So I'm writing an open letter to Commission President Barroso, Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship Commissioner Viviane Reding and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy to urge them to speak out more on these issues, and explaining why I think these matters are not just "national issues", but issues that are vital to how we view ourselves, and the kind of Europe we want to live in today. I don't know if it would have any effect whatsoever, but as I've written before against political apathy, I think I should at least say something.
In the past few days I have read and heard about political moves against the Roma community in several member states (see the Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jul/30/european-union-roma-human-rights) as well as debate in France regarding stripping people of citizenship or rights as being a possible feature of the criminal justice system. Expulsion and the loss of citizen rights is a horrifying prospect and shows that we need to remain vigilant so that European political discourse does not slide back into the politics of exclusionism and the scapegoating of minorities. The criminal justice system is meant to deal with law-breaking and law-breakers through fair process based on the equality of citizens before the law. Attempts to set individuals or groups outside the normal processes - to label them as "other" or "non-citizens" - is contrary to the European values and the rights we claim to uphold. Therefore it has been very disappointing that there have been no strong voices from the EU institutions on this matter.
Obviously in each case the legal and social circumstances are different, but the same values and rights are at stake. Will the EU closely monitor each case to prevent any breach of rights (e.g. of free movement) under EU law? In cases where EU law is directly involved there is a natural role for the EU institutions in speaking out against discrimination and rule-breaking. However, I would urge you to take a political lead in defending European values. Even though cases may involve national law and politics, these issues are of such gravity that they touch on the ideas of what kind of Europe we want to live in. The European Union, in its current and past forms, was founded to help Europe and her nations cement values of equality and tolerance as well as working to break down barriers to help make this continent prosperous.
The importance of rights and values in the EU can be seen from the Charter of Fundamental Rights, plans for the EU to join the European Convention on Human Rights, and in Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union, which provides for the suspension of certain rights of a member state which breaks these standards. Therefore I believe that there is a place for political debate and leadership at a European level on these issues. How will the EU help strengthen citizenship and human rights in Europe, and how will the EU help protect minorities and protect the right of free movement? It may be more difficult and politically sensitive to speak out on these issues at home than abroad, but I believe it to be a vital part of the debate, and I urge you to take a public part in these debates.
NOTE: It turns out that my email didn't send properly to Reding and Barroso. I'll try again later/tomorrow (internet hasn't been working well lately).
UPDATE: I've sent it to Viviane Reding, but the website still refuses to send it to Barroso.
UPDATE: I've been slow to do this (because I've just moved house), but I've sent the email as a letter to Barroso. Better late than never! (23/8/2010)