Europe of Human Rights

In just a few days, Poland will take over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. How will the Presidency tackle the issue of human rights?

On 31 May 2011, the Council of Ministers adopted the “Six-Month Programme of the Polish Presidency”. One of the main tasks of the Polish Presidency will be to ensure that Europe does not lose sight of its eastern neighbours. As a part of the Eastern Partnership, Poland wants to continue the process of signing association agreements and creating free trade areas. The Polish Presidency will also move forward in negotiations on visa liberalization.

Taking into consideration the recent events in North Africa, the Polish Presidency will endeavour to enhance cooperation based on partnership, concentrating on supporting the democratic transformation and the creation of modern state structures through constitutional reforms, as well as strengthening the judiciary and the fight against corruption. As part of its Presidency, Poland wants to take a major step forward in the enlargement of the EU. An important objective of Poland’s Presidency in the EU Council will be to finalise accession negotiations and sign a Treaty of Accession with Croatia.

The government also hopes that a new framework of cooperation between the EU and Russia can be established during the Polish Presidency.

It seems a bit disturbing that the Presidency’s main goals focus on the external domain of EU activity when the Lisbon Treaty has significantly decreased the competences of the Presidency country in respect to foreign policy – most tasks are now in the hands of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, European Action Service. The recent developments in North Africa are dominating the agenda, but the Polish Presidency needs to bring attention to the Eastern Partnership and the Eastern Neighbourhood in order to keep balance between the two significant neighbourhood policies. The 2 September Eastern Partnership Summit would be an occasion to do so.

However, the Polish Presidency should take an ambitious approach, influencing the European human rights agenda by taking actions in the internal fields, which will then have an impact on the Neighbourhood policy.

One of the key elements in that respect should be the EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights, without hampering today’s accessibility of complaints. Poland should also encourage the EU and its member states to sign the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, adopted on 7 April 2011, and to take necessary measures to ensure its prompt ratification. (As of the time of writing, the Convention has been signed by thirteen member states of the Council of Europe.)

Moreover, the Presidency should take advantage of the EU’s new competence in the field of criminal justice by promoting new legislative initiatives, such as the new directive on victims’ rights that was presented by the European Commission on 18 May 2011. The proposal defines the minimum procedural guarantees for a victim of crime regardless of the victim’s nationality and the state in which the crime occurred.

Another important issue is the reform of the European arrest warrant (EAW), which is abused by some member states. On 7 April 2011, Viviane Reding issued a report stating that 15,827 EAWs were issued in the EU in 2009; in 4,431 of these, the EAW resulted in an effective surrender of the person sought. Poland has the highest number of EAWs issued in the period between 2005 and 2009. In 2009, 4,844 EAWs were issued by Poland, resulting in the arrest of 1,367 persons.

The European Commission is still working on the criminal defence rights directive. On 14 June 2011, a Green Paper was opened to consultations on how to strengthen mutual trust in the field of detention. The excessive lengths of pre-trial detentions are a systemic problem in Poland. Though there has been a slight change in recent years, pre-trial detention is still used too often. In Kauczor v. Poland (Application no. 45219/06), the ECtHR unanimously held that a violation of Article 5 § 3 (right to liberty and security) of the European Convention on Human Rights had occurred due to the excessive length of the applicant’s pre-trial detention.

Another important area of focus is the set of proposals to amend the data protection directive and the data retention directive, for which drafts are in the works. In its 31 May 2011 report, the European Data Protection Supervisor expressed serious doubts about the necessity of retaining data on such a large scale in light of privacy rights and data protection. The implementation of the Data Retention Directive (2006/24/EC) posed serious concerns in some member states. The German, Bulgarian, Romanian and Czech Constitutional Tribunals found that the law on data retention breaches their constitutional guarantees of privacy, and telecommunication operators are not bound to transmit such data to authorities. In Poland, a group of parliament members lodged a complaint with the Constitutional Tribunal.

An important issue that should be dealt with by the Presidency is the cooperation of member states to ensure that the EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies becomes effective; the Hungarian Presidency failed to deal with this issue. The new asylum package, too, should be addressed by Poland in order to ensure that all member states apply similar procedures, reversing the widespread use of immigration detention.

All these subjects should be taken into consideration by Poland during the upcoming six months. Our expectations for the role of the Polish Presidency in the human rights field might reveal to be too high, given that the country is a part of the British Protocol limiting the application of the EU Charter for Fundamental Rights. However, having an impact in the field of human rights seems an ambitious but not unrealistic task.

 

Dominika Bychawska-Siniarska

Coordinator of “Europe of Human Rights”

 

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