Tuesday, August 5, 2008

More on EU justice, etc.

Julien Frisch posted a comment on yesterday's item about European immigration to which I would like to respond.

My assumption was that many ordinary Europeans view the Court of Justice and the Council of Europe as 'outsiders.' Given that opinion polls show that a significant proportion of Europeans don't know the most basic facts about the EU, such as how many countries belong to it, I find it hard to believe that they are conversant about the role of either the Court or the Council of Europe (which is not an EU institution). Nor, looking at indicators such as the low turnout (by European standards) for European Parliament elections, is it easy to adduce much enthusiasm for the EU.

These indicators are related to the EU's so-called 'democratic deficit.' The EU brings many benefits to Europeans, but often fails to get the recognition it deserves. I think the public's inability to weigh in - to accept or reject EU proposals - contributes greatly to its disenchantment.

Just look at the ratification process for the Lisbon Treaty. European leaders did their best to keep their publics from actually voting on it for fear they would vote no, as the French and Dutch did on its predecessor, the Constitutional Treaty. When the Irish did vote, and voted no, the EU political elite made it clear the Irish would be punished unless they voted again and got it right.

Mr Frisch also objects to 'non-European associations' weighing in on such issues. For the record, I am a person, not an association. And, much as I am sure he has opinions on U.S. politics - I cannot believe he doesn't have one about George Bush - so do Americans on European politics. Long live the blogosphere!


Julien Frisch said...

To start with the end: I do not have anything against non-European associations or bloggers commenting on EU questions!

What I wanted to point out with this purposefully exaggerated remark is that seen from the perspective of a European citizen, interpretations by non-EU bloggers about what "ordinary" European think about the involvement of "outsiders" sound rather strange, no matter if the analysis itself is correct or not.

Furthermore, your analysis about the image of the EU and other European institutions is absolutely correct.

However, your last article on which I was commenting covered an issue on which the views of so-called "ordinary" citizens (I dislike this notion because it says that there are ordinary and non-ordinary citizens) and the views of human rights organisations luckily diverge: There cannot be enough protection of human rights, and anyone suggesting that European institutions, when trying to protect the human rights of citizens and non-citizens, are acting against the will of "ordinary" citizens has not understood the concept of human rights and human rights protection.

"Ordinary" citizens, when facing human rights abuses in their nation states, are more than happy that there are such institutions as the Council of Europe and its Court. The number of cases in Strasbourg (from all over the continent) prove that "ordinary" citizens and non-citizens very much have the feeling that it is more than good to be able to rely on institutions that do not care for nothing but their rights as human beings.

Immigrants, legal or not, are still human beings, and they deserve the same protection as everyone else, no matter if "ordinary" citizens like them or not. Your article, in the way it was written, sounded like suggesting the contrary.

Leslie Lebl said...

Hi Julien,

I think we're breaking the basic rules of the blogosphere by having a civil, informative exchange (for which I thank you) but nevertheless...

I'm happy to use some other phrase than 'ordinary' Europeans and welcome any suggestions, but would note my comments describing same are based on sources such as opinion polls.

I agree with you that protecting human rights is important, but disagree in practical terms as to how to achieve this. For example, the recent UK court decision to release Abu Qatada from jail on human rights grounds and allow him to remain in the UK, where he can continue as Al Qaeda's European ambassador, represents an abuse, not a confirmation, of human rights legislation.

The Danish legislation to which I referred aimed to stop the import of child brides to work as household slaves in Denmark - it was aimed directly at stemming an abuse of human rights.

Just for the record, my skepticism regarding supreme courts extends to my own: I do not think that the decisions of nine people, no matter how experienced, skillful, or earnest, can replace those of a democratically elected legislature. The courts must uphold the laws, not make them.