Saturday, 3 October 2015

How should EU fundamental rights and justice crack nuts?

When should the legislator use a sledgehammer to crack a nut (in more senses than one)?
When we advance from the existential importance of fundamental rights to a few lines about the colloquium, I have to admit to a lingering doubt about how intrusive criminal law should become.
I hope that bright thinkers contribute to the cross-border discussion in Europe, since similar problems confront the European and the national level.

Věra Jourová
- It is high time that member states fully implemented EU law to combat racism and xenophobia. I intend to take decisive actions to monitor this implementation and will focus on three points. First of all, member states must firmly and immediately investigate and prosecute racist hatred and violence. Second, I find it disgraceful that Holocaust denial is a criminal offence in only 13 member states. Last but not least, member states must decisively address hate speech, said the EU justice commissioner Věra Jourová in her closing remarks at the Commission's first colloquium on fundamental rights.
Hopefully her openness about the Commission's aims serves the purpose of a wider and improved discussion about the merits of justice policy and criminal law to advance societal aims. Commissioner Jourová promised a number of other actions to counter antisemitism and islamophobia, as well, some more and some less controversial.

Fundamental rights colloquium
Through the web page of the European Commission's first annual fundamental rights colloquium 1-2 October 2015 you can access material, including the thematic discussion notes to steer the discussions. The notes offer you a fairly detailed view of the issues at the colloquium, but worth continued discussion in Europe more widely:
Stepping up action to prevent and combat antisemitic and anti-Muslim hate crimes (Session I.a)
Tackling hate speech in a connected world (Session II.a)
Fostering equality legislation and promoting non-discrimination policies (Session II.b)

As you see, there are quite a number of related but separate issues demanding individual treatment.
You can follow, dig for material or participate under the Twitter hashtag #NoPlace4Hate

Ralf Grahn 

Friday, 2 October 2015

Existential importance of fundamental rights

We return to the fundamental rights colloquium I mentioned yesterday, with links to the press release and the fact sheet.
- The topic is of, I would almost say, existential importance to the future of Europe, said the first vice-president Frans Timmmermans in his forceful opening of the European Commission's first annual colloquium on fundamental rights (press release and video).
- Europe is going through a period of crisis and turmoil, which is challenging the very values on which it was built. It is challenging the very fabric of European society and therefore the very fabric of European cooperation. The rise of antisemitism, the rise of Islamophobia, each in their own way are symptoms, Timmermans stated.

You can follow the livestream, when the colloquium continues today, 2 October 2015, at 9 am local time, but you have to go no farther than to the live Twitter stream under #NoPlace4Hate to see the challenge, with various fundamentalists at loggerheads over past atrocities and current animosity.

Ralf Grahn

Thursday, 1 October 2015

EU fundamental rights: colloquium, Charter, strategy and report

In this blog post I am going to refer briefly to four pillars of fundamental rights in the European Union: the first annual colloquium, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, the Commission's strategy for effective implementation, and the latest annual report.

EU colloquium on fundamental rights
The European Commission's has dedicated its first annual colloquium on fundamental rights, 1 to 2 October 2015, to the fight against anti-semitic and anti-muslim discrimination, hate crimes and hate speech.
The aim is to foster a culture of inclusive tolerance and respect in the European Union.

EU Charter of Fundamental Rights
All EU members have undertaken to secure to everyone the rights and freedoms defined in the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR), and to abide by the final judgment of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in any case to which they are parties.
The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union became legally binding when the Lisbon Treaty entered into force.
The Charter applies to institutions, bodies, offices and agencies of the EU, but to the member states only when they implement EU law.

Fundamental rights strategy
Because of the legally binding character of the Charter, the EU Commission published a strategy in 2010 (press release). More exactly, this communication is called:
The strategy presents the Commission's activities to prevent breaches of and promote adherence to fundamental rights, among the EU institutions, as well as in the member states when applying EU law.
In addition, the Commission promised an annual report on the application of the Charter, with two objectives stated:
to take stock of progress in a transparent, continuous and consistent manner. It will identify what has been done and what remains to be done for the effective application of the Charter;
to offer an opportunity for an annual exchange of views with the European Parliament and the Council.

2014 report on the application of the Charter
The latest annual report was published 8 May 2015 (press release). Here you can find the different language versions for:
but the accompanying SWD only in English
In English you are also offered the luxury version consisting of a 'printed' booklet containing the report, the much more detailed staff working document and the Charter text (185 pages; 5 MB).

Ralf Grahn

Thursday, 24 September 2015

EU summit served three courses on refugee action

The atmosphere was reported to have been good, when the members of the European Council (EUCO) endorsed three courses of action to bring the refugee and migration crisis closer to some sort of control: a stronger external border, more external help in the MENA region and green light for the initiatives from the European Commission.

Tusk preparing the ground
Before the informal meeting of the heads of state or government, the president of the European Council Donald Tusk wanted to steer thegathering towards the the task of regaining control of the external Schengen border. He promised to propose a number of short term measures – mainly outside the EU in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region – such as more help for refugees in the region through the World Food Programme and the UNHCR, more help for Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey an other countries in the region.
Tusk also wanted more help for the EU frontline countries and immediate strengthening of external border control through Frontex, the European Asylum Office and Europol.

External border, external help
The statement acknowledged that the unprecedented migration and refugee crisis requires a spirit of solidarity and responsibility, before it echoed the themes of the president: to uphold, apply and implement the existing rules, including the Dublin regulation and the Schengen acquis.

The leaders want the EU institutions and the national governments to work speedily on the priority actions proposed by the European Commission.

The heads of state or government wanted operational decisions on the most pressing issues before the October European Council, along the following orientations:

respond to the urgent needs of refugees in the region by helping the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Food Programme and other agencies with at least an additional 1 billion euro;

assist Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and other countries in dealing with the Syrian refugee crisis, including through a substantial increase of the EU's Regional Trust Fund in response to the Syrian Crisis ("Madad Fund");

reinforce the dialogue with Turkey at all levels, including at the upcoming visit of the Turkish President (5 October), in order to strengthen our cooperation on stemming and managing the migratory flows;

assist the Western Balkan countries in handling the refugee flows, including through pre-accession instruments, as well as ensure a speedy and solid preparation of the Western Balkans route conference (8 October);

increase the funding of the Emergency Trust Fund for stability and addressing the root causes of irregular migration and displaced persons in Africa through additional contributions by Member States, and ensure an optimal preparation of the Valletta Summit (11-12 November) to achieve maximum progress;

tackle the dramatic situation at our external borders and strengthen controls at those borders, including through additional resources for Frontex, EASO and Europol, and with personnel and equipment from Member States;

meet requests from front-line Member States for assistance by the institutions, the agencies and other Member States in order to ensure identification, registration and fingerprinting of migrants (hotspots) and at the same time ensure relocation and returns, at the latest by November 2015;

enhance the funding of the Emergency Fund for Asylum, Integration and Migration and the Internal Security Fund-Borders.

Potential refugees
At the press conference following the meeting, president Tusk, who had been touring the MENA region, stated that there are eight million displaced persons in Syria, while about four million have fled to Syria's neighbours. There are millions of potential refugees to Europe from Syria alone, not to mention Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea and other places. External borders and external assistance were his tools.
After Tusk's comments in spoken form at the press conference, president Jean-Claude Juncker limited his early hours remarks to the positive atmosphere of the meeting, before enumerating the European Commission's estimates of the added allocations needed for the tasks at hand (video recording 15:00).  

Commission initiatives
Those who want an overview of the planned and proposed actions (or access to the detailed proposals) can study the latest press releases from the European Commission: statement on relocation of refugees (STATEMENT/15/5697), emergency relocation (MEMO/15/5698), remarks by president Juncker (SPEECH/15/5702), the commencement of forty infringement procedures against member states for failures to implement the asylum system correctly (IP/15/5699, available in 23 languages) and immediate measures under the European Agenda on Migration (IP/15/5700, available in French and German as well), including links to political guidelines and concrete proposals.

External borders, external support and backing for the Commission are the guidelines ahead of the next European Council, 15 and 16 October 2015.

Ralf Grahn 

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Refugee emergency: temporary EU relocation

Yesterday, the interior ministers of the EU member states reached a decision on one important solidarity measure in the face of the refugee emergency: temporary relocation to alleviate the burden of Greece and Italy.

International protection – temporary measures

On 17 September 2015 the European Parliament had adopted its favourable opinion (text here P8_TA-PROV(2015)0324) on the emergency proposal for temporary relocation, and yesterday (22 September) theJustice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council adopted this important proposal from the refugee and migration agenda of the European Commission.

With regard to solidarity it is worth noticing that Ireland has expressed its intention to participate, while Denmark and the United Kingdom remain bystanders.

We note that Hungary was intended to be a beneficiary in the Commission proposal for a Council decision establishing provisional measures in the area of international protection for the benefit of Italy, Greece and Hungary, COM(2015) 451 final (plus annexes).

At the time of writing the adopted decision – renamed and adapted after Hungary declined help - had not been published in the OfficialJournal of the European Union (OJEU), but available through a link on the web page of the JHA Council meeting:

COUNCIL DECISION establishing provisional measures in the area of international protection for the benefit of Italy and Greece (document 12098/15)

In a nutshell

The web page of the JHA Council meeting explains the decision in a nutshell:

This decision establishes a temporary and exceptional relocation mechanism over two years from the frontline member states Italy and Greece to other member states. It will apply to 120 000 persons in clear need of international protection who have arrived or are arriving on the territory of those member states as from six months before the entry into force until two years after the entry into force.

According to the decision, 66 000 persons will be relocated from Italy and Greece (15 600 from Italy and 50 400 from Greece) . The remaining 54 000 persons will be relocated from Italy and Greece in the same proportion after one year of the entry into force of the decision.

During the press conference (video) Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg's minister for immigration and asylum, admitted that the Council did not achieve consensus, but the qualified majority went well beyond the requirements of the treaties.

As for other legal acts, all member states are expected to implement the decision. However, the decision can be adapted for a member state facing an emergency situation.

European Council

Today, 23 September 2015, the members of the European Council meet informally to discuss an overall approach to the refugee crisis and the necessity to establish a credible European migration policy.

In his invitation letter, EUCO president Donald Tusk is also appealing to EU leaders to urgently provide financial donations to the World Food Programme for food support to the 11 million people in Syria and in the region.
Ralf Grahn

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

More backing for Junckers' State of the European Union #SOTEU

After response and feedback to Commission president Junckers' State of the European Union (SOTEU) 2015 address, we turn to an assessment from civil society, another from research and education, as well as the political will of the European Parliament.

Go to the European Commission's SOTEU page for the full version in English or French, or material available in other languages. Check Twitter #SOTEU for old and possible new sources of interest.


Finally the Europe of good will we have been waiting for a while, Franco Chittolina concluded in a comment on Apiceuropa: Juncker e l'Europa della buona volontà. The Commission president spoke frankly, repeatedly declaring: ”There is not enough Europe in this Union. And there is not enough Union in this Union.”

The clear and courageous message from the political Commission was directed particularly at the scattered member states with little sense of union and few references to the European founding values and to its tradition of solidarity and reception.

Just a few days after Junckers' speech in Strasbourg, the meeting of the EU home affairs ministers 14 September revealed the deep split among the member states, but also with regard to the Commission and the European Parliament.

Faced with such incompetence from the states, Adriana Longoni fixed her hope on growing numbers of welcoming citizens: La grande faglia dell'Europa.

Maastricht blog

This year's State of the Union was entitled: Time for Honesty, Unity and Solidarity. And the key concepts were: more Europe in the Union, and more Union in Europe.

Aalt Willem Heringa, in the Maastricht blog article The First State of the Union of Juncker, found it appealing that Juncker discussed the major issues, what the EU must stand for and must try to achieve, and not the nitty gritty details, but the broader perspectives.

More problematic is how to get 28 member states to work in the common interest, as well as how to involve EU citizens and national parliaments.

European Parliament

The interior ministers appeared pretty empty-handed and behind the curve, when they emerged from their meeting 14 September 2015. Consequently a new Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council has been called for 22 September to deal with a more equitable settlement of 120,000 refugees. And in anticipation of JHA failure, the members of the European Council (EUCO) have been convened to an informal meeting the next day.

Admittedly, it is easier to opine than to decide, but one week from Junckers' State of the Union address the European Parliament urged the Commission to show strong leadership (press release 16 September 2015).

The encouraging resolution – adopted by 408 votes to 182, with 23 abstentions – is the contribution of the European Parliament to the Commission's Work Programme (CWP) for 2016, to be adopted on the 27 October and to be presented and discussed in the Parliament on 29 October 2015.

The European Parliament resolution of 16 September 2015 on the Commission Work Programme 2016 (provisional version P8_TA-PROV(2015)0323) started by urging the European Commission to use its right of initiative to its full extent in order to give the Union clear leadership, and in particular to deliver the completion of the single market together with the strategic roadmap for economic union, political union and external action.

Next, the Parliament welcomed the focus of the Commission on its ten priorities and emphasised the need to promote the Community interest and keeping the EU united and cohesive.

Besides as an endorsement for the Commission, including its proposals regarding refugees and migration, the resolution can be read as a detailed compilation of almost all the noble (and often contradictory) aspirations at the European level.

Ralf Grahn 

Monday, 21 September 2015

Feedback for Junckers' State of the European Union #SOTEU

Yesterday we looked at response to Junckers' address from three European think tanks. Today we study some more feedback generated by the #SOTEU speech at the European Parliament.


The editors in chief of the webzines of the Young European Federalists (JEF) - Christopher Powers, Hervé Moritz and Marcel Wollscheid - gave president Junckers' State of the European Union address 9 September 2015 positive feedback for honesty and proposals to manage the refugee crisis, while they noted the failures of the member states of the EU (the comments in English, French or German).

New Europe

According to Alexandros Koronakis, of New Europe, Juncker brought sorely missed new elements into his address:

We need more Europe in our Union, We need more Union in our Union,” Juncker said, early in his speech. The President brought to the European Parliament hemicycle in Strasbourg one thing that was missing even more: More vision, in our union.

Hope and moral legitimacy were the messages Basil A. Coronakis highlighted:

Inspiring, down to earth, human and European, the State of the Union address of President Jean Claude Juncker has opened to worried citizens a slot of hope. Hope that politics, after so many years of absence, will return to Europe and moral order will be eventually restored. The European Union needs that, it needs moral legitimacy.


Tiernan Kenny, for the APCO consultancy, noted five takeaways from Junckers' #SOTEU address: 1. relocation of refugees and paths to legal migration; 2. the inadequate and conflicting responses of the member states to the refugee crisis; 3. defence of the Schengen border and action to deal with the root causes of people fleeing conflicts, as well as the need for the euro area to speak with one voice in international financial institutions; 4. praise for solidarity shown on the ground by EU citizens; and 5. the need for any new Greek government to stick to its commitments in the eurozone, plus the will of the European Commission to deregulate and to look for a solution to the concerns of the UK government.

Con acento hispano

Jesús González Mateos posted a ringing endorsement of Junckers' address on his Con acento hispano blog, highlighting action to alleviate the hardship encountered by refugees, as well as investment for full employment and means to curb social dumping. We need more Union and more Europe. We must show the world our capacity for unity, honesty and solidarity.

Ralf Grahn

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Response to Junckers' State of the European Union #SOTEU

First, we take a look at the case of the European Commission, as presented in the available materials. Second, we explore the response to the State of the European Union (SOTEU) address from three European think tanks.

State of the European Union debate

The case of president Jean-Claude Juncker and the European Commission is set out in the ”full picture” booklet, now available in English and French:

State of the Union 2015 – by Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission 9 September 2015 [9MB]

État de l'Union 2015 – Discours de Jean-Claude Juncker, président de la Commission européenne devant le Parlement européen le 9 septembre 2015

The broadly favourable response from the political groups and some individual MEPs is included in the multilingual verbatim record of the plenary debate.

Salvador Llaudes

In the post Juncker, el #SOTEU yun año de mandato, on the Blog Elcano, Salvador Llaudes described the commencement of the political and dynamic European Commission under the Spitzenkandidat Jean-Claude Juncker, including his initiatives to solve the Greek crisis and the first and the second refugee crisis. Public opinion is showing some signs of recognition of Junckers' rejection of past 'path dependency' and 'business as usual'.

The EU member states are still divided in this respect, which means that Juncker has to keep working to arrive at a necessary consensus.

Valentin Kreilinger

Valentin Kreilinger, of the Jacques Delors Institut Berlin, began his blog post #SOTEU:Der Kommissionspräsident alsFeuerwhrmann und Architekt by recalling the purpose of the State of the (European) Union address (here the English version, in Annex IV of the inter-institutional agreement):

5. Each year in the first part-session of September, a State of the Union debate will be held in which the President of the Commission shall deliver an address, taking stock of the current year and looking ahead to priorities for the following years. To that end, the President of the Commission will in parallel set out in writing to Parliament the main elements guiding the preparation of the Commission Work Programme for the following year.

The refugee crisis dominated Junckers' address, but he acts as a ”fireman” and an ”architect” to strengthen the ”Community method” regarding the other priorities as well. His architectural aspirations can be seen clearly in the deepening of the economic and monetary union (EMU), building on the five presidents' report.

Right after the SOTEU debate Frans Timmermans and Dimitris Avramopoulos presented the package of proposals to manage the refugee crisis, including resettlement of 120,000 asylum seekers and a permanent relocation system.

Josef Janning

In a Note from Berlin, Josef Janning of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) saw Junckers' address as a missed opportunity, because it failed to confront the slow poison of intergovernmentalism killing the European Union: More Union for the EU.

European media watch political actors struggling with major challenges to the union such as the sovereign debt crisis, the war in Ukraine, and the refugee crisis (each of them clear cases for a common response), and conclude that Europe is failing.

The EU’s underperformance stems from three trends, which seem to reinforce each other: a hybrid deepening, a utilitarian widening, and a fragmentation of the political centre (with description and reasoning about each trend in the blog post).

The refugee crisis is a case in point of the diverging union and the lack of consensus among member states.


The intergovernmental drift of the European Union towards a confederation of short-sighted and disparate member states is evident, with consequent lack of effective solutions.

For a final verdict the jury can only follow the proceedings until the five years of the European Commission are up. In the interim both Llaudes and Kreilinger attest to Junckers' leadership role.

Janning called Junckers' address a missed opportunity, but analysed the institutional failings of the European Union, viz. the lack of EU powers and the paucity of political will among the member states to act decisively on the ”big issues”.

My question is: What more could the Commission president have done, given the constraints? What can Juncker do in the future?

Like Chernyshevsky and Lenin we can ask, although this time with regard to the European Union: What Is to Be Done?

Ralf Grahn

Friday, 18 September 2015

European Commission's State of the (European) Union #SOTEU full picture booklet

The European Commission's State of the (European) Union web page in English contains a link to a publication described as the ”complete picture”, with a page element hinting at future translations of this extended version of the 9 September 2015 address to the European Parliament.

The full picture booklet (64 pages in all; 9MB) offers president Jean-Claude Junckers' written (authorised) #SOTEU speech text, the Commission's letter of intent to the European Parliament and the Council of the EU, the progress report on the Commission's ten priorities and a transcript of the speech delivered, plus closing remarks (at the end of the plenary debate).

Our general interest

According to Article 17(1) TEU the Commission shall promote the general interest of the Union and take appropriate initiatives to that end.

As I see it, the general interest of the EU is the (enlightened) interest of the citizens of the European Union. In practice, the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats facing the EU are translated into the political vision and will of the European Commission, leading to legislative proposals and other initiatives.

In the State of the Union publication we are offered a view of how president Juncker and his Commission - #teamJunckerEU - intend to promote our interests in 2016.

Ralf Grahn

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Progress on the European Commission's 10 priorities

On 14 September 2015 the EU General Affairs Council (11966/15) took note of the European Commission's letter of intent (11693/15, available in 23 languages) regarding the Commission's work programme for 2016, scheduled for adoption on 27 October.

The letter, dated 9 September, from president Jean-Claude Juncker and the first vice-president Frans Timmermans offers some general remarks as well as an outline of future initiatives and activities, grouped under ten priorities.

Progress report on Commission priorities

The antecedents are mentioned in the letter of intent, but here we are interested mainly in the evaluation of where the European Union stands with regard to the current challenges:

State of the Union 2015: Progress on the European Commission's 10 priorities (11 pages; available in 24 languages through the SOTEU page)

You can peruse the progress report as an update on current EU challenges, or find your area of interest among the priority headlines in this useful recap:

1. A New Boost for Jobs, Growth and Investment
2. A Connected Digital Single Market
3. A Resilient Energy Union with a Forward-Looking Climate Change Policy
4. A Deeper and Fairer Internal Market with a Strengthened Industrial Base
5. A Deeper and Fairer Economic and Monetary Union
6. A Reasonable and Balanced Free Trade Agreement with the U.S.
7. An Area of Justice and Fundamental Rights Based on Mutual Trust
8. Towards a New Policy on Migration
9. A Stronger Global Actor
10. A Union of Democratic Change

Over the next weeks input from the European Parliament and the Luxembourg presidency of the Council of the European Union, as the conduit for the member states, can influence the final Commission work programme for 2016.

Ralf Grahn  

Monday, 14 September 2015

Priorities of the Luxembourg Presidency of the Council of the EU

Monday, 14 September 2015, the Luxembourg presidency of the Council of the European Union is going to present and the General Affairs Council (GAC) is going to discuss the programme of the presidency:

A Union for the citizens – Priorities of the Luxembourg Presidency of the Council of the European Union 1 July-31 December 2015 (to English, French, German version)

EU citizens

Whatever the realistic opportunities, EU citizens can take heart from this declaration of principle by the Luxembourg presidency (page 6):

European citizens are at the heart of the European project. The Luxembourg Presidency, in keeping with its traditions and convictions, will endeavour to put the citizen at the heart of its initiatives and ensure that all EU policies really benefit its citizens.

Luxembourg priorities

At headline level the government of Luxembourg makes the following presentation of what we could call its seven pillars of wisdom (page 7):

The priorities of the Luxembourg Presidency for the second semester of 2015 are presented under the following sections:

  • Stimulating investment to boost growth and employment
  • Deepening the European Union’s social dimension
  • Managing migration, combining freedom, justice and security
  • Revitalising the single market by focusing on its digital dimension
  • Placing European competitiveness in a global and transparent framework
  • Promoting sustainable development
  • Strengthening the European Union’s presence on the global stage

On thirty pages plus the presidency programme offers perspective on the current aspirations and challenges of the European Union.

Ralf Grahn

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

European commitment and gender balance

In addition to the treaty criteria of general competence, European commitment and independence, as well as the expectation of irreproachable performance of duties regarding each commissioner, we can expect Juncker to bring up the gender balance of the future Commission, subject as a body to a vote of consent by the European Parliament. Read European commitment and gender balance

European Council 2013 on competitiveness

In the previous blog post we saw president Herman Van Rompuy presenting, in the publication The European Council in 2013, how the European summits were engaged to enhance competitiveness, promote free trade, to develop the single market and to ease the regulatory burden. The next step is to read: European Council 2013 on competitiveness

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Van Rompuy on EU competitiveness 2013

Against the background of the UK Europe minister David Lidington's calls for EU competitiveness, free trade, single market reform and cutting red tape, we continue to explore the reality of European Union efforts. Read Van Rompuy on EU competitiveness 2013

Monday, 7 July 2014

Reinventing EU competitiveness?

Competitiveness requires more comprehensive action than negotiating free trade agreements, clearing single market obstacles and cutting red tape. Membership of the EU, or even the maligned eurozone, does not exclude world class competitiveness. We must ask what the European Union fails to do, to earn the constant stream of nagging from prime minister David Cameron, Europe minister David Lidington and the rest of the UK government about the lack of profound reform. Read Reinventing EU competitiveness?