Europe day to day
Last week the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) and the European Commission presented reports on their respective annual activities regarding human rights during the first meeting of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE). Meeting at the beginning of the new legislature, debate at LIBE can set the tone for years to come. Unfortunately, once again we see a narrow agenda dominating the fundamental rights debate at the European Parliament — hate speech, homophobia and discrimination against LGBT persons were presented as Europe’s biggest challenges with regards to fundamental rights.
The FRA´s main discourse has not changed much since it was first established. Morten Kjaerum, Director of the Agency, focused his presentation on examples taken from the FRA’s ongoing project, “Surveying LGBT people and authorities”. This project has the aim of “providing data to enhance understanding of LGBT people experiences of discrimination and victimization”. Françoise Le Bail, European Commission Director-General for Justice, then supported the FRA’s Director, calling for greater protection against hate speech, homophobic speech, racism, and xenophobia
The European Parliament’s corridors are crowded again after the summer vacation and the first committee sessions have already taken place last week. While members have been mostly occupied with polite welcoming speeches, setting up meeting calendars and budget reviews, there has also been a push for more ‘gender thinking’ among the EU’s top level executives. The newly constituted Women’s Committee of the European Parliament opened the year by pushing for mandatory gender training and gender-oriented senior spots inside the Directorates-General (DGs).
There is no doubt that President Jean-Claude Juncker’s election on 15 July 2014 as President of the European Commission is a milestone in the evolution of the EU and that it might set the stage for a federalist turn in EU governance. Although he has denied his federalist attitude a number of times and has claimed that he does not believe that Europe can be constructed in opposition to the nation-state, his election is destined to affect, among other things, the EU’s entire approach to fundamental rights.
This is, in fact, the first time since the Lisbon Treaty entered into force that the European Parliament, having taken into account the proposal presented by the European Council, has elected the President of the Commission. In the past (and according to the previous EU constitutional framework), it was solely the European Council (i.e. the Member States) that retained the power to appoint the President of the Commission.
European top jobs are being appointed these days. On Friday, 27 June, Jean-Claude Juncker, was nominated by leaders of EU Member States to be the next President of the European Commission. Only David Cameron and Viktor Orbán — Prime Ministers of the UK and Hungary, respectively — voted against Juncker’s nomination, resulting in a 26-2 vote. His nomination must now be approved by a majority of the component members of the European Parliament (at least 376) in a vote scheduled for 16 July. If he fails to obtain a majority, a new round of consultations would be required in order to find another candidate.
Turning into the European Parliament (EP), Martin Schulz has continued his brash race to power at all costs — and has succeeded.
For the eighth time in the history of the EU, citizens went to the polls to choose their representatives in the European Parliament (EP). The newly elected Parliament will influence – within the boundaries of its increased but still limited powers – Europe’s next five years. This comes precisely at a time in which Europe has been facing an economic crisis, rising nationalism, the loss of trust in institutions and an ideological degradation of culture. Driven by a Europe-wide feeling of frustration, the elections have sounded a serious wake-up call for politicians to have an honest debate about the shape of the current EU.
These were the first EP elections since the first direct elections of 1979 that did not see an overall drop in turnout. In fact, the slogan of the elections – “this time it’s different” – was an apt description of the massive anti-establishment vote seen across Europe. Only among the younger Member States of Central and Eastern Europe did voters seem to have manifested their discontent with the EU with exceedingly low levels of participation: a mere 13% in Slovakia and 19% in the Czech Republic, for example.
In the mostly southern European countries most hit by the economic crisis and forced into bail-out programs – Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain – there was a rejection of mainstream, centrist, consensus-based parties and a swing to new, more radical, far-left parties which reject austerity outright. In northwest Europe, a region which has been relatively unaffected by the economic crisis, other countries – notably the UK, France, the Netherlands and Denmark – saw a turn to Euro-sceptic and far-right parties.