Why do the EU and the European Parliament need to do more to promote human rights?
The European Union committed itself to promote human rights and democracy in both its internal and external polices in 2012, when it adopted the Strategic Framework and Action Plan on human rights. While this was a positive step forward, the objectives laid out in these documents need to be put into practice. The European Parliament (EP) has a significant role to play in ensuring that this happens, but it needs to strengthen its own approach to human rights and democracy issues if its activities are to become more visible, coherent and consistent, and thus more influential on EU policy and on the world stage. As the 2014 European elections approach, it is time for candidates to reflect on the EP’s engagement on human rights and democracy matters and to look at ways to enhance its role as a global actor on these issues.
Why should the European Parliament promote human rights inside the EU?
Human rights and democracy are universal issues which deserve equal attention inside EU borders as well as outside them. The EP should make it clear that a coherent and EU approach to human rights and democracy involves equal attention to internal as well as external affairs. The Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI) should regularly interact both with the Foreign Affairs Committee (AFET) as well as the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) to ensure consistency across policy areas.
How can the European Parliament raise human rights and democracy issues more efficiently with EU member states?
The EP should strive to mainstream human rights into all EU and member state policies and Members of the European Parliament should raise human rights issues during plenary meetings, at committee and delegation meetings and with EU officials from other institutions. It is particularly crucial to improve cooperation on human rights and democracy matters with the EU’s 28 member states and their national parliaments. Regular joint meetings between the EP and national parliament representatives should be organized to discuss urgent matters and real efforts should be made to coordinate national and European-level action on human rights and democracy in order to ensure coherence.
How can the European Parliament help human rights defenders?
The EP should step up contact with independent civil society and human rights defenders, particularly through its delegations and in all third country visits. EP delegations should commit to a policy of always meeting with human rights defenders and independent civil society when traveling abroad. EP delegations travelling abroad should systematically raise human rights concerns and recommendations included in relevant EP resolutions and reports.
How can the European Parliament improve its own internal structure to better mainstream human rights and democracy principles?
The EP should step up efforts to mainstream human rights and democracy principles effectively into its own structures and processes in order to ensure that they are at the core of all EP actions and policies. For this to happen, a number of structural changes need to take place within the EP:
- To ensure that human rights concerns are systematically taken into account, debated and reported on by all EP committees and delegations within their respective areas of work, every Committee and Delegation should task a Vice Chair with specific responsibility for human rights and democracy
- For the structure of the EP to reflect the primacy of human rights as guiding principles for its actions, the Sub-Committee on Human Rights (DROI) should be upgraded to a fully fledged committee with proper competence and sufficient resources
- To draw MEPs’ attention to urgency debates in plenary and ensure their attendance, the EP should consider scheduling the human rights urgency debates at an earlier time during the plenary and introducing the possibility to organize urgency debates in Brussels as a swift reaction to an urgent human rights violations, requiring the EP’s immediate attention.
How can the EP enhance transparency and accountability in the EU?
As the EU’s only directly elected institution, the EP should commit itself to the highest standards of transparency and accountability and serve as a model for all other EU institutions. In light of this, positions with a responsibility for human rights, such as the EP President, Vice President and Chairs/Vice Chairs of Committees and Delegations, should be appointed in a transparent manner. Furthermore, parliamentary committee and delegation meetings with EU officials, particularly with newly appointed heads of EU delegations, high level EEAS officials and EU Special Representatives should be held at least partially in public, to ensure that these EU officials are subjected to public scrutiny and remain accountable throughout their mandate. Finally, all votes in committee and in plenary on reports and resolutions with human rights implications should be recorded electronically to ensure that individual MEPs can be held accountable for their votes.