Thursday 26 August 2010

The Moral Authority of Europe

Despite the rhetoric of the EU as the "EUSSR", a neo-liberal project or as some sort of Papist plot, Europe holds an - at times, surprising - amount of moral authority, even in the more Eurosceptic member states. This is probably because of the practice of using "Europe" as a continental yardstick (e.g. highest cancer death rate in Europe; lowest teenage pregnancy in Europe), and because of the legal certainty the EU and ECHR can lend to policies (if the European Court of Human Rights rules on something, it carries a lot of legal and moral authority, even if legal academics continue to argue and debate the reasoning).

Which is why I wrote an open letter to President Barroso, Commissioner Reding and European Council President Van Rompuy on the Roma issue, urging them to speak out (NOTE: the refusal of the Commission website to relay my email to Barroso, and the chore of moving house have meant that I only managed to send a paper version to Barroso earlier this week). While the EU has issued statements that they will monitor the legal status and treatment of the Roma, there is an important role for the Europarties and EU institutions to speak out for equality and rights (though they obviously need to be held to account on this score as well). So it was good to see Commissioner Reding finally making the wider argument for tolerance (hat tip @dicknieuwenhuis and @Anna_EU_webteam).

However, the argument against mass explusions and for equal treatment needs to be made continuously, and, in the future, the response should be faster. France's calls for a exclusive immigration summit and calls that the EU decide a "coordinated response" on how to "deal" with the Roma's deportation show that national politicians and leaders who support discrimination against the Roma as a group know that the nation-state is a badly tarnished vehicle for carrying out their prejudices. These summits and immigration meetings are attempts to legitimise Roma explusions as "the norm" and "legally acceptable".

So we need to keep making the case for tolerance and equal treatment at the European level. If we don't, one day we'll find discrimination being legitimised in Europe's name.


  1. Eurocentric,

    We could think of the moral authority you speak of in terms of the EU as a learning organisation.

    Not only the 'tip of the iceberg' EU institutions, but uncounted committees, working groups etc. lead to regular contacts between member states' administrations.

    Plans and reports are discussed and evaluated. Harmonised statistics make comparisons increasingly meaningful.

    As you say, with the European Union as a hub, European standards and 'best practices' are set, building pressure for laggards to improve.

    With more quality scrutiny by media and more alert civil society groups and individual citizens, national reform agendas could be given a boost (such as the various targets of the EU 2020 strategy).

    The problems of and with the Roma have deep roots and are almost intractable. It is easy to become simplistic, on various sides.

    The French government seems to have chosen a populist 'law and order' approach, for which it is rallying support after facing criticism.

    Like you, I noted the balanced statement by Commissioner Viviane Reding.

    However, when the French government finally invited the European Commission, the invitation went to the Commissioner for internal security (home affairs) Cecilia Malmström, not the Commissioner for fundamental rights (justice) Viviane Reding.

    I wonder if the Commission should accept the invitation on those terms.

  2. isn't that already the case with Frontex?

  3. @ Grahnlaw

    Given that Reding's brief includes "citizenship", and the Roma affected are EU citizens relying on their Treaty rights, you would think that Reding should attend. An argument could be made for Malmstrom attending (since crime is alleged in some cases). If Reding turned up as well, do you think they would force her to sit outside?

    Though excluding Reding sends a poor signal (not only on this issue, but for Commissioners being in any way "outspoken"), I suppose the most important thing is to have a strong unified position in the Commission. Which is why I would like Barroso to make remarks similar to Redings - it would make it harder for his Commission to distance itself from it.

    @ imwrong

    Frontex concerns cooperation between member states on immigration from outside the EU; this is a case of the movement of EU citizens within the EU.

  4. I was referring to your last point: "So we need to keep making the case for tolerance and equal treatment at the European level. If we don't, one day we'll find discrimination being legitimised in Europe's name".

    I see that Frontex concerns mainly cooperation between EU and non-EU states on immigration from outside the EU. To cut a long story short, I believe that discrimination is already being legitimised in Europe's name through Frontex. What could stop intra-european discrimination then?