European Civic Forum

A state of democracy: towards citizen rights protection in the EU

In the past five years people across the EU have seen large scale attacks on social and cultural rights, discrimination, attacks and violence against minorities, mass surveillance and challenges to democratic rights. Of particular concern have been the on-going threats to democratic rights in Hungary, leading in 2013 to the Tavares report presented to the European Parliament, outlining options for addressing EU member states that fail to respect the EU’s fundamental values listed in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union.

Hungary is far from being the only EU Member State where fundamental rights are in danger however, with other high profile examples in recent years including the UK’s mass surveillance programmes, anti-protest laws enacted in Spain, and the forced eviction of Roma in Bulgaria and France.

The most recent example of the Polish government’s moves against media freedom and judicial independence unfortunately perfectly illustrate the current challenges. Limitations to the independence of the judiciary undermining the system of checks and balances and violations of the constitution, restrictions on the autonomy of the public media and a challenge to basic individual rights are direct threats to the values lying at the heart of European democracy.

The way these values are uphold within the design and implementation of both EU and domestic policies and legislation is rather problematic and worrying. And in both cases, citizens lack proper tools and mechanisms to have a real impact on policy making or stand in defence of their rights.

We are currently facing a double dilemma, as European democracy is at stake both when EU policies don’t illustrate the values enshrined in the Treaties or their making process is too distant from the people, and when attacks to these values by Member States undermine the mutual trust needed to establish and area of freedom, security and social justice.

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     When facing such challenges, the EU’s main responses have been through Article 11 TEU and its mechanisms to      encourage citizen participation in its policy development processes, and Article 7 TEU, allowing the Union to react to    systematic threats to fundamental values by Member States. It is clear however that these processes are not enough.  Participation tools are often weak or non-existent, denying citizens of the EU the opportunity to engage in the EU’s  work, while Article 7 and its pre-processes are unlikely to be used.

A number of proposals have been made to close this gap and build EU oversight of Member States that violate fundamental rights and values. However these proposals have so far heavily leant towards technocratic or political decisions rather than citizen participation.

European Alternatives and the European Civic Forum propose something new in the way to address the democratic challenges and the threats to fundamental rights in the EU is the same – more participation, more dialogue and placing the citizen at the heart of European policy making. Our report makes a number of recommendations to the European institutions to achieve this, under the following areas:

  • Putting citizens’ rights and the common good at the centre of European policies
  • Becoming a driving force in creating a more enabling environment for participation
  • Building a clear and structured framework for regular dialogue with civil society
  • Putting the respect and the promotion of the fundamental values of the Union and the core European requirements of democracy and the rule of law at the forefront of the Institution’s actions
  • Establishing participatory mechanisms and tools to secure rights protection throughout Member States
  • Protecting the rights – including the right to participation – of third country nationals

The full report, including the full recommendations, can be downloaded here.

Call for EU action to safeguard Democracy and fundamental rights

We stand with the people of Poland who marched this week-end in defence of democracy and European values. We are concerned that adopted and proposed legislation of the Polish government undermines fundamental rights and freedoms. This includes: limitations to the independence of the judiciary undermining the system of checks and balances and violation of the constitution, restrictions on the autonomy of the public media and a challenge to basic individual privacy which lies at the heart of European democracy. Many protesters have recently highlighted how a series of new proposals would threaten their core rights and freedom and have marched to the office of the President.

In this context, we welcome the quick reaction of the European institutions towards recent developments in Poland, especially the decision taken by the European Commission to activate the “Rule of law mechanism” to monitor clear indications of systemic threat and, engage in dialogue with its government to remedy to the situation and, ultimately, apply sanctions if needed, under the ‘article 7 procedure’.

The European institutions should now ensure consistent and systematic monitoring on the state of fundamental rights and democratic values in EU member States in a period when these rights are questioned by many governments, as suggested for example in the European Parliament 2013 resolution on the Situation of fundamental rights: standards and practices in Hungary . We are concerned about Hungary in its disregard for core freedoms and the failure of the European Union to act robustly to defend fundamental rights in this country. We also think the European institutions should scrutinize and engage in dialogue about measures recently taken or announced in the UK, Denmark, France, Belgium and Spain to reduce the right of protest and limit the ability to engage in lawful campaigning, to weaken judicial oversight and the right to privacy, as well as the right to asylum.

We stand with civil society and show solidarity with organisations and movements of citizens in Poland, Hungary and elsewhere, taking to the streets in legitimate protest against their government’s reduction of civil liberty. Finally, w e will continue to work in partnership with local organisations for the defence of a Europe of freedom and democracy.

 – We call on the European institutions:

to put at the forefront of their action, as Guardian of the Treaties, the respect and the promotion of the fundamental values of the Union and the core European requirements of democracy, fundamental rights and the rule of law

 – We call on the European Commission:
to develop a regular review of fundamental rights and values in all EU member States with the involvement of civil society through the provision of reports and hearings to ensure transparency of the process and an inclusive dialogue to ensure a consistent use of the “Rule of law mechanism” also for Hungary, and in any Member State when needed;

– We call on the European Parliament:
to adopt in its own forthcoming initiative report on an EU mechanism on democracy, rule of law and fundamental rights a stringent and transparent proposal for the review of the implementation of fundamental rights through country reports.

– We call on the European Council:
to put urgently on its agenda a debate on the respect of the Union’s fundamental values, state of democracy and the rule of law also as a response by concerns raised by the UN and the Council of Europe.

For more details about the opinions and activities of CSE members in relation to this issue visit Civil Society Europe website.

Europe by people – the future of everyday living!

The Netherlands will preside over the European Union for six months, starting January 1st 2016. Over twenty thousand politicians and civil workers will swarm our capital. But it won’t be all about politics. For over six months Amsterdam will be a cultural capital and inspiring example for our society, by providing solutions for everyday living and being a canvas on which creatives and citizens can paint a picture of Europe’s future.

European Cultural Foundation (ECF), Netwerk Democratie and Pakhuis de Zwijger are organising a series of events on democratic and cultural renewal in Europe from a citizen’s perspective. More and more urban communities are confronted with urgent challenges on a daily basis. Many European cities are losing their cultural identity to gentrification processes due to commercial interests. Migration puts new pressures on cities but also offers opportunities to re-think themselves. This debate series explores different city policies and alternative practices which are reinvigorating democracy and transforming our cities and regions for the common good. We will meet people who are part of a growing movement of urban citizen co-development who are tackling issues on urban planning, cultural community initiatives, safeguarding and preservation of public space and participatory governance.

More information can be found on the events’ official website: http://europebypeople.nl/programmeseries/new-democracy.

Time to declare a state of Democracy

“Rule of law needs extra attention” – this is not an article or a call for action launched by civic activists or NGOs, but the very words pronounced by Frans Timmermans himself very recently, during a citizens’ dialogue in The Hague.

This first quote of the year mirrors exactly the multiple warnings sent by NGOs, whether they act in member states as in Hungary, in Poland, or at European and global levels. While Orban government in Hungary repeatedly and systematically threatened the very principles of solidarity and fundamental rights over the last years, a new conservative actor burst with a similar attitude onto the European scene. The concept of “illiberal democracy” put into practice by Mr. Orban has a dramatic extension with Poland. The new government run by the Law and Justice Party who won the October 2015 elections has already started dismantling the independence of the judiciary and pressing on the capacity of the Constitutional court to play its role as in a democratic State, and is about to muzzle public media, considered as too much critical of the new government. Izabela Kloc, a Polish MP, told, not ashamed at all by such a direct attack to the freedom of media that “in a parliamentary democracy, it is unacceptable that [public] media only criticise the work of the government”.

Facing such worrying trends which put a serious threat on European Democracy, the response of the European institutions is still lacking serious impact. While the European Parliament asked several times to investigate and also activate the Rule of Law mechanism as regards Hungary, the European Commission chose arguing on technical issues and case by case, to finally end up concluding in early December 2015 that “no systemic threat to democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights in Hungary, although it has brought several procedures against it for infringing EU laws”. Concerning the Polish case, the Commission seems to take some first steps to discuss the issue at least. It has now to be confirmed that the issue will be considered seriously.

Beyond the threats coming from Hungary and Poland, the ways the Greek economic crisis and the refugee routes to Europe were managed, showed again the weakness of the European Union when it comes to Democracy and Fundamental Rights in Europe. These weaknesses regarding the very values claimed by the EU project fed a rise of xenophobic and racist speeches and acts.

In our view, beyond the welcome mobilisation of those who promote tolerance and mutual understanding, such as religious and humanist forces, EU institutions should rely on civil society organisations which follow the situation closely on the ground and develop into practice the values of solidarity in the various fields of their action.

Therefore, we wish the year 2016 brings about more dialogue and better cooperation on the side of the European institutions. As they say: 2016, No business as usual! We take the word for.

Citi-Rights – claim your rights

A vast gap exists between the rights guaranteed by the EU and the exercise of these rights. Unclear laws, disempowerment or fear of reprisal can prevent people from knowing and enjoying their rights.

This reflection is shared not only by the European Civic Forum members, but also by many other European networks, such as European Alternatives. This is what led this network composed of activists, intellectuals, artists, etc. to implement the Citi-Rights project, together with the ECF and other organisations.

Together, we want to look at how, when and where people in the EU can individually and collectively protect and advance rights. We also want to see where they are limited from exercising their rights and how transnational collaboration can imagine and build a future where rights are actively protected.  The project has several components: researching citizen rights in the EU, teaching about rights in schools and universities and drafting EU policy proposals and providing trainings for civil-society activists to improve their capacity to protect and extend rights.

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 These trainings, the CREATE I REACT programme seeks to build on the momentum of activists, artists, tech-  developers and citizen movements across Europe to work collaboratively to build a strong voice for rights protection.  As a partner organisation, the European Civic Forum will notably organise the ultimate stage of the programme,  around Policy making and advocacy, scheduled on 17 and 18 February 2016 in Brussels.

 Around workshops and open sessions, participants will have the opportunity to exchange and learn about effective  advocacy towards European institutions, citizen lobbying, and the use of European level tools to influence policy for  rights protection.

Full information can be found on the project’s official website.

European Civic Forum contribution on consultation on EU Citizenship

On 14 September 2015, European Commissioner Vera Jourová officially launched a consultation on EU Citizenship. The consultation is aimed at gathering together experiences and ideas of EU citizens on how to make it easier to exercise their rights. The opinions and ideas collected will provide the basis for the 2016 Citizenship report.

As a reminder, the last EU Citizenship report was published in 2013, during the European Year of Citizens, a report which presented 12 priorities in 6 key areas. The European Civic Forum then actively participated in the European Year of Citizens’ Alliance, which called for active citizenship as a cross-cutting priority in all policy areas of the EU.

The next report is planned to be presented in Spring 2016. In the meantime, the European Civic Forum participated in the online consultation and shared its views concerning EU Citizenship, especially on the part dedicated to values of EU Citizenship, democratic and civic participation. You can view our contribution by clicking here.

Project RADAR: Regulating Anti-Discrimination and Anti-Racism

In European societies, increasingly reshaped by migration, the fight against racism and xenophobia is a key challenge for democracy and civil life. Despite anti-discrimination legislation in force in EU Member States, there is still a fundamental problem in identifying different forms of racism and xenophobia. These may consist of physical attacks against people or of verbal abuse through hate speech.

A hate crime is never an isolated act; it is usually triggered and fostered by hate speech, consisting of discourses that express disdain, hatred, prejudice, etc. Such discourses are performed not only in direct face-to-face communication, but they also take place online, in political discussions, in the media, as well as in other institutional contexts. Hate crimes may also follow from hate-oriented communication practices based on other communication levels, such as voice (paraverbal message), body language (non-verbal message), images (visual message). Finally, racist discourse often does not simply consist in explicit hatred, prejudice and disdain, but it may also take the form of an apparently benevolent recognition of the differences that however presupposes a stereotypization of an individual’s cultural and social identity. Furthermore, it has become increasingly difficult for law enforcement, politicians and the public to identify whether a physical offence is triggered by xenophobia, because it has to be interpreted within the context in which it has taken place.

The RADAR project (JUST/2013/FRAC/AG/6271), implemented by the University of Perugia and 8 partners (ANCE, Computer Technology Institute and Press “Diophantus”, Heriot-Watt University, Adam Michiewicz University, Key & Key Communications, Learnmera Oy, Stichting Vrouw en Welzijn, Placówka Kształcenia Ustawicznego) from 6 European countries (Finland, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Poland and the UK) aims at providing law enforcement officials and legal professionals with the necessary tools, mainly through open training activities, to facilitate the identification of ‘racial’-motivated hate communication.

The main objectives of the project, now in its second year, are:

  • comparing existing legislation in the different partner countries as well as relevant academic and non-academic studies
  • identifying specific communication practices through words, voice, body language and visual elements in mass media and social network debates about hate speech and hate communication
  • understanding the mechanism of hate-oriented communication practices in their communicative techniques, procedures and strategies
  • working out a face-to-face and online training concept to provide concrete tools for recognising such communication practices and contributing to prevent hate crimes
  • elaborating good practices, recommendations and tangible tools for the legal and law enforcement sectors to facilitate anti-discrimination and anti-racist actions and regulations.

For more info please visit the project website at: http://win.radar.communicationproject.eu/web

EUROPEAN MEETING IN THESSALONIKI “SOLIDARITY BEYOND BORDERS”

Report of the decisions and synthesis of the discussion by Raffaella Bolini – Arci

In Thessaloniki, on November 21st and 22nd, volunteers of the countries involved in the Balkan route of the migrants met with activists involved on the Mediterranean and Northern routes, and European networks committed for migrants rights.

Delegations were present from: Greece (included Leros island), Turkey, Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary, Ceuta and Melilla, Calais, Finland, France, Italy, Austria, Denmark, Germany and Migreurop, Blockupy, Euromediterranean Human Rights Network, European Civic Forum, Transform , European Alternatives, Solidar. Before the beginning of the meeting, a visit to Idomeni, to Macedonian-Greek border took place.

THE ROUTE IS CLOSING.

The meeting, self-organised and self-funded, was planned in October in Belgrade, during the Transeuropa Festival. And it took place in the days when the Balkans routes has been closed for many migrants. Everything happened in few hours, with a domino effect which shows how big is the lack of coordination on the field between European countries. The attack to Paris gave the opportunity to European Union to put in practice decisions already taken in the European Council of October 15th, and to close the Balkans exception. The most dramatical situation, for now, is Eidomeni at the border between Greece and Macedonia. Since some days only the persons of Syrian, Iraqi and Afghani nationalities can cross the Macedonian border and to go on. The others thousands are blocked in front of the border. The selection is done according to nationality, despite all the international legislation on asylum. The same is already happening on the other routes, Italy included. It is not clear what will happen to the blocked migrants. which are demonstrating in Eidomeni.

The Iranian are in hunger strike and they sewed their lips. Rumors are saying that in the next time also to the Afghans will be forbidden to cross the borders. Smugglers are coming back again. And the volunteers are very worried – they already have found whole families left in front of the mountains at the borders with Serbia which they have tried to cross alone in the woods. In winter it can be really dangerous.

The Greeks also are very worried – they are afraid that thousands and thousands of migrants will remain blocked in Greece for a long time. It is non clear what will happen, and rumors says that migrants will be bring back from Eidomeni to Thessaloniki and Athens. Many are the stories about violations and violence against migrants in many countries of the Balkans route (Macedonia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Czech Republic in particular). In some countries volunteers cannot anymore arrive to the borders and to enter the camps where refugees are, and without witnesses the situation can become worst. Not to speak about the migrants condition in Turkey, which very heavy – Turkey is not the safe country like UE declare, in order to send back migrants there and to prevented them to leave.

 

NETWORKING TO FACE THE EMERGENCY

Balkans route volunteers go on working hard, nevertheless it is clear that they are exhausted, and they have to follow a situation which changes continuously. Borders which in the last week the migrants crossed rapidly, now are becoming place where they have to stay (in Eidomeni now around 5000 migrants are stopped), and some places are not equipped to assure the possibility to live with minimum standards of dignity.

 During the meeting it has been decided:

  1. To consolidate and make easier (by connecting the numerous channels of information already existing) the emergency communication network between the organizations working on the fields to exchange useful info and updates, to manage arrivals and departures, and to provide migrants with info.
  1. To enlarge the real-time communication network to other countries and networks, in order to use the info for advocacy, campaigns, awareness raising, and to make political pressure in all the institutions in case of emergency.
  1. To connect the info concerning the Balkans route to the ones related to other places of arrivals and to other European routes – also to monitor and to denounce the selection according nationality, the forced identification, the prohibitions to civil society to access the places, and the repatriations.
  1. To start a first special emergency campaign, in the next days, on Eidomeni, which is the first big stop along the route inside Europe.
  1. To connect the issues related to emergency on arrival to the issue of hosting and integration, which is a disaster in many European countries and everywhere is a complex issue.

 

IT’S NOT ONLY ABOUT MIGRANTS, IT’S ABOUT THE EUROPEAN FUTURE

In Madrid some years ago, democratic Spain, after a big terroristic attack, took the streets some hours later calling for peace and democracy. We should need something similar today in Europe. Official Europe is following the socialist French government and its reaction made by war, democratic and individual freedom limitation. The immediate link between Balkans migrants route and terrorism has been use to close the European borders for many migrants – decision which in effect was decided before the attack in Paris – without having strong protests from politics and public opinion.

Hopefully, a social movements reaction can come in the framework of the many mobilizations for climate justice in Europe during COP21 – despite the prohibition to demonstrate in Paris. In some countries the demos now add also peace and migrants rights to their platform, like in Italy. In London there will be a demo against the bombing. Nevertheless, we should need more. The securitarian and war climate in Europe risk also give a big gift to extreme right and to racist forces everywhere, while in some European countries every night migrants shelters are burnt. In order to delegitimate this policies, we have to be inflexible in contesting all policies in Europe which use the need to fight terrorism to violate human rights and international laws. And, overall, we need to produce a reaction from the good side of Europe, which is a big part of the European population – we have seen it in the last months in many countries, in the popular solidarity to the Balkans route migrants – by offering them positive messages and reference points.

We have to avoid to speak with ideological or political language and to speak a popular one, capable to touch the heart and the mind of normal people. We have not to avoid the issue of fear, which is so spread nowadays. We have to face it, trying to connect our insecurity to the bigger one from which migrants try to escape – in order to create even a sentimental connection with them.

To work on these issues, in Thessaloniki we decided:

  1. To build up a permanent working group to develop popular awareness campaigns, aiming to involve also professionals people willing to provide some volunteering work -the first one in occasion of Christmas
  1. To spread in the European activists networks and in the social media strong news “in pills”, easy to be used, to provide info on the dramatical situation from which migrants come, linking migration and peace issue.
  1. To provide info to be spread about what migrants are risking if they are sent be back home or in the transit countries
  1. To use international networks of jurists to list all the legislation and international laws which are being violated by the selection of migrants according to nationality – to be used for raising awareness, for advocacy and also to take legal actions.

 

PROPOSAL FOR A EUROPEAN DAY OF ACTION ON DECEMBER 18TH

Especially after Paris, we have absolutely to overcome social movements fragmentation. The migrants rights movements cannot remain close in its border, as well as the others. The use of fear for reactionary purpose has to be fought together, by all movements and the whole democratic civil society and actors: it will not hit only migrants, it hits everybody, and it risks to prepare for allover Europe a dark future. And we will not be able to fight the spread of racism and of fear against migrants if we will not be able to bring the public discussion on social rights, on work, on rights and democracy in our community. The issues have to be connected. The struggles have to be connected. It is not easy, we leave a period of big fragmentation. Everybody should try to do everything we can.

The Thessaloniki meeting contribution to this purpose is the proposal to build up a day of European action on December 18th, to build together with the movements for peace, for rights, against austerity.

It could be a day to propose together another way to defeat fear: open the doos, no to walls. Open the doors at the borders, in the communities, in our mind. Like the Paris citizens full of fear have done in the night of the attack. Like many Europeans have done during summers, opening their homes and cars to migrants. In Thessaloniki a short call has been agreed, which will be proposed all over Europe as common base for mobilization. In each country it will be very important to involve as much as possible social organizations and citizens. Forms of mobilization will be decided on the base of the different national situation – but we will have common signs and symbols which will be agreed in the next days. There will be a common communication, to inform and to link all the initiatives, in order to provide them with more strength.

 Because December 18th is the International Day of Migrants, which already involve many social organizations in many countries all over the world, we hope that also Mediterranean countries and civil society in other continents would decide to put their actions inside this convergency.

This is the text of the call:

PROPOSAL FOR A EUROPEAN DAY OF ACTION

 

Activists from Greece, the Western Balkans and the rest of Europe that work with people on the move met in Thessaloniki. They propose to everyone – individuals, movements, social organizations, trade unions – which don’t want to live in a dark, unjust and undemocratic Europe and world to mobilize and take action on December 18th.

 

NO TO WALLS, OPEN THE DOORS!

 

Peace, democracy, social justice, dignity for all.