Personal meeting with MEP Helga Stevens
Door: Jolijn Santegoeds
27 September 2016 | België, Brussel
After a 3-hour train trip, I arrived at the European Parliament, where I was picked up at the Accreditation Desk. As always, it took some time (and impractical procedures) to get a visitors badge.
At 14.00 I had a meeting with Helga Stevens in her office, upstairs in the EP-building.
I introduced the reason of contacting her: to explore possibilities of the role of the EU in realizing the rights of persons with disabilities in the EU.
The Guidelines on CRPD article 14 (Liberty and security of the person) are a very significant attachment to the Concluding Observations of the EU, and I would like to discuss the actions that the EU could take on this. (The Guidelines on CRPD article 14 can be found at the CRPD Committees website: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/CRPD/Pages/CRPDIndex.aspx )
Helga understood the importance of the issue, but she explained that this is a very complex issue, because of the competencies (legal power) of the European Union, which is defined per theme in a “List of competencies”, which also defines which themes fall under the sovereignty of member states (meaning that the EU has little or no influence on some themes).
Unfortunately for us, the EU has no power over legal capacity, liberty, health care and justice in member states, so the EU cannot influence on these key themes for the rights of persons with disabilities.
Helga added, that after the Brexit, many countries followed to have a debate over their EU-membership, and the political timing to push for new issues on the EU agenda is far from optimal. It is more likely that the EU will not push new issues now, especially such a complex theme that usually invokes a lot of debate.
So it looks like there are not any real options for the EU. It is an issue that should be dealt with at the national level.
I then brought up the Council of Europe. I know this is a totally separate organization, but all EU countries are also Council of Europe Members. I wanted to explore if the EU could possibly have some influence there, since there is a problem there: The Council of Europe has made several European conventions (such as the Oviedo Convention) which allow and prescribe for a system of forced psychiatric treatments, which doesn’t correspond to the human rights standards under the UN CRPD. So the CoE Member States, which ratified the UN CRPD face conflicting standards – and many of them are EU-countries. So maybe, EU could take an active role, and make efforts to communicate on this issue to the Council of Europe – perhaps even in a “soft approach”, just a letter asking for contact on for example the process of the development of a new Additional Protocol to the Oviedo Convention.
Helga informed me, that in her capacity of a Member of the European Parliament, her personal role was also limited, but she was open to think about this idea. She suggested to find out which national parliamentarians are engaged in the Council of Europe, and to seek for someone who is supportive, for example persons already involved in social issues. She also mentioned a Belgian person who could maybe be approached on this, and advised me to just try to find out more about the profiles of the persons involved in the Council of Europe.
We talked a bit more about possibilities of “sending a letter to the Council of Europe”, and Helga advised me to “submit a petition to the EU”, and she explained me how to do this: Go to the website of the European Parliament: www.europarl.europa.eu and then search for: Submit Petition (in Dutch it is easier to find, in English it is the third link), anyway, it leads to this page: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=IM-PRESS&reference=20140910STO60501&format=XML&language=EN
There a request can be submitted, so we(ENUSP, or maybe even a broader coalition) could send a petition, to request the EU to send an open letter to the Council of Europe, in order to change the existing paradigm and bring all legislation in line with the UN CRPD, and to avoid any exposure of conflicting standards for EU member states.
This is a very interesting opportunity, which I will discuss with ENUSP, to find a strategic approach of this issue.
So Helga Stevens was supportive, and gave some really useful ideas. In that way it was a very pleasant meeting.
But apart from the nice personal meeting with Helga Stevens, I also felt sad over the inabilities of the EU. The EU-system in itself is very controversial to me. This is my personal opinion.
The EU is officially founded on several core values, such as democracy, liberty, equality and justice. These are key words of the “European Dream” and also in the EU Charter on Human Rights. Yet the EU seems to interpret these core founding values as “abstract”, and doesn’t act on it, but has agreed to leave the control over these issues to the member states. So they don’t seem to take these values very serious, which is controversial from the very beginning. I would like to see meaningful actions on these core values.
The EU has ratified the UN CRPD in 2010. One would expect that some meaningful actions would be taken on issues like liberty, especially considering the fact the institutionalization itself is a European invention, and there is a need to counter that practice and fulfill the CRPD. Yet again, the EU decides to leave the competence fully to the member states, and decides not to act. I suppose the Guidelines on article 14 (which are direct recommendations to the EU) are probably stored somewhere on a shelf…. Again I would call this neglect, which conflicts with the so-called core values of the EU. (and I do understand the political complexity and sensitivity of the topic, but it just cannot be ignored).
It hurts me that the EU-actors, which are all part of a man-made system, so often claim to be “powerless” regarding the man-made bureaucratic barriers. At the expense of human rights!! It is bureaucracy prevailing over human rights, which is unacceptable. The European political systems need to change! Bureaucracy cannot be an excuse for ongoing human rights violations. So again, I would call this plain ignorance towards issues of deprivation of liberty, and legal capacity and so on.
The artificial split-up between the EU and the Council of Europe is problematic as well, especially since the two do not communicate, leading to two completely different lines of policy development, and they choose to call this “a unified Europe”, while it actually still is a divided Europe on the policy level.
These controversial structures (nice words, but no corresponding actions) give the impression that the EU is somewhat dumb or hypocrite or using misleading language, so to say, especially when they demand from member states to have everything in order. That is again controversial to me.
And the effects of these controversies are even worse. Human rights violations are still ongoing, and ignorance becomes justified by bureaucracy at the highest European levels.
On top of that, the EU unfolds mainly around an economic focus, and leaves out many other implications of human rights, while at the same time, the EU does refer to human rights at many occasions. By this, the suggestion is created that within a so-called rights-based approach, citizens can be seen as human resources rather than full human beings. I think this is a terrible mistake, as it is promoting a trend of shallowness and dehumanization, which is harming our communities.
And while the EU is using this narrow-minded view on citizenship, the EU should NOT claim they are a “role model” in the UN CRPD review process, because they are leaving out some very core human rights issues, such as on article 12 and 14. This example should NOT be followed. That should be made very clear.
So I am not happy with the European structures as they are now. I feel a disappointing disillusion, since I really believed that human rights were really valued by the EU, and that EUs ratification of the UN CRPD would bring a really welcome change in the lives of persons with psychosocial disabilities in the EU.
But it is as if they now say: "sorry, we can't do anything about these wide-spread human rights violations, because we are stuck in a bureaucratic system that we have created for ourselves ”. As if the current man-made political structures are an unchangeable fact in life… Obviously, that is not the case. So, it is actually more like a choice, like they allow bureaucracy to prevail over human rights! That is totally unacceptable!
The European politics really have to change!!!! "Sorry" is by far not enough... (and certainly not a role model to be followed).
So with all these controversial issues, it is getting harder and harder to “like” the EU.
I want to stress that I do believe that a unified Europe is valuable, but currently, somehow, there are some deep controversies in the policies of the European Union, and also within the Council of Europe. I don’t mean to say that everything about these are bad, but as I just explained, there are some really blunt errors in the European system, which are really harmful, especially when it comes to the rights of persons with psychosocial disabilities.
If we really want to realize a better world for all, we need to fix these errors.
We should make sure that the means and policies actually correspond and contribute to the goals we want to achieve.
We should take real steps and actions, and dare to make changes where needed.
Obviously, we all know that Europe is in a crisis in many ways, and xenophobia is one of these ongoing European problems, which cannot be ignored if we really want to prevent history repeating.
Obviously, many things in Europe are going the wrong way, such as massive polarization in the community, including a rising call for detention of vulnerable people, discriminatory violence and so on. It cannot be denied that change is needed.
In other words: Sitting still is not an option.
I think that the current challenge of maintaining unity in the EU could be seen as an opportunity to reach back to the original core values, which have been somewhat lost out of sight by the EU.
I strongly believe that a rights-based approach will create a “warmer” atmosphere in Europe.
So I have a strong opinion when it comes to the functioning of the European mechanisms. And it confronts me every time when I am involved at EU level events, where I witness these bureaucratic barriers . Sometimes I question myself whether it is a waste of my energy to be involved in EUs implementation of the UN CRPD. But I do believe in progress. I do believe in development and improvement. I do believe we can learn and grow together, and overcome challenges. I don’t want to let go of my “European dream”, of a Europe that is truly aimed at human rights for each and every citizen. “I have a dream” ;)
And I will not let go.
I am an activist. I really believe change is possible.
So it was another intense day, with over 7 hours of train travelling, all to meet with Helga Stevens for 1 hour in Brussels. It was worth it, although the European politics again invoked a lot of thoughts and questions for myself. The controversies (and the barriers) are so complex and big, it is really a challenge to think about how this could be turned right.
Furthermore, I will definitely explore the options of a Petition to the European Parliament, and go on a search for contacts in the Council of Europe. Hopefully this will lead to something fruitful.
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