FREE Newsletter: 5 & 6 September 2013

VALUES AND PRINCIPLES OF THE EUROPEAN UNION

– POSSIBLE VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 7 TEU

EU rules on democratic governance need updating
Euobserver: “The question of how or whether the European Union as a whole can respond to violations of liberal democratic norms among its members has come up frequently in discussions about Hungary since Viktor Orban and his Fidesz party came to power in 2010.
Over the past three years, the government has taken a number of steps that resulted in the erosion of checks and balances and the rule of law, eliciting widespread criticism from the international community and triggering declines in most Freedom House governance surveys.
However, seemingly hamstrung by its limited competencies in this area and preoccupied by the economic crisis, Brussels has been hesitant in its reaction to apparent democratic backsliding. Sooner or later the EU will be forced to take a firmer stance on the protection of democratic institutions within its member states.
Since the suspension of diplomatic relations with Austria in 2000, Brussels has never used its powers to punish a member state. Having failed to prove that the Austrian government was committing a “serious and persistent” breach of the principles upon which the Union is based European leaders moved to create a firmer legal basis for preventative action in cases of democratic backsliding.
Recent cases have demonstrated, however, that this prevention and punishment mechanism – defined under Article 7 of the Treaty of the European Union – is considered to be too harsh and too politicised.
Member states intent on protecting their sovereignty have been unwilling to resort to the mechanism, often dubbed the “nuclear option,” and are more inclined to curb the EU’s authority to interfere in domestic matters than to hold fellow member states accountable for the commitment to democratic values they agreed upon in writing just a few years ago…”

FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS

Dispatches: Hungary’s War on the Homeless
Human Rights Watch: “A ban on dumpster diving. Fines for picking up discarded items in the streets. Proposals for homeless-free zones. Hungary’s ‘war on the homeless’ appears to be picking up steam.
Now that Hungary’s constitution allows for the criminalization of the homeless, it was only a matter of time before a local government banned them from public areas. This summer a district in Budapest did just that, issuing a decree prohibiting “residential habitation” (living in public places), banning “dumpster-diving,” and taking unwanted items left on the streets for disposal by the authorities. Offenders face fines of up to 150,000 Hungarian forints (US$655), community service or even jail sentences for repeated violations. In other words, homeless people with nowhere else to go are now targeted as criminals for being poor.
The local decree is the latest in a campaign against homeless people which began in 2010, including a national law criminalizing homelessness adopted in April 2012. In November 2012, the constitutional court struck down the law on the grounds that it violated the constitutional right to human dignity. But rather than respect the ruling, the government used its supermajority in parliament in March to amend the constitution to include a provision enabling the criminalization of homelessness. The sidestepping of its own constitutional court speaks volumes of the Hungarian government’s contempt for the rule of law and its handling of social issues…”

DATA PROTECTION

Civil Liberties Committee MEPs hear key journalists on NSA snooping
European Parliament News: “The impact of US National Security Agency and other surveillance programmes on EU citizens’ privacy and media freedom and the lack of democratic oversight of these programmes were the key concerns voiced by MEPs and key journalists on Thursday, in the first of a series of hearings on alleged spying by the US and EU countries.
“The aim of this investigation is to determine the impact of these surveillance activities on EU citizens”, said leader of the Civil Liberties Committee inquiry Claude Moraes (S&D, UK).
“Surveillance has a huge impact on people. The NSA is not bound by EU laws and does not care about your laws, so it can wiretap anybody in your countries without any kind of warrant”, pointed out investigative journalist and computer security researcher Jacob Appelbaum in his opening speech. “This is not a post 9/11 issue – the US has been doing this for a very long time”, he added.

Media freedom at stake
The use of UK anti-terror laws to detain David Miranda and UK government’s direct threat that it would use the law to demand the destruction of material held by The Guardian are two issues for lawmakers to consider, said its Editor-in-Chief Alan Rusbridger via videoconference. He added that this could be “chilling and obstructive to journalism” and was like “throwing sand in the gears”.
On the need for EU legal safeguards for media freedom, Mr Rusbridger stressed that “European journalists don’t have the same protection as US journalists”, underlining that Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to freedom of expression) “doesn’t have the same weight” as the US Constitution’s First Amendment.
The importance of investigative journalism and the need to protect whistleblowers was emphasised by MEPs during the debate. “Lawmakers have a role to protect investigative journalism and to promote this kind of debate”, said Mr Rusbridger. “Please find ways to protect journalism. It is only journalism that will give you an impartial view. (…) And please think about oversight mechanisms”, he asked MEPs…”

Also on the same topic:

EP: NSA snooping disregarded EU laws : http://www.neurope.eu/article/ep-nsa-snooping-disregarded-eu-laws

Unreported NSA spy systems revealed : http://euobserver.com/justice/121335

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