EU should ratify European Convention on Human Rights

29 June 2006

EU should ratify European Convention on Human Rights

The European Union should ratify the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) at the earliest opportunity. The convention obliges all European countries to respect human rights, but the European Union itself has so far failed to ratify it. This must change, according to SP Senator Tiny Kox and his Dutch Labour Party (PvdA) colleague Ed van Thijn, both of whom are members of the Netherlands' delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). The two Senators today presented a motion to this effect to the PACE meeting in Strasbourg.

The motion was also supported by the rest of the members of the Dutch delegation, by the presidents of every political group except the Conservatives, and the chairs of each of PACE's committees. Every European country is now a member of the Council of Europe and represented in its Parliamentary Assembly.

The motion calls for negotiations between the European Union and the Council of Europe to begin as soon as possible. Ratification by the Union would lead to improved protection for human rights at the EU level. Government leaders from European countries both inside and outside the EU last month declared that the political will exists to make the Union a party to the ECHR. According to Senators Van Thijn and Kox and the rest of the Dutch PACE delegation it's time to transform these words into action.

Ratification by the EU of the ECHR has often been on the agenda in recent years but the lack of a treaty base has prevented the Union, which in theory can do nothing which is not authorised within its treaties, from taking this step. Accession would have been made possible by the European Constitution, something which all member state governments supported and an aspect of the proposed text which played no part in its rejection by the Dutch and French people in last year's referenda.

Ratification is of great importance for the credibility of the EU in relation to human rights policy, offering citizens of the member states the same protection as they enjoy at national level in every Council of Europe country. It would contribute to better coordination between EU legislation and the protection of the rights of people living within its territory. Individuals who believe their rights have not been respected have recourse to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

In response to the motion proposed by Van Thijn and Kox, PACE will draw up a draft resolution which will probably be debated at its next plenary, which will take place in Strasbourg in autumn. The two Senators also intend to take the question up at national level.

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