Seminar and Workshop on Advanced Issues in Law and Policy of the European Union, nafta and the wto

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5 Objectives of the Proposed New Human Rights Policy

The preceding parts of this article have briefly assessed the EU’s existing approach to human rights and examined some of the factors that underscore the need for a new human rights policy. Before developing specific policy proposals it is instructive to begin by clarifying the objectives that such a policy should be designed to meet.

Without going into the specific details, which are developed later in this analysis, the following should be the principal characteristics of a new policy:

  1. Acceptance of the fact that there is a need for a comprehensive and coherent EU human rights policy based on a clarification of the constitutional ambiguity which currently bedevils any discussion of Community action in this field;

  2. The development of more consistent linkages between internal and external policies and the promotion of greater interaction and complementarity between the two levels;

  3. The establishment of detailed, systematic and reliable information bases upon which the various actors (including Member States, the Commission, the Council, the European Parliament and civil society) can construct integrated, calibrated, transparent and effective policies;

  4. The development of a pool of knowledgeable and experienced personnel with the necessary technical and policy-making expertise in human rights, thereby overcoming the current dispersion of human and financial resources, especially within the Commission;

  5. The promotion of more effective coordination among the many Community actions, programmes and initiatives already being undertaken in the field of human rights by different Commission services so as to achieve a more coherent whole and so as to prevent duplication in this field;

  6. Changing the human rights culture of the Community legislative and administrative apparatus – in the way that has to some extent now been achieved in the field of environmental protection and, more recently, in relation to subsidiarity;

  7. The elaboration of policy approaches which bring the human rights dimensions of action under each of the three Pillars into closer alignment, while respecting the key differences in terms of Community competence, financing and decision-making processes;

  8. Enabling the European Parliament to play a more effective role in shaping human rights policy through giving it greater and more assured access to reliable information and enhanced opportunities to interact constructively with the Council and Commission;

  9. Increasing the accessibility of existing avenues for judicial vindication of human rights both through national courts and through the European Court of Justice, as well as through the development of the new judicial opportunities provided for in the Amsterdam treaty;

  10. The identification of new policy options designed to ensure that the culture and methodology of human rights are able to adapt and respond to the needs of a rapidly changing political and economic environment;

  11. Creating opportunities for more sustained consultation with non-governmental organizations, as well as civil society in its broadest sense, in all aspects of EU policy-making and, where feasible, in the implementation of those policies;

  12. Strengthening the coherence and unity of external human rights policies through the development of more principled, predictable and transparent procedures and criteria in relation to aid and its suspension;

  13. Ensuring a more effective EU role in influencing, shaping and acting as a catalyst to achieve, where appropriate, greater respect for human rights among some of the Union’s interlocutors and partners, including within multilateral fora;

  14. Facilitating a more principled and consistent European policy in response to serious violations of human rights among interlocutors and partners. Such a policy would also relate to third countries which are not covered by the two new proposed Community Regulations.

  15. Being in the vanguard of efforts to provide effective and more assured flows of humanitarian assistance, combined with an appropriate emphasis upon human rights;

  16. Supporting the work of other international institutions, particularly that of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Council of Europe and the OSCE.

6 Towards a New Approach

A Rethinking the Tasks and Institutions

There is no shortage of criticism that has been directed at the existing approach. It has been variously described by its critics as piecemeal, ad hoc, inconsistent, incoherent, half-hearted, uncommitted, ambiguous, hypocritical, and so on. Indeed, we use some of these terms ourselves elsewhere in this article in relation to specific policies.

Nevertheless, it must be emphasized that the existing policies, in their totality, are not misconceived, misguided or wholly inadequate. In fact, it is not necessary for there to be a radical departure from the policies that are currently in place. On the contrary, in many respects existing arrangements provide an appropriate basis upon which to construct the new, much-needed policy.

Stated differently, most of the important pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that are required to make up an EU human rights policy already exist in a recognizable form. What now needs to be done is to put them in their correct places and to provide the glue that is indispensable for holding them together as part of a single picture.

As a prelude to identifying the principal elements for a new policy, it is appropriate first of all to emphasize what the policy is not about. Thus, the proposed new policy:

  • is not premised on the need to recognize new rights;

  • does not depend upon future amendments to the Treaty;

  • will not significantly alter the existing institutional balance within the Union;

  • does not imply any major realignment in the relationship between the Community and the Member States; and

  • is not dependent upon a major increase in available resources.

While some changes of this nature might be desirable at some stage in the future, none of them is essential for the implementation of the principal parts of the package that is proposed below.

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