Human Rights

Human Rights in Europe

Description of Human rights

The Concise Encyclopedia of the European Union describes human rights in the following terms: [1] There are two forms of rights: those that assert the universal human right to freedom from oppression; and those that assert a claim on others, for example to provide welfare, employment or housing (see more in this European encyclopedia). The latter type presupposes political choices and implies a certain view of tax and social priorities. The confusion between the two is fertile ground for exploitation, since people of good will are reluctant to oppose legislation that purports to protect the disadvantaged.

The Treaty of Rome was concerned mainly with economic matters. It was silent on human rights, which in the wake of the horrors of World War II and the Soviet terror were regarded as being in the sphere of the United Nations(whose Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948) or the Council of Europe (the European Convention on Human Rights was signed in 1950). Neither of these bodies had independent sanctions or powers of enforcement, although the Council of Europe had a Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, whose judgments were well respected in the countries that were party to the Convention.

As the years went by, the class of rights that consists of social and economic claims on society progressively took centre stage (see more in this European encyclopedia). The European Social Charter of 1965 promised, inter alia, the ‘right to work’, the ‘right to medical assistance’ and the ‘right to vocational training’. The Charter was subsequently expanded to include rights to equal opportunities, worker consultation, and so forth. With the politicisation of the subject, contradictions proliferated – between ‘equal treatment’ and ‘positive discrimination’; between the right of public service workers to strike and the right of citizens to enjoy public services; between the right of free speech and the right to restrain incitement to hatred; in the case of abortion, between the ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice’ camps. The EUentered the field gradually. First it made acceptance of the EuropeanConvention part of the acquis communautaire (see more in this European encyclopedia). Then in the Maastricht Treaty it converted much of the Social Charter into the Social Chapter and made ‘respect for human rights’ a principle of Community law. In the Treaty of Amsterdam the EU awarded itself the power to suspend a member state in ‘serious and persistent’ breach of fundamental rights.

A dangerous ambition … often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people. US statesman Alexander Hamilton, 1878

Finally, in 1999 the idea was floated at the Cologne summit of drawing up a ‘Charter of Fundamental Rights’ in advance of the Community’s eastwardenlargement. This would probably have legal status, in which case it would serve as the EU’s embryonic constitution. Given the supremacy of Community law, such a charter would give the Court of Justice comprehensive Europe-wide authority over many aspects of society and employment. The proposal was greeted with dismay in Britain, in Scandinavia and in French anti-federalist circles. No need had been shown for a 21st century Magna Carta. Applicant countries were already obliged to commit themselves credibly to human rightsbefore being admitted to the EU and it would be absurd to suggest that the existing member states contained oppressive regimes. Unnecessary confusion would arise from the interplay between national courts administering domestic law, the Court of Human Rights interpreting the European Convention and the Court of Justice interpreting the new Charter (see more in this European encyclopedia). Employers, too, were concerned at the prospect of a raft of anti-competitive labour entitlements enshrined irreversibly in constitutional law and adjudicated by a supranational court. The proposed Charter was therefore seen as a device to advance the cause of EUintegration behind the cloak of human rights. (See also European Convention on Human Rights.)

Human Rights in Sweden

Under Chapter 2, with the heading “Fundamental rights and freedoms,” of the Instrument of Government (part of the Swedish Constitution), Article 23 provides the following: No act of law or other provision may be adopted which contravenes Sweden’s undertakings under the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (see more about the Constitution of Sweden here). The Instrument of Government (SFS nr: 1974:152) contains the basic principles of Swedens form of government: how the Government in Sweden has to work, the fundamental freedoms and rights of the Swedish people and how elections to the Riksdag (Swedish parliament) are to be implemented. The adoption in 1974 of the Instrument of Government currently in force, including the provisions related to human rights, meant a considerable reduction in the powers of the monarchy.

Human rights and the European Union

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Notas y References

  1. Based on the book “A Concise Encyclopedia of the European Union from Aachen to Zollverein”, by Rodney Leach (Profile Books; London)

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