Human Rights Week 2020
The Protection of Fundamental Rights in the European Union - A transnational portrait
The final event of the Human Rights Week organized by the FHWS was hosted by the 3IN Alliance, which is working together with the project FHWS 3IN. Together, they work towards the Europeanisation of higher education institutions. The topic of the session was the protection of fundamental rights in the European Union. Thanks to the internationality of the 3IN Alliance, the session included 20 minutes of input from 4 international speakers who all explained the situation from their home country’s perspective. The speakers were Achim Förster (FHWS, Germany), Julien Cazala (University Sorbonne Paris Nord, France), Marja Katisko (DIAK, Finland) and Hans Morten Haugen (VID, Norway). The session was hosted by Stefanie Witter, the project coordinator of FHWS 3IN. After a warm welcome and a brief introduction, she handed over to the first speaker of the day, Achim Förster.
Prof. Dr. Achim Förster isn’t just a law professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences at the FHWS, he is also the International Affairs Coordinator as well as the controller of data protection of the faculty. In his presentation, he decided to give the participants a detailed overview on the law within the European Union from a German perspective. He began by explaining the EU’s two categories of law (primary and secondary law) and stated that all laws within these categories have to comply with fundamental and human rights. However, EU law isn’t always 100% clear, as every member state has its very own national laws that they comply with as well. Some member states have constitutions that include fundamental and human rights, but some don’t. This is one of the reasons why the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights was established. All institutions, agencies and member states of the EU are obliged to act within the framework of this charter on an international level. Mr. Förster ended his presentation with a very recent example demonstrating the EU Charter in action: the Schrem II decision which was about data transfer from the EU to the USA. Until recently, this was not a problem if the data regulations were as secure in the destination country as in the EU country. This was ensured by the Privacy Shield implemented by the EU. However, the shield was accused of being not secure enough. The Court of Justice of the EU agreed and stated that the Privacy Shield did not comply with the levels set in the EU charter. According to Mr Förster, this was just one of many prominent examples of the charter coming into action.
Prof. Dr. Julien Cazala is a professor for International Law at the Law Faculty of the University Sorbonne Paris Nord. In addition, he is the director of the Institute for Public Law, Political and Social Sciences and has worked for the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Istanbul between 2011 and 2016. All of this makes him an expert concerning European law. His presentation was also about the law of the European Union, but, in this case, the French perspective. As an introduction he explained Article 51 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights which is not only directed at the EU as an institution, but also at all of its member states. According to Mr. Cazala, the charter lacks precise regulations concerning its application. Another thing he criticised was the French Constitution. The constitution itself doesn’t really include human rights and only refers to them in very few articles. The state justifies that with the preamble of the constitution of 1958, which mentions the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen of 1789. Generally speaking, a lot of French human rights conventions are phrased internationally, so that one could question the need of the EU charter in the modern society. Mr. Cazala stated that the charter expands the ECHR as well as every national constitution by adding important norms and values. The fact that the charter is binding for all member states is yet another positive argument for the charter. At the end of his presentation, Mr Cazala gave a few examples of the EU charter in action in many different courts across France. From his point of view, the charter should be reformulated in a more precise way in order to reinforce human- and fundamental rights on an international level.
Dr. Marja Katisko is a professor at DIAK in Finland and her research is focussed on Social Sciences. Her main areas are Community Aspirations and High Impact Scenarios, with a special focus on topics concerning discrimination and cultural conflicts. In her presentation, Marja Katisko talked about the refugee crisis of 2015 and the results of the crisis still visible in Finland. She focussed on undocumented immigrants living in the country and that this is, most of the times, their best and only option. But first of all, she explained how people become undocumented. Often, they have been granted an entry permit in another Schengen country and then come to Finland and just stay there after the permit has expired. Another way is to enter the country with a tourist visa and then to just not leave after its expiration. The only other options for migrants or refugees are to return to their home country or apply for asylum in another country, though the chances for asylum aren’t necessarily better there. Ms. Katisko then asked the question, how the reality and daily life of asylum seekers and migrants goes together with human rights – rights, everyone is supposed to have without having to do anything for it. An additional problem migrants have to face are the different policies in European countries and even just within different cities. It is especially children and families that suffer from these inconsistent regulations and her presentation showed that Finland still has work to do in order to implement and grant human and fundamental rights to all of their citizens.
Prof. Dr. Hans Morten Haugen is a professor at VID Specialized University in Norway as well as vice-chair of the Research Ethics Committee of the university. He is also the Chairmen of the largest trade union at VID. His presentation was about the Norwegian constitution and, especially, the amendments made in 2014. The ultimate goal of the amendments was to implement fundamental and human rights into the Norwegian constitution. As Norway’s constitution dates back to 1814, some parts aren’t quite up to date and don’t represent the standards of the 21st century. Although Norway is part of the Schengen and Dublin agreement, the country isn’t part of the EU which means that the country’s actions do not have to comply with the EU Charta of Fundamental Rights. In 2011/12, politicians started to formulate amendments for the constitution with which they wanted Norway to become a state that is based on fundamental rights and laws. In 2014, the amendments were finally implemented into the constitution. In general, the articles are formulated quite precise and very future-oriented. Mr. Haugen compared the amendments concerning the environment, freedom of conscience and freedom of the arts and research to the EU charter. He came to the conclusion that Norway is still behind in some aspects but said, that in general, the articles are formulated more precise and binding. This way of phrasing leaves less room for interpretation. The UN criticised Norway for some of the wording, but up until now, Norway has not added any new changes or corrections to their constitution.
Thanks to the four international speakers and their input, all participants got a great overview of the regulations in four big European countries. It became clear, that all countries are working towards implementing human- and fundamental rights, but that even these four very well-developed countries are still behind regarding the compliance with these laws and do not execute these rights to their fullest extent. It was great to get these very authentic and realistic insights, so thank you yet again to all the speakers.