Select Committee on European Union Tenth Report

CHAPTER 3: Fundamental Rights

Freedom versus security?

10.  Many witnesses criticised the Hague Programme for placing undue emphasis on security considerations at the expense of the respect for fundamental rights. ILPA argued that the Programme was characterised by a "securitarian" approach to the movement of persons,[14] while Professor Guild drew attention to the dangers for human rights that linking the internal and the external dimension of the EU's JHA policy might entail.[15] The Hague Programme does contain a specific section on fundamental rights, and this was welcomed by the Government.[16] However, according to Amnesty International, in spite of these references, "there is too much of a vacuum in the substance of the programme as to how the stated ambition is to be realised" and a growing risk of a one-sided emphasis on "security" at the expense of "justice" and "freedom".[17]

11.  The content of the Hague Programme appears to justify some of these criticisms. Its main novelty in policy terms is the call for greater exchange of police data and the need to improve surveillance and document security. Large parts of it are devoted to police co-operation and the fight against terrorism, and repeated calls are made to improve efficiency in police co-operation, prosecutions and border controls. Protective elements (such as the protection of fundamental rights, the role of the proposed new Fundamental Rights Agency and the role of the European Court of Justice) are not covered in any detail and appear to be rather peripheral to the Programme. Finally, in comparison to the Tampere Conclusions, there is a striking lack of ambition in "freedom" provisions, such as EU citizenship rights, anti-discrimination measures, the fight against racism, and rights for third country nationals legally resident in the EU. This emphasis on security may be explicable in the light of recent events, but it is important that measures to protect citizens' rights are not sidelined in the implementation of the Hague Programme. We urge the Commission and Member States to give full weight to the need to protect fundamental rights when developing and implementing the five-year Action Plan for JHA.

The Fundamental Rights Agency

12.  Following a decision of the European Council in December 2003, the Hague Programme calls for the transformation of the Vienna Centre for Monitoring Racism and Xenophobia into an EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA). The exact role of the Agency is not clear. The Commission has launched a consultation on the establishment of the Agency raising a number of questions including:

13.  Baroness Ashton said that the Government welcomed the creation of a Fundamental Rights Agency with the role of gathering information and providing advice to EU institutions: it would, in the Minister's view, fill a gap "as there is not any institution that advises the EU itself on what it is doing".[19] The Minister stressed that the Government envisaged a role for the Agency in the context of the EU legal framework and not in evaluating individual Member States.[20] The Government would be prepared to examine the possibility of the Agency's intervening as a third party in cases before the European Court of Justice, but would wish to clarify what was meant by "intervention".

14.  Notwithstanding the express commitment in the Hague Programme to the creation of the Agency, Amnesty International was sceptical of the commitment of the EU to protect and promote human rights through the FRA. Amnesty noted that over the past five years the European Council had been unwilling to acknowledge and address human rights problems within the EU and argued that the proposal to create the FRA did not show real willingness to address these issues.[21] Amnesty also argued that the inclusion in The Hague Programme of the Fundamental Rights Agency proposal left the present position unchanged and did not address the pressing question of collective responsibility at EU level for actual and potential human rights violations in Member States.[22]

15.  We believe that the establishment of a Fundamental Rights Agency could be beneficial for the respect and promotion of human rights by the EU institutions and by Member States when applying EU law. Careful consideration must be given, however, to the role and powers of the Fundamental Rights Agency, in order to avoid wasteful duplication of work between the EU and the Council of Europe. The latter has well established mechanisms for monitoring human rights compliance, in particular through the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the post of European Human Rights Commissioner.

14   p 38. Back

15   p 28. Back

16   p 13. Back

17   p 23. Back

18   The potential role and powers and of the Fundamental Rights Agency were recently debated in the House of Commons (Official Report, 2 February 2005, cols. 251ff WH). Back

19   Q 52. Back

20   Q 56. Back

21   p 23. Back

22   Ibid. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2005