Thursday, December 13, 2007

Human Rights: Proclamation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights by the three European Institutions

Hans-Gert Pöttering, European Parliament President, José Manuel Barroso, Commission President, and José Sócrates, Portuguese Prime Minister and President-in-office of the EU Council, signed the Charter of Fundamental Rights in a formal ceremony at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

This event provides a legal basis for the article which refers to the Charter in the EU Reform Treaty (the Lisbon Treaty). The proclamation took place one day before the EU Heads of State or Government meet in the Portuguese capital to sign the new Lisbon Treaty.

The President of the European Parliament Hans-Gert Pöttering underlined in his speech the importance of the Charter for citizens. "Today's formal proclamation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights gives us both an opportunity and an obligation to make clear to the inhabitants of the European Union, to its almost 500 million citizens and the generations of tomorrow, just what European unification signifies. The Treaty of Lisbon which will be signed by the Heads of State and Government tomorrow confers on the Charter the same legally binding character as the Treaties themselves.

In the European Union not everything revolves around economic calculations of costs and benefits. Such calculations are important and will continue to have a bearing on our lives in the EU. First and foremost, however, we are a community of values; we put solidarity, freedom and equal rights into practice every day. These shared values, at whose heart the respect for the inviolable dignity of the individual enshrined in Article 1 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights lies, are the foundations of the European unification process.

Without this clear set of fundamental values, one which we must keep in mind at all times, the European Union has no future. We would also have no right to invoke human rights in other parts of the world if we were to fail in the task of recognising our own values as an integral part of European Union law."

Th Portuguese Prime Minister and President in office of the Council José Sócrates, started his speech by saying: "Today represents a fundamental date in the history of Europe".

PM Sócrates expressed all his satisfaction for today's ceremony. He said: "This ceremony is probably the most important one I participated in my political career". He added: "I am honoured we are proclaiming it during Portuguese Presidency."

He explained that the long process that brought to the Charter started in 2000 under Portuguese Presidency. He said: "It is an honour for my country to be associated to such an import stage of European history".

The Charter, as said by the Portuguese Prime Minister: "includes values that are part of our traditions and derive from international instruments such as the Convention on human rights". Therefore, "from today, fundamental rights become a heritage of the EU", he affirmed.

The Charter will represent a "guideline" for EU actions, according to PM Sócrates. It will guide EU foreign policy as well, "in order to ensure that all these rights are universally guaranteed", he added.

Today's ceremony shows, Mr Sócrates concluded, that "the European Union is a project of peace and democracy" and the Charter represents "our moral authority: this is the sense behind this proclamation."

Commission President José Manuel Barroso said: "Today's ceremony reaffirms the commitment we took in December 2000", when the Charter was firstly proclaimed. Anyway, he stressed that today's proclamation represents "a crucial step forward: in 2000, the Charter was not legally binding as the treaties". In fact, if the Lisbon Treaty is ratified, the Charter will have the same legal status.

Barroso then explained that the Charter brings "concrete progress for European citizens". He stressed that while, so far, these rights were recognised by the EU Court of justice on a case by case basis, the new text will provide a proper legal framework for ensuring their respect.

The Commission President also said that the Charter includes at the same time economic and social rights. Moreover, it includes what Barroso called "21st century rights", particularly the right to personal data protection and to good administration. The Union is bound to respect all these rights in any of its policies, added the Commission President, such as immigration and the fight against terrorism.

The proclamation ceremony was interrupted on several occasions by a minority of MEPs sitting towards the back of the Chamber. The minority was shouted down by the applause of the majority of MEPs. (Most MEPs stood up also during the applause).

Debate that followed the proclamation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights

Martin SCHULZ (PES, DE) said: "When I was a pupil, we were taught in school, that in the Reichstag back in the Weimar Republic, it was a common strategy to hoot down the political opponents. The parliamentary party who had implemented this kind of behaviour, was the party of Adolf Hitler. Today's occurrences have reminded me of that." He also said that the only group leader to want to go to Lisbon for the signing ceremony of the new Treaty was Jens-Peter Bonde.

Joseph DAUL (EPP-ED, FR) said in a democratic place such as the European Parliament, this type of barracking had no place. Everyone has the right to speak. This sort of behaviour is undignified.

Francis WURTZ (GUE/NGL, FR) said that he totally condemns the actions of the minority. He said his group was in favour of a referendum but this had nothing to do with the behaviour of the minority shouting in the Parliament.

Graham WATSON (ALDE, UK) said made a formal request that in future such behaviour would lead to the MEPs being evicted from the Chamber. MEPs today brought the hooligan behaviour of the football stadium into the European Parliament.

Daniel COHN-BENDIT (Greens/EFA, DE) said that the House was shocked by the behaviour of the minority, but "we should not over dramatise the situation. If there were 50 idiots in the House shouting there were 700 rational people. " Eviction was going too far, Parliaments had to deal with unruly minorities.

Brian CROWLEY (UEN, IE) said it had gone beyond what was allowable in the European Parliament

Jens-Peter BONDE (IND/DEM, DK) said that he was not anti-democratic, and "came from a different tradition". All I did was wear a t-shirt asking for a referendum in a peaceful protest. He complained that there was no consolidated version of the Treaties and therefore no one could have read it.

Diana Wallis (ALDE, UK) Vice-President chairing the sitting recalled that on 29 November the European Parliament adopted a report giving its assent to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union with 534 votes in favour 85 against and 21 abstentions.

Concerns about the exceptions on the Charter

A Protocol annexed to the Lisbon Treaty introduces specific measures for the United Kingdom and Poland establishing exceptions with regard to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and national courts for the protection of the rights recognised by the Charter.

In its resolution of 29 November, the European Parliament urged Poland and the United Kingdom to make every effort to arrive, after all, at a consensus on the unrestricted applicability of the Charter.

Content of the Charter

The European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights sets out in a single text the whole range of civil, political, economic and social rights of European citizens and all persons resident in the EU, defined as the EU's common values. The purpose of this Charter is to make those principles more visible in order to strengthen the protection of fundamental rights in the light of changes in society, social progress and scientific developments.

These provisions apply to the EU institutions and bodies and to the Member States only when they are implementing Union law. The Charter does not establish any new power for the Union.

The European Court of Justice would be, if the Lisbon Treaty is ratified by all Member States, in charge of ensuring the respect of the Charter in all acts of the European Union.

Source: European Parliament