SP Senator Kox: 'EU must join European human rights system as soon as possible'

21 April 2010

SP Senator Kox: 'EU must join European human rights system as soon as possible'

The sooner the better. That's the Dutch Senate's view on the accession of the European Union to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). During the debate on Europe with government ministers Maxime Verhagen (Foreign Affairs) and Ernst Hirsch Ballin (Justice), SP Senator Tiny Kox referred to the ECHR as 'the only real European Constitution'. The Convention guarantees the fundamental rights and freedoms of all 800 million Europeans, each of whom can have recourse to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Tiny Kox The Lisbon Treaty, which came into force at the end of last year, obliges the European Union to accede to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The Convention comes under the aegis of the Council of Europe, the continent's biggest treaty-based organisation, with all forty-seven European countries as members. Between obligation and execution, however, a great deal of time can pass, the Senate fears. It was on this basis that the body's debate on Europe included a convincing call for the Dutch government to hurry the EU along. "We must avoid the EU's accession being put on the back burner," said Senator Kox. "This is more than a theoretical danger. There is as things stand too much competition between the two organisations, while cooperation should be the goal. If politicians in Brussels pass the implementation of the accession on to their officials, then for every solution a new problem will be devised. And then we'll have to put up for years with a situation in which the most powerful organisation in Europe can back out of following the rules of the ECHR."

Both Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen and Justice Minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin promised the Senate that they would work hard to prevent any delays. The two ministers also reacted favourably to Kox's call to look not only to 'Brussels' but to Strasbourg in the framework of European politics, not only to the EU but to offering help to a European Court of Human Rights overwhelmed by a backlog of court cases from throughout the continent. In some cases, waiting time can stretch to eight years. "A judge who cannot offer timely justice is a failed judge," said Kox. "It's appalling that we have allowed this to happen. And it's a good thing that there is now an understanding, and that certainly includes the Dutch government, that measures are urgently needed." During the debate Verhagen also promised, in response to questions from the SP, to offer extra support, and soon, to the work of European Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg, who has responsibility on behalf of the Council of Europe for ensuring that the rights contained in the ECHR, which are far from being always enforced, are respected.

In the name of the Dutch delegation in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Kox invited both ministers to come to Strasbourg to address a session in the near future. "It's a fine thing that the Netherlands offers a good example," he said. "Better still if the government were to succeed in getting others to follow that example."

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