European Civic Forum

TTIP Update

To pass or not pass?

To pass or not pass? That is the great question hanging over the Transatlatic Trade Agreements (TTIP), between the EU and the USA on the one hand, and the already agreed yet contested one between Canada and the EU on the other. Indeed, as this Newsletter has developed in the past, if governments and institutions have been negotiating for what is now years, passing the baby from one Commission to the other, holding back information from the public while designing one of the greatest commercial treaties in History, civil society has been fighting it off since the beginning, and received the support of EU Ombudsman on the issue of transparency.
At EU level, citizens and organised civil society have put together and carried out a European Citizens Initiative against the TTIP (StopTTIP), which, although it has not been recognised by Institutions, first and foremost the Commission, has already, in the space of six months, collected over 1 million signatures across the continent.

Expressing voices of discontent

The principal point of disagreement concerns the ISDS mechanism, as granting multinational firms a way to go against State policies. In other words, public health or environmental protection can be made to pay their way out by private investors. In light of the discrepancy between public and private interests and the over-protection of the latter within the ISDS, members of Parliament and other officials have begun expressing voices of discontent, we hope will be backed up by European parliamentarians. Since last fall, MEPs have had the opportunity to discuss and debate over the foreseen agreement, and for what concerns us, an important hearing will take place on 18th March on the topic “What’s in it for the citizens?”.

The Parliament, as co-legislator, already rejected ACTA in 2012, when it exercised its power to reject an international agreement under the Treaty of Lisbon. As this previous refusal was in big part based on the thousands of EU citizens and organisations demonstrating and lobbying against the agreement, we can only hope a similar stand will be taken in the current case.

Migration

In February, tragedies in the Mediterranean have once again called civil society and institutions to find a solution to the increasing number of migrants risking their life crossing the sea in search of a (better) future. The situation in neighbouring countries failing to stabilise, notably in Libya, desperate migration has reached historical records, with more than 2000 rescued mid-February off the coast of Lampedusa, while Spanish enclave Melilla saw migrants climb over the bordering fence in their last attempt to save themselves.

Increasing support to Italy

Before this situation, EU Commission announced on 19th February it would increase its support to Italy, first by extending the joint operation Triton at least until the end of 2015; secondly, by granting 13,7 million euros as emergency funding via the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund. These two measures are part of the European response to the migration issue which touches all EU countries – but is effectively dealt with essentially by three of them (Italy, Greece and Spain). Indeed, as pointed out by Frans Timmermans, First Commission Vice-President, “as long as there are wars and hardships in our neighbourhood, people will continue to risk their lives in search of European shores. There is no simple solution to this complex problem, but it is clear that there is no national solution. There is only a European solution”. These words were corroborated by Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos who said: “Today we face a stark reality: Europe needs to manage migration better, in all aspects. And this is above all a humanitarian imperative. No, we cannot replace Italy in the management of the external borders but we can lend a helping hand. So we will extend Operation Triton and we will increase its resources if this is what Italy needs. At the same time, we are not building Fortress Europe. Our resettlement efforts have improved and now we are working to propose a credible number of resettlement places, on a voluntary basis, to offer alternative legal avenues to protection. The message we are sending today is very simple: Italy is not alone. Europe stands with Italy.”

What is the Joint Operation Triton?

Launched on 1st November 2014, Triton is a Frontex coordinated Joint Operation, requested by the Italian authorities to support them in the Central Mediterranean.
The operation’s monthly budget is estimated at between €1.5 and 2.9 million per month. 21 Member States participate in Joint Operation Triton with human (65 guest officers in total) and technical resources (12 technical assets: two Fixed Wing Aircrafts, one Helicopter, two Open Shore patrol vessels, six coastal Patrol Vessel, one Coastal patrol boat; five debriefing/screening teams).
The initial tentative operational budget allocation for the continuation of Joint Operation Triton until the end of the year 2015 is estimated at €18 250 000. For the management of its border, Italy already receives more than €150 million under the Internal Security Fund for Borders.

Project “Praesidium”

In addition to the €13.7 million in Emergency Funding for asylum seekers and refugees, €1.715 million will be granted to continue the project “Praesidium”, which is implemented by the Italian authorities together with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organisation for Migration, Save the Children Italy and the Italian Red Cross. “Praesidium” focuses on the first arrival procedures, mainly in Sicily, including the first reception, medical screening, legal information and special support for vulnerable asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors, and monitoring of the reception conditions in the centres hosting asylum seekers, which are highly challenged by the large inflows.
Frontex has only a supporting function and can only provide assistance to Member States at their request.

2015 : EUROPEAN YEAR FOR DEVELOPMENT

Decided by Parliament Resolution on 2nd April 2014, under the motto “Our world, our dignity, our future” (article 1), the objectives of the year, as provided in article 2 of the Resolution, will be

« a) to inform Union citizens about the Union ‘s and the Member States’ development cooperation, highlighting the results that the Union, acting together with the Member States, has achieved as a global actor and that it will continue to do so in line with the latest discussions on the overarching post-2015 framework ;
b) to foster direct involvement, critical thinking and active interest of Union citizens and stakeholders in development cooperation including in policy formulation and implementation; and
c) to raise awareness of the benefits of the Union’s development cooperation not only for beneficiaries of the Union’s development assistance but also for Union citizens and to achieve a broader understanding of policy coherence for development, as well as to foster among citizens in Europe and developing countries a sense of joint responsibility, solidarity and opportunity in a changing and increasingly interdependent world. »

The year will organising according to 12 themes, one for each month: January will focus on “Europe in the world”, February on “Education”, March on “Women and Girls”, April on “Health”, May on “Peace and Security”, June on “Sustainable green growth, decent jobs and businesses”, July on “Children and youth”, August on “Humanitarian aid”, September on “Demography and migration”, October on “Food security”, November on “Sustainable development and climate action” and December on “Human rights and governance”.

ECF @ the Kick-off meeting of Citi-rights project in Rome

ECF met with partners at the Kick-off meeting of Citi-rights project coordinated by European Alternatives and co-funded by the Fundamental Rights and Citizenship Programme of the European Union.

Awareness raising and training concerning the right to free movement

The project mainly focuses on activities of awareness raising and training concerning the right to free movement, the right to work and the social dimension of EU citizenship. The link between European citizenship and social rights is a key one at present, because it is only through the possibility of concretely putting into practice the rights of free movement, or the right to political participation, that democratic legitimacy at the continental level will be achieved.

ECF will curate the elaboration of the policy report

As part of the project consortium, the ECF will participate in the research process of collecting recent (since 2008) case-law concerning EU citizenship, free movement, social rights and minority rights, and making these cases available and accessible to a public of non-specialists. ECF will bring in its expertise around EU policy mechanisms and discussions. In particular, the ECF will curate the elaboration of the policy report made available at the end of the project. The ECF will also co-organise, with European Alternatives, the final training and presentation event in Brussels, including a presentation of outcomes and policy recommendations to the European Parliament.

More info about the project will be available soon on a dedicated website

EU Accession to ECHR : not yet…

On 18th December 2014, the European Court of Justice delivered its Opinion (2/13) on the compatibility of the Draft agreement on the Union’s accession to the European Convention on Human Rights with the Treaties.

Eu accession debates

This opinion follows the negotiations between the Commission and the Council of Europe. Started in June 2010, they concluded in a Draft Agreement in April 2013.The question of knowing whether the Union could become party to the European Convention of Human Rights was already asked post Maastricht and turned down by the ECJ in 1996. It arose again when the Lisbon Treaty stated in Article 6 TEU that “the European Union shall accede to the European Convention of Human Rights”, thus creating an obligation to join the Convention.

In 1996, the Court deemed the Community lacked the competences to justify such an accession. Aware of the growing importance of Human rights, it had already brought significant evolutions to its jurisprudence on the matter, namely in light of ECHR literal content and interpretation, an evolution recognised by national Courts. What’s more, the Union adopted its own Charter of Fundamental Rights (2000), which was than erected to primary law with Lisbon. Combined with other Treaty provisions (Article 6 TEU), the rights and duties provided by the Charter (Article 52-3 and 53) must be protected symmetrically to the equivalent ones contained in the ECHR, which includes their interpretation in light of the decisions delivered by the Strasbourg Court.

A significant decision

If these provisions are significant, the decision to access the Convention has many motives, starting with the will to ensure the Union is submitted to the same obligations as other legal entities, such as its Member States, in protecting the fundamental rights guaranteed by law when it implements law that has effect on its citizens or other legal persons. This need was confirmed by new Commission President Juncker,europea_court_of_human_rights_ who promised to focus on this issue during his mandate, as means to round the circle of the relationship between EU and Council of Europe, governed by a Memorandum of Understanding.

In spite of the supportive arguments formulated by EU Institutions, Member States and the Court’s Advocate General herself, the ECJ sitting in plenary assembly, rejected the draft agreement, namely on the basis it did not take into account the specific nature of the Union and might ruin the division of power, the unity and primacy of EU law.
If the opinion expressed will now be subject to debate, it nonetheless halts the process of accession as, according to Article 218-11 TFEU, “(…) where the opinion of the Court is adverse, the agreement envisaged may not enter into force unless it is amended or the Treaties are revised.” For this fundamental question, politics will have to take over from juridical interpretation.

MAJOR EUROPEAN CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANISATIONS GATHERED IN ROME FOR SUCCESSFUL LAUNCH OF CIVIL SOCIETY EUROPE

The creation of Civil Society Europe

Major European Civil Society Organisations joined in Rome on 16th December 2014 for the creation of Civil Society Europe. Thirty European Networks1 establish a permanent coordination of the organised civil society at EU-level, a place for horizontal dialogue and a strong voice for effective advocacy in favour of policy changes that address the transversal issues of Equality, Solidarity, Inclusiveness & Democracy which should be at the heart of the European project.

Objective is to create an enabling environment for horizontal exchanges between civil society organisations and movements

Civil Society Europe’s objective is to create an enabling environment for horizontal exchanges between civil society organisations and movements across Europe. It aims to provide a common and permanent space to share experience and knowledge, scale up campaigns and other forms of collective action and strengthen the capacity of its members to connect people in the diversity of their democratic forms of expression to act for change around our shared values.

Civil Society Europe aims to be influential in building a real civil dialogue at EU level

Civil Society Organisations and Movements are catalyst of citizens’ aspirations for change, first and foremost change in the content of the European policies which do not deliver along expectations and needs in terms of social justice and universal access to fundamental rights. From this perspective, Civil Society Europe aims to be influential in building a real civil dialogue at EU level, in shaping the agenda on transversal issues of common interest for civil society across Europe. Civil Society Europe has now been created in the eternal city of Rome, home of the European Treaties. A small step for those involved, a huge step for organised civil society at EU-level that wantsto be part of the dialogue, debate, consultation and policy making!