

Over the coming couple of months then I hope to hear Greens talking, not about policies such ‘The Financial Transaction Tax’ or even the ‘Robin Hood Tax’, but instead about ‘principles’ such as ‘standing up for a fairer economy that puts people before big business.

3) Be bold, be seen as pro-EU

The Green Party has traditionally held quite a complex position on the EU. They opposed the UK joining the euro for example but support membership of the EU. They want an in/out referendum but are broadly an internationalist party.

In this election though The Green Party need to simplify their message to just ‘Yes to Europe, Yes to a referendum’. (this is one yes less than their current messaging). Why?

Well, for the first time in a long-time it looks like those who want to stay in the EU roughly match those who want to leave. The only difference is electorally if you pitch for the broadly pro-EU voters you only have the Lib Dems to compete against (opposed to the much better branded ‘No’ to EU UKIP).

There is a reason why the Lib Dems are branding themselves as the party of IN and that is because there are a lot of uncontested voters who strongly want the UK to stay part of the EU.

EU referendum
Oh and of course it doesn’t hurt to be seen to be trusting the electorate to make their own decisions (something which Labour have ruled out by all but ruling out a referendum)

Of course none of this replaces the basics in campaigning, the building up local parties, delivering leaflets etc etc. All it does is offer a few tips for what direction The Green Party need to be moving in. 

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Watch the full EU Nigel Vs Nick debate

In case you missed it, here is the full Nick Vs Nigel debate on the EU ahead of May’s European elections.


If you read one thing on the debate, I can strongly recommend Adam Ramsay’s article on Vice UK.

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Britain: Is it time to consider living, studying or working abroad?

It’s time for Brits to stop looking at their feet and to embrace the economic opportunities that sit just beyond our borders.

There is no way of silver-lining it, things are pretty bad in the UK at the moment. The average UK family is £1,350 worse off than when Cameron came to office as prices continue to rise faster than wages. That is for those who are in work. There are still 2.47 million people out of work and many more in insecure “flexible” contracts.

For those who consider dropping out of paid work to head back to education there are of course the £9,000 tuition fees to consider.

But, we don’t just live and work in the UK. We are also citizens of the EU and yes…also the world. All around us are opportunities if only we were capable of looking beyond our island’s borders.

To start, we are members of the EU. This gives us the right to go and work and study in any other member state (a basic right within the EU) – an opportunity that people have literally died trying to get.

Why shell out £9,000 a year tuition fees when you can study in Belgium for 835 euros a year or even in Sweden for free? At the very least why do so few UK students take advantage of the EU funded Erasmus student exchange scheme?

The British Council estimates that “just under 13,000 students in the UK took part in 2010/11, with between two and three times as many Spanish, French and German participants taking part every year”.

Equally with employment opportunities, why are more Brits not looking for jobs in Austria or Germany (with unemployment rates as low as 4.8% and 5.2 % respectively)?

I understand that this is not possible for some who have families and reasons to be geographically tied but I would be willing to bet that there also thousands who have just not even considered this as a possibility.

Take working in Brussels for example (where most of the work is undertaken in English). It is a 2 hour train journey from London (similar to Birmingham or Manchester) but few Brits consider looking for employment there for no other reason than it being “abroad”.

With massive youth unemployment, why are more graduates not looking to become a ‘stagiaire’ (paid traineeships) in Belgium?

And this is just for the EU. There is a whole world out there. I am currently enjoying the experience of living and working in Kampala, Uganda. My salary here is one of the worst I have ever earned but my quality of life is infinitely better than when I was living and working in London.

I am currently writing this in perfect sunshine and tonight I will be enjoying a beer for less than a quid. Why would more people not want to try this?

As a Brit you have huge visa benefits all around the world. We have opportunities others can only dream about but we don’t spot them because we are too busy staring at our feet.

I repeat that I understand that this geographical mobility is not possible for everyone but it is for many and we have to encourage and inspire these people to consider these opportunities.

We have become a country institutionalised to stare at our feet. We need to raise our heads up and look at the world of possibilities that sit just beyond our borders. We desperately need to be encouraging young people to raise their horizons and their expectations. If we fail to do this we are not only letting down ourselves but also the next generation.

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Key changes to the European Neighbourhood Policy in light of the Arab spring and the war in Libya

ENP

The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) was established to create a block of 16 countries bordering Europe’s land and sea that would be given beneficial trade access, visa liberalisation and financial support. In return these 16 countries agreed to a series of political and social reform.  In light of the radical changes which have swept across the EU’s borders in recent months, it is worth taking a second to look at what changes have occurred within the ENP to reflect these global events.

Firstly the ENP has introduced measure for greater involvement in resolving protracted conflicts (aka Libya). As suggested, this translates as “can we have some help in Libya please”. Specifically, change is focused on improving post conflict reconstruction efforts.

Secondly, it looks like the will be extra sources of finances made available. There will be an extra €1.25bn in EU ENP development funds for the period 2011-13. The European Investment Bank’s (EIB) lending capacity to the southern neighbours will be increased by €1bn. The European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) will extend their operations to MENA, starting with Egypt. These are big old figures not to be over looked!

Thirdly, there promises to be greater movement between these countries – but – in return for much much stricter border controls. With civilians streaming out of Libya, little else would have been accepted.

These are huge changes that could easily have gone unnoticed (especially to us Brits on our island). These changes fundamentally alter the way the EU interacts with its neighbours. My worry is quite HOW reflective they are of current events. We have war…we need allies. We have a broken country…we need reconstruction. We have a refugee problem…we need tighter borders. Do we really want a foreign policy which is quite this knee jerk (even if you do support some of the changes)?

It is amazing how quickly the EU can move when it wants to!

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Trans-Caspian Pipeline lives to fight another day

The Council of the European Union has today announced that it has adopted a decision authorising the Commission to negotiate an agreement with Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan on a legal framework for a Trans-Caspian (natural gas) Pipeline System.

I have blogged before about the problems this pipeline may hold. Anyone concerned with human rights and development in Central Asia should follow these developments closely. Will the EU live up to its human rights commitments in its trade deals?

Regardless it looks like the EU is committing itself down the energy road of reliance on large quantities of imported natural gas. A diversification away from Russia is a no brainer but holds with it infinite dangers. Interesting times ahead – watch this space.

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Our Foreign Policy is French – didn’t you notice?

Cathy Ashton

Do you know what the European External Action Service (EEAS) is? No? That’s because your English.

Let me take a second to explain what the EEAS is. The EEAS was created to assist the High Representative of the [European] Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy – Cathy Ashton. In this capacity, Ashton chairs the Foreign Affairs Council, is the vice-president of the European Commission and ensures that all the member states are acting cohesively in their Foreign Policy. In other words, she is pretty important and the work of the EEAS is key to supporting her and enabling it all to happen. There is a continuous battling of position between the Member States to ensure they have well placed supporters throughout the organisation. It would appear the French (for once) have won a battle.

This last week saw 29 new appointments made to the EEAS – 9 of which were French, 2 British, 2 Italian, 2 Danish etc. You can spot the issue here. Although I am not that fussed, it does make me chuckle that no one in the UK seemed to pick up on the fact that these appointments took place let alone comment on how they might affect our foreign policy. Through recent appointments
we now have French heads of delegation to Turkey, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cambodia, Fiji, Burkina Faso and Kazakhstan.

It’s time for the UK (the residents included) to wake up and smell the bacon. The EU post Lisbon is the only player in town when it comes to Foreign Policy. Yes national policy (especially of the big three UK, Germany and France) will guide the EU’s foreign policy but unless we start to act seriously within the EU we will lose strategic ground to other member states who have competing objectives. We should be celebrating that we have a Brit at the top of the EU, instead this government spends their time ignoring her and attempting to undermine her. Like it or not Hague, she is more powerful than you!

Am I fussed about 9 more French diplomats? Not really. Would the eurosceptic right be up in arms if they were not too blinded to even notice what was happening? Probably.

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The ban of the incandescent light bulb – Draconian tokenism or well thought out policy?

It is now illegal throughout the EU to manufactur 60-watt incandescent light bulbs. This is an effort to encourage (force?) people to use energy efficient bulbs in order to help reduce our CO2 footprints. Is this a good idea or the EU being too draconian again?

The first thing to point out is that it won’t actually affect most people. To illustrate, hands up if you noticed that the 100-Watt or 75-Watt incandescent light has ceased to be produced for quite a while now? Exactly, if you don’t notice something is no longer there then it can’t be that important to you. All those who protest this piece of policy, remind me of those boyfriends when they suddenly find out their ‘favourite’ t-shirt had been thrown away by their girlfriend 6 months previously.

Yet, there are those such as Labour MP Sheila Gilmore who claim that these ‘new’ (and of course they are not new their design is just not hundreds of years old like Edisons) have detrimental health affects such as causing migraines. It is estimated by some that these new bulbs will have a detrimental affect on 2 million people, so the daily mail tells us. Even if this is true (and I would question what is deemed a detrimental affect) then the potential health consequences that may occur if the ban is implemented is minimal in comparison to the potential health consequences if we do not take measures to tackle climate change (at this point I would encourage anyone who hasn’t to read my blog on the human impact of climate change).

Ahh, but (I hear you cry) – by banning lightbulbs you are not going to tackle climate change. I would concede this point – you will not. What you will do though is reduce our total carbon footprint which will reduce the inevitable detrimental consequences of climate change. I have said it a million times before and I will say it again – climate change is not something that will either happen or not happen, it is something that IS happening. We are just trying to reduce the negative consequences by keeping average global temperature increases to a minimum. In other words what we experience will be a lot worse if we heat this planet up by 5 degree from 1990 levels than if we stuck to more modest 1.5 degree mark.

By banning incandescent light bulbs we will do this in a manner that has minimal negative consequences.

Every piece of social policy has negative consequences – there is no such thing as a perfect piece of social policy. The smoking ban for example (a piece of policy I strongly support) is A) illiberal, B) contributing to the closure of countries pubs (although not to the degree the tobacco lobby would suggest) and C) has forced some smoking bars to close costing communities central meeting places. Yet, in the grand scheme of things we can see it is broadly having a positive affect on society. I would argue – so will the ban on the manufacture (not use) of the incandescent light bulb.

Simply, this piece of policy, although not perfect, doesn’t cause significant harm – but has the potential to help us remove the threat of a potentially very serious form of harm. In my mind at least, this means it can be justified.

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Broken promises – the coalition is back tracking over its commitment to ban illegal timber

Every year 19,000 square kilometres of Amazon is flattened

The coalition agreement stated, “We will introduce measures to make the import or possession of illegal timber a criminal offence”. Now however, the Government has said it is content to follow weaker EU legislation and simply ban illegal timber from entering the EU. This would not affect the legality of buying/selling or owning illegal timber.

Prior to the General Election Greg Barker explained the limitations of the EU approach as follows: “It is clear that action at European level will not go far enough. It [the new EU measure] lacks an explicit overarching prohibition on illegal timber in the EU market. With no explicit prohibition, there is no incentive to exclude illegal timber from entering the market; there is only an incentive to prove that the company concerned has tried to prevent it. Furthermore, the regulation applies only to those companies that place timber and timber products on the market for the first time, rather than all operators involved in the distribution chain. Loopholes are therefore created whereby all downstream companies-the majority of EU traders-are exempt from even the bare minimum of due diligence requirements. A prohibition on illegal timber needs to apply to all companies that make timber available to the market, whatever their position in the supply chain.”

So if a Government minister can see this, and the coalition agreed last May to go further than the EU by prohibiting the possession of illegal timber then why has the Government decided to back track on the issue? Answers on a postcard please!

I am delighted to see that Caroline Lucas MP has kept this issue on the agenda by drafting an EDM highlighting how disappointing this move is. Disappointingly however, only 78 MPs have signed up to it.

The UK Government has a responsibility to push this as far as possible. The current EU legislation will not stem the flow of illegal timber, let alone in the time frame or quantity that our fight against climate change and deforestation demands.

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The EU still has blood on its hands as it continues to trade in tools of torture

Companies from within the EU are still supplying sodium thiopental

The European Union and its member states are responsible for countless deaths and acts of brutality. It will continue to be morally, and legally responsible for as long as companies within the EU are allowed to trade in equipment that is used for torture and murder.

Amnesty International has recently reported that a UK company is trading in a drug called sodium thiopental which is used in US for judicial executions. As recently as October 2010 this drug was used in the execution of Jeffrey Landrigan in Arizona. This sequence of events is not only morally deplorable but also illegal.

Council Regulation (EC) No 1236/2005 effectively banned the trade in tools of torture. This included equipment that could be used for capital punishment. I have blogged before how this legislation has not been effectively implemented, and it saddens me to highlight that little has improved.

The reason the European Commission has not enforced these rules is based predominantly to do with lack of resources. Simply, it is not seen as a priority. This is why Amnesty International has called on the President of European Commission to:

  • Ensure that sufficient Commission resources are given to following up on implementation and revision of the Regulation
  • Update the Regulation’s annexes, to include controls on those drugs currently being sourced in the EU for executions in the USA, in addition to those items listed in the Amnesty International/ Omega Research Foundation report of March 2010 
  • Organise a meeting of trade experts from across the EU (the Committee on Common Rules for Exports) to take place as soon as possible, to discuss the use of drugs in executions in the USA and to agree on a change to the Regulation to include a new end-use ‘catch-all’ clause.

You can help fight this barbaric trade by signing the petition here.

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Why William Coles articles are getting ridiculous – In defence of the EU

William Coles, blogger for PoliticsStudent and " a bound Thatcherite and a Eurosceptic"

William Coles who writes for Politics Students has written a piece entitled “The EU: It’s getting ridiculous now” where he outlines some of the most crass myths about EU membership. Here I will offer a quick response to some of his points.

He states, “A constantly repeated fact about Britain’s membership of the EU is that the cost totals at £50,000,000 per day…why spend it on our membership of this union? That public money should be doing better things such as going towards schools, the NHS and local authority services

I say this misses the point (for I do not deny that our membership of the EU is expensive). This point he misses is the fact that the net contribution that our membership gives to our economy is massive. As David Mackie, Chief European Economist at JP Morgan has said: “In the great scheme of things, our net contributions [to the EU] are so small as to be trivial. There is no doubt in my mind that the net benefit of membership of the EU is by many orders of magnitude above our net contribution to the EU budget.”

William Coles goes onto say, “75% of British laws are made outside of the UK in the European ‘Parliament’. To add insult to this injury, the British voice in Europe is worth around 11% of the total number of MEPs. This means that many EU policies affect ordinary people within Europe in the form of EU regulations that attempt to impose a single standard across Europe

I say that this is inaccurate. Our friends over at Liberal Conspiracy do a great job at illustrating that his (and UKIP’s) estimate of “75% of laws are made in Brussels” is a huge over estimate and that no one really knows the true figure.  The politically independent House of Commons library though puts the figure at 9.1%. Who would you trust, UKIP or the House of Commons library? For a reasonable argument on this figure – check out this blog. Equally, statements like “laws made in the European Parliament” smack of a lack of basic understanding of the European Union and the decision making process.

To finish his unconnected ramblings he throws in “When John Hirst (A man who bludgeoned his landlady to death with an axe) took the UK Government to court because he believed that prisoners should have the right to vote; his wish was granted

This (as he acknowledges) has nothing to do with the EU and everything to with the Council of Europe. He offers no explanation (other than to support his tirade) of why this whole paragraph was included.

He finishes by saying, “The Prime Minister has said that we in Britain should try to change the EU rather than leave it; I say to him, how on earth can we do so with only 11% of the European voice“.

Once again he fails to acknowledge the UK Government’s role in the Council, Commission, EEAS etc… Anyone who honestly doesn’t think the UK is an influential actor within the EU clearly has not spent anytime engaging with any of the EU institutions.

Still interested? Here are my reflections on why the UK has such an antagonistic relationship with the EU.

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Can the EU stand up against French Roma deportations?

There are approximately 10 million Roma across the EU.  They face high levels of discrimination across Europe.  They are consistently in the highest percentages of unemployed, illiterate and unhealthy.  This has come about, not because of poverty but decades of discrimination and human rights abuses.  If you are a Roma born in the EU your life expectancy will be 10 years less than the average EU citizen. 

France took this discrimination to a new level when it ordered a clampdown against Roma or Gypsy immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria.  This manifested in the expulsion of over 1,000 Roma and the demolition of over 100 camps. This action has been widely condemned by the UN, the EU and by the opposition within France.  A leaked internal memo from the French government gave instructions to prioritise action against Roma.  The European Commission has started action against Paris. 

The European commission has given the French government until the 15th October to rectify its violation of the European Treatise (notably in this case ensuring the right of free movement across the Union). The onus they said was on Paris to prove that it was not discriminating against Roma.  There are now two interesting things to look out for.

1) What will Paris do in the coming weeks?  Can it prove it was not discriminating? I doubt it.  Therefore, will it just shun the Commissions request?

2) Will the Commission follow-up its threats of disciplinary proceedings? Will this have a massive backlash from Paris next time they need to negotiate an issue? We can already see the disruption this has caused in the latest EU summit.

It is interesting times ahead.  It is also an optimistic time.  So often the EU lives up to its commitments around human rights abroad (although not always) and yet ignores internal strife.  It is refreshing and extremely positive to see Reading come out and condemn France’s despicable action. Will the Commission follow through with any threats? Will any of this change the deeply engrained discrimination against the Roma? I doubt it, but it appears to be a step in the right direction.

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Are you funding cluster bombs?

A report by Pax Christi reported that 15 financial institutions within the UK funded cluster bombs to the tune of 800 million pounds through either investment or loans.  These included HSBC, Royal bank or Scotland and Barclays.  Cluster bombs have been illegal to trade since October 2008.  Yet, major financial institutions across the EU still provide funding to producers of these horrific weapons. 

If you go and ask your bank they will categorically deny that they fund the trade of cluster weapons.  You must push them to end all financial support to the producers of cluster bombs, not just the Trade in these weapons. If they fob you off, threaten to leave and withdraw all of your savings from their bank.  There are plenty of banks that do not fund cluster bombs (see Triodos or Coop).

Have you ever wondered why banks offer students and young people such amazing offers on their accounts? It is because people like me; take 8 years to get around to leaving that bank.  Brand loyalty! It is up to us, as free thinking individuals to stand up and state that it is not acceptable for banks to use our money in such a despicable way.

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We do not need to ban the burqa

Lord Pearson of UKIP, what a berk!

Cecilia Malmstroem, the EU Home Affairs Commissioner said yesterday that “I do not see the need for a European law on the burqa” when asked if there could be a ban across all of the EU one day.  This comes in reflection to a number of Member States moving draft and first reading of bills through their parliaments.

Belgium is perhaps the closet to a full ban of the burqa. In April this year, they voted through the lower house a full ban.  It now just needs to be passed by their senate.  In France, who has the biggest Muslim population in the EU, the cabinet has approved a draft law to fully ban the burqa.  It has already banned it from public spaces such as schools as it is a “religious symbol”.  Just last week the Spanish (who currently hold the EU presidency) upper house approved a motion calling on their president to ban the burqa.

It is reassuring then, that at the very least, the EU Commission considers this to be a Member State issue, and not something to be tackled in Brussels.

It is curious to ponder for a short period why such emphasis is placed on the burqa.  The first commonly quoted argument against the burqa is “suspicion”.  “How do we know who is under this veils?”…”it breads suspicion if you cannot see someone’s face”.  These arguments can be equally applied to face paints, balaclavas, full face helmets, cosmetic surgery or pretty much anything else that alters or hides away someone’s face.  Another common argument you often is hear is that it is oppressive to women, that they should be “forced” into wearing veils.  Lord Pearson (UKIP) once famously stated that the burqa were “is incompatible with Britain’s values of freedom and democracy” and it is “oppressive to women”.

The problem with this argument is that it removes all sense of agency from the individuals.  It assumes that these girls and women, do not, and cannot choose to wear a burqa.  Although there are clear cases where this is the case, it has to be noted that a significant number of women choose to wear a burqa.  If, a universal ban is implemented within a country (or even worse a continent), then we slip down a very worrying slope about the state setting standards about what is, and isn’t acceptable, for it’s citizens to wear.  For me, the argument is not about whether a women should be able to wear a burqa or not; it is about why some women feel forced into wearing it.  This question will not be addressed by banning it. To empower women by criminalizing their action is absurd.

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Brussels trades in tools of torture

Metal thumb-cuffs are among the tools of torture highlighted in the report © Robin Ballantyne / Omega Research Foundation

Companies across the EU have little restraint put upon them to not trade in instruments that can be used for torture.  European companies are selling electronic sleeves that deliver massive electronic shocks to those who are forced to wear them,” thumb cuffs” and other barbaric instruments. 

This is happening despite a ruling being in place since 2006 with outlaws such action.  It is illegal for European companies to trade in policing and security equipment designed for torture.  Several European states however, have failed to implement these rules.  This, in reality, means that are economies are being funded through illegal sales of torture equipment.  Does anyone else feel a little uncomfortable about this?

The Czech Republic and Germany were both named and shamed by an Amnesty International report highlighting the severity of this issue.  Amnesty maintain that “Between 2006 and 2009, the Czech Republic issued export licenses covering shackles, electric shock weapons and chemical sprays to six countries where police and security forces had previously used such equipment for torture and other ill-treatment”.  Germany it alleges “issued similar licenses to three such countries for exports of foot-chains and chemical sprays”.   This is active government and business lead support for Torture. Only 7 EU states have fulfilled their commitments under the legislation.  To help with your maths, this means 20 Member States are falling short.

The EU, once again, has the highest of standards when it comes to rhetoric around human right, but too often falls miserably short in up-holding its commitments.  Sadly, this pattern is extenuated when big business is involved. The European Commission must show it can stand up to big business on this issue.

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Iran executes 2 opposition leaders – how many more will follow?

A supporter of the Iranian opposition. Photo thanks to SIR (Flickr)

Today, the Iranian authorities have executed the first two people connected with the post-election violence.  Mohammad Reza Ali Zamani and Arash Rahmanipour are being executed for “trying to topple the Islamic Regime” and “for membership of armed opposition groups”. 

I have blogged before about the human rights situation in Iran after the elections of June 2009 (see https://stevehynd.wordpress.com/2010/01/19/fac-and-iran-the-time-for-ashton-to-prove-herself/).  Worryingly there are hundreds more detained after the elections that are facing torture and arbitrary detention.  There are reports of torture, including sexual abuse and rape being used against detainees.  According to recent reports at least 5 of these prisoners are now facing the death penalty. 

I wonder, am I just tired, or is there no chance of things improving any time soon in Iran? They are happy to ignore the EU (and all its Member States) and the US is in a diplomatic no-mans land.  What’s the answer…an Iranian revolution – take 2? It seems unlikely (and quite undesirable).  Before I really give up, I will wait and see what happens in the lead up to, during, and after the UPR process (http://www.upr-info.org/-Iran-.html).  It looks like the UPR is the only international mechanism that Iran has not openly ignored. 

To keep up-dated about the disappearances, detentions and executions have a look at the Guardian’s regularly up-dated spread sheet: http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2010/jan/28/iran-dead-detained-protests-elections-spreadsheet

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“FAC” and Iran – The time for Ashton to prove herself.

Recent Violence in Iran, Photograph thanks to Doug20022 (Flickr)

On the 25th Jan 2010, Cathy Ashton (High Representative of the Union’s Foreign and Security Policy) chairs her first Foreign Affairs Council (‘FAC’ formally known as ‘GAERC’s).  This is her, and “Post-Lisbon-EU’s” chance to stand up and show that they can act coherently in this interim period and perform as a global player. Just because everything in the Lisbon treaty is not operational does not mean the EU cannot and should not act as a global player.

On the council there are some agenda points that should be easy for the EU to draw up some strong council conclusions on.  Iran and Somalia are both examples of situations with deteriorating human rights situations where a strong external voice could bring about real change. I will briefly look at the situation of Iran to illustrate this.

There has been a human rights crisis in Iran since the disputed presidential election in June 2009. The Iranian authorities have responded to the ensuing demonstrations with the arbitrary detention of demonstrators, human rights defenders, journalists and opposition figures. Torture and other ill-treatment are widely reported, non-violent demonstrations have been met with excessive use of force leading to unlawful killings.  There are now signs that the Iranian authorities may soon start executing people in connection with the post election events.

Iran, however is in an internationally sensitive position (more so than usual) with the up-coming UN Universal Periodic Review process and the up-coming UN Human Rights Council (1-26th March).  Iran has recently sent the defiant message of refusing to accept a European Parliament delegation.  Iran knows however, that they can afford to do this for as long as they are respectful of the main power base of the EU for Common Foreign and Security Policy in the EU (The Council and now Baroness Ashton).  If, Ashton pushes for really strong conclusions in this up-coming FAC then it will leave Iran in a really tricky situation.  Do they ignore Ashton, and the EU’s new structures (possibly damaging future relations) or do they implement the (what will probably be ‘modest’) human rights proposals put forward by the FAC.

The FAC and Ashton must include some human rights language in their conclusions.  As a minimum this must call for the UN Special Rapporteurs on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions to be allowed access to Iran.  If they really wanted to be brave they could mention; the excessive use of the death penalty, the routine use of torture, the blanket oppression of the freedom of expression, assembly and association or even the on-going violence used by security forces. 

This is the first real big test for Ashton (as opposed to announcing relief aid to Haiti – which according to some commentators she managed to screw up).  We need a strong performance by Ashton to bring on board all the member states to push for some sort of human rights language in the council conclusions.  We will wait and see if this materialises.

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The EU’s Foreign Affairs and the implications of the Lisbon Treaty

Shimon Peres meets Spanish Prmie Minister Zapatero. Photo thanks to Israel's ministry of Foreign Affairs

Today a work colleague heroically explained and clarified the implications of the Lisbon Treaty on the EU’s Foreign Affairs. I warn you now…this is a complicated issue but I will do my best to explain it in the clearest possible way.

Before Lisbon (which came into force on the 1st December 2009), the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP – this is the same as saying foreign affairs) was part of the “second pillar” (for an explanation of the pillar system see the wikipedia page). It was nearly all done between national governments and any decisions were taken by unanimity. There was a very limited role for the European Parliament. The EU’s voice for foreign affairs was the Troika (made up of the presidency, high representative/council secretariat and the Commission). The Presidency was responsible for putting out demarches, representing the EU at the UN/OSCE etc… It also chaired all the council working groups and the GAERC.

Post Lisbon, things look a little different. The pillar system has been scrapped. Unlike most other areas of EU life, national governments kept in the unanimity clause for decision making (this means that member states still have a veto). The EU’s voice has been condensed to just the High Representative (assisted by the European External Action Service EEAS). The High Representative is also responsible for all the stuff the presidency was responsible for before (like chairing working groups and sending out demarches). Clear…

There are of course, a big long lists of buts…

The transition between what we had before Lisbon and after Lisbon is not going to happen overnight. It has already started (on the 1st Jan 2010) but will not become fully operational until at least 31st June 2011 – just before the Polish presidency. The High Representative has not yet planned anything for the EEAS. She has to submit her plans by April 2010. Until then, there is no EEAS. This means that the next three Presidencies (Spanish, Belgium, Hungarians) are all going to be “transition presidencies”.

This means, that although what we will get at the end will be clearer, more democratic and easier to follow, there risks being great confusion over the coming 18 months as these plans begin to become grounded. This means, that now, more than ever is the time to get engaged and work for a better structure to ensure that the EU lives up to its commitments to human rights, development and democracy. If we do not engage, we risk inaction in these coming months and ineffective structures after that.

Is this clear for everyone?

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Celebrating Human Rights Day in the centre of Europe

Today, the 10th December, marks International Human Rights Day.  All around the world people have come together to celebrate the anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).  I personally spent part of the day outside of the European Commission alongside Amnesty International highlighting the intrinsic relationship between the EU and human rights.  

Sometimes, it is easy to underestimate the role of the EU in protecting human rights.  It is easy to forget that the EU was founded as a union of principle set up to protect and advance these fundamental rights.  I opened this blog with a comment piece on the EU and Uzbekistan highlighting how the EU can have a detrimental effect on human rights.  Overwhelmingly however we can see that the EU has advanced the adoption of universal human rights through its work. 

The EU pushes human rights on a number of levels, through enlargement, trade agreements, foreign policy, neighbourhood strategies, strategic partnerships and in direct dialogues.  The EU has got a commitment main-streamed throughout nearly all of its work to further human rights.  What we need however, is a renewed commitment to making these commitments a reality.   Too often we can see human rights being sidelined because of other commitments whether it is energy security, trade or defence. 

I have written before that without common values the EU is reduced to a large lumbering block of countries.  It is only through shared values such as human rights that it draws any political strength.  If the EU wants to maintain its position in global affairs it must unite behind these shared values.

For more information on how the EU affects human rights, have a look at:

http://www.amnesty-eu.org/static/documents/2009/EU_and_Human_Rights_Making_the_Impact_on_People_Count.pdf

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