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Has the EU turned its back to ECHR?

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Who is the supreme human rights judge in Europe?

Up to 18 December 2014, it was taught or hoped to be the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg (ECtHR). Now, having the European Court of Justice (ECJ) rejected the draft accession agreement of the European Union to European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), the issue remains unsolved. The final link in the human rights protection in Europe is still missing. The strength of the negative opinion and the crucial points of non-compliance of the accession agreement with the EU law, as presented by the ECJ, leave a lacuna in the European system of protection of human rights.
The system which lives for more then 6 decades in Europe, and which is often considered to be one of the most effective regional mechanisms of human rights protection, despite of several necessary improvements to deal with its backlog.

The system which may make the respondent state to redress the human rights violations,  provide the affected victims with just satisfaction, or even undertake some general measures such as to amend or adopt laws, change inappropriate practices, etc.
The only loophole in  the protection of human rights in Europe, however, remains a loophole. The gap was not closed.
The European Union has indeed recognized the European Convention as an instrument by which general principles it shall be led in accordance with constitutional traditions of Member States (Article 6 para 3 of TEU/TFEU). But there comes a question of the extent of influence of the Convention. To respect human rights as a principle, or to be bound  by the European Convention and ready to take consequences of potential human rights violations? 

The EU was supposed to submit itself to the Court which is not an EU court but the court belonging to a regional international organization consisting of 47 states, the Council of Europe, including at the same time all member states of the EU.
EU provided in the Lisbon treaty its will to accede to ECHR. Although this would come as a precedent, as members to the Convention are only sovereign states, it was eagerly awaited as another signal that EU does carry state elements. The accession would have covered the only loophole in Europe which is not covered directly by the ECHR, and which are the institutions of the EU. Every citizen of the EU could complain to the ECtHR, not only against its national state, but also against a EU body. However, with the ECJ decision as such, the EU citizens seem to be deprived of this control of EU bodies. They can complain to the European Ombudsman, however the ombudsman nature of controlling affairs cannot be compared to judicial control of human rights violations, and is more relied upon the power of authority of ombudsman without an executive power as to its recommendations.

It appears that the ECJ opinion brings out not only the question of the human rights protection instrument applicable in the EU, but one more important question as well. What is the nature of the EU? Is it a sui generis state, a quasistate or a regional international or supranational organization?

Elements that a state should have in classical theories encompass the citizens, government and the territory.
Citizens of the EU are recognized by their EU affiliation and hold the EU citizenship. However, the citizenship is not exercised by the EU itself. It has only accessory nature to national citizenship. The member states are the ones that decide upon the terms of acquiring and loosing one’s citizenship. Naturalization rules differ from state to state, in duration of residence, duration of marriage/partnership, and even in (non)necessity of actual residence in the state granting citizenship. Therefore, there are no unified rules at the EU level governing the acquiring or loosing a EU citizenship.

EU territory is to a large extent unified  by the single market, freedom  of movement of persons, goods, capital and services, which might be scrutinized only for public good purposes, i.e. protection of public morals, health, prevention of crime etc.
Government in abstract sense, is a bit more complex. Once upon a time, it entailed only state governing power directed to inward, and was considered to be absolute, sovereign, not touchable by any more supreme power. With the atrocities of two world wars the government split to the inner, controllable by the state and outer, states willingly giving to a third objective authority, which led to further development of principles of monism and dualism in international law. Younger democracies opt for dualism, asking for an international recognition of their newly acquired values, while older more traditional democracies stick to monism preserving their inner values and being less susceptible to outer voices. Thus came the Council of Europe. For the cause of safeguarding of values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, 47 states are now bound to give the part of their sovereign government to CoE bodies, guaranteeing that they will live by these principles. Their will was expressed by their ratification of the ECHR, which is still, despite of occasionally slow procedure by the Convention bodies, considered to be most effective human rights instrument. Differing from other instruments protecting human rights, it provided for direct jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights, acting upon a complaint against a respondent state. So it brought not only material but procedural guarantees as well. On the other hand the EU Charter, provides for material provisions mainly taken from the ECHR.
EU seems not ready to submit itself to an outer, third body which could control its acts or procedures in the human rights aspect and eventually request certain actions to be done.
EU thus twice failed at the statehood exam. First, when its constitution was not upheld and now when the ECJ did not uphold its accession to ECHR.

Preparatory work for the accession
The grounds for the accession is Lisbon treaty, in force since 1 December 2009, which in Article 6 para 2 of TEU and TFEU, stipulates that EU shall accede to ECHR provided that EU competences are not affected by the accession. Having in mind that only sovereign states might be member states to the Convention, the first formal link between the CoE and the EU was made by the adoption of Protocol No. 14 to the Convention, which provided in its Article 17 that: ‘The European Union may accede to this Convention’. The said Protocol entered into force on 1 June 2010.

 A specially assigned Steering Committee for Human Rights (CDDH), on the side of Council of Europe, and European Commission, on the side of European Union, started their task to prepare the legal instrument of the accession. In mid June 2010, CDDH appointed an informal group of 14 members chosen on the basis of their expertise (seven from EU member States and seven from non-EU member states), and it held eight working meetings with the European Commission and subsequently the ad hoc group (47+1) held another five negotiation meetings with the European Commission. As a result of joint efforts by both the CoE and the EU, a package of text including the draft accession agreement was adopted on 10 June 2013.
Accordingly, the accession agreement did not come at once, nor was it imposed by the Council of Europe. It came as a result of long negotiation process that took more then three years.

That is why the opinion by the ECJ was a surprise to many scholars and practitioners. Could it be that negotiations were not thorough enough? Or that the ECJ was too strong in defending its position? It appears that the ECJ took the role not only of adjudicator but of a (de)creator of political approach towards ECHR undermining the very essence of the whole idea of accession to ECHR. It did not take the negative opinion as to formal grounds but it referred to crucial elements of the Convention system and its procedural safeguards towards the EU. It almost totally detached from the approach agreed upon 7 years earlier in Lisbon.

Essence of the opinion of the ECJ
EU Charter v. the ECHR and ECJ v. the ECtHR
At the outset of its reasoning the ECJ points out that it has only been possible for State entities to be parties to the Convention, and that the EU has created a new kind of legal order with its peculiar nature (para 155, 158 of the Opinion 2/13) which resulted from the Member states limiting their sovereign rights for the benefit of EU (157). It stresses out that the Treaties retain primacy  over the laws of the Member States, and that at the heart of that system is the Charter and the fundamental rights it protects with the ECJ giving the judicial protection of individual’s rights. Thus at the very beginning of its reasoning the ECJ wanted to put itself and the EU human rights instrument, the Charter, at the strong first position regarding the issue of human rights protection in EU.

Concern about external control
The ECJ was concerned about its future role in case the EU acceded to ECHR. It contended that the interpretation of the ECHR by the ECtHR would be binding on the EU and that the interpretation by the Court of Justice of a rights recognized by the ECHR would not be binding, vice versa, on the ECtHR.  The ECJ has thus clearly refused to be controlled by the ECtHR and to have a subordinated position in the Strasbourg system of human rights protection, which is the exact mode of functioning of Strasbourg system.

Concern about the Convention  minimal standards
The crucial point of the ECHR is that it gives only the minimum standards below which the states cannot go. It however does not prevent the states to provide more rights then prescribed by the Convention. The ECJ however fears that the states giving higher standards of human rights protection could jeopardize the Charter having primacy in the EU law. If we have in mind that the Charter mainly incorporated ECHR rights, (and added some more, for example the right to work), can we imagine how could better protection of human rights jeopardize Charter?
Principle of mutual trust-Interstate applications
Interstate applications under the Convention according to which any state may initiate proceedings against any other member state to the Convention, are aimed to preserving the peace and giving every state the right to be a watchdog over possible massive violations of human rights. During the whole life time of the Convention the ECtHR issued only 5 judgments upon interstate applications, in cases of Ireland v. the United Kingdom, Cyprus v. Turkey (2), Denmark v. Turkey and Georgia v. Russian Federation. The ECJ however stressed out that ‘checking’ by one Member state of another Member state would upset the underlying balance of the EU and undermine the autonomy of EU law. (194) Moreover, it said that if the EU states would be able to submit the application to the ECtHR it would undermine the very nature of EU law which requires that relations between the Member states be governed by the EU law to the exclusion. (212) By such a reasoning the ECJ very  avariciously preserves its legal system from any outer influence or control.

Advisory opinions by ECtHR v. preliminary rulings by ECJ
Under Protocol No. 16 to the ECHR the Member states could ask the advisory opinion by the ECtHR about the interpretation or application of the European Convention. However, the ECJ fears that the state could circumvent the procedure for preliminary ruling by ECJ by which it interprets EU law?!

Interference into division of powers?
The ECJ contends that ECtHR might be required to assess the rules of EU law governing the division of powers between the EU and its Member states or the criteria for their acts or omissions, and thus interfere into division of powers (224, 225). Could the ECJ be considered overcautious?

Subsidiarity of ECHR system
The very important feature of the ECHR protection system is that it has a subsidiary nature, i.e. it gives first the chance to national system to address the potential human rights violation and only if it fails, there comes the Convention system. That also goes in line with the exhaustion of domestic remedies requirement prior to addressing to the ECtHR. Logically, in case of EU accession to ECHR, the domestic remedy to be exhausted, in case it is effective, would involve the ECJ. However the ECJ contends that if such a possibility would be permitted then the ECtHR would interpret the case-law of the Court of Justice (239). Well it is true, but only when there is a human rights violation under the European Convention, at stake and in accordance with its well established case-law. However the ECJ remains of the opinion that if it (ECJ) were not allowed to provide the definitive interpretation of secondary law, and if ECtHR would provide for its interpretation, it would breach the exclusive jurisdiction over the definitive interpretation of EU Law of the ECJ.

Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP)
The ECJ finds problematic any possibility of interfering into the acts of EU under CFSP. But the European Convention does recognize the right of states (EU) to limit certain rights and freedoms (for example Articles 8-12 of the Convention) for the purposes of safeguarding public peace, security, morals, etc. It also provides for the right of depositing reservations regarding certain provisions. Absolute rights, off course, are excluded from this option, such as the right not to be tortured.
 It seems from the above considerations that the EU is an international regional organization not yet ready to submit its system to external control. EU remains traditional, not allowing for external control, fearing from loosing the consistency of its well established system. And as dr. Walter Schwimmer rightfully remarked in his recent ‘Human Rights violations inside EU’ ‘if one believes that political persecution, police brutality, torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, illegal detention, unfair trial could not happen on EU territory one should look to the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights and to the reports of Council of Europe’s Commission for the Prevention of Torture’.
So, how shall the negative ECJ opinion affect the human rights gap that remained in relation of ECHR towards the EU? Well, the future is ours to see.

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International Law

Carl Schmitt for the XXI Century

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For decades, the scholars of international relations have confused the term “New World order” in the social, political, or economic spheres. Even today, few scholars confuse the term with the information age, internet, universalism, globalization, and  American imperialism. Unlike the complex categorization of the New World Order, the concept of the Old World Order was purely a juridical phenomenon. However, from standpoint of modernity, the term New World order is a purely ideological and political phenomenon, which embodies various displays such as liberal democracy, financial capitalism, and technological imperialism.

In his Magnus Opus “The concept of the Political”, Carl Schmitt lauded a harsh criticism on liberal ideology and favored competitive decisionism over it. This is why according to Schmitt’s critics; the whole text in “The concept of the political” is filled with authoritarian overtones. Nonetheless, the fact cannot be denied that it was the radical political philosophy of Carl Schmitt that paved the way for the conservative revolution in Europe. Even today, his writings are being regarded as one of the major contributions to the field of political philosophy from the 20th century.

Throughout his major works such as “Nomos of the earth”, “the Crisis of Parliamentary democracy”, “The concept of the Political” and “Dictatorship”, Carl Schmitt frequently employs unadorned terms such as ‘actual’, ‘concrete’, ‘real’, and ‘specific’ to apprize his political ideas. However, he advances most of the core political ideas by using the metaphysical framework. For instance, in the broader political domain, Carl Schmitt anticipated the existential dimension of the ‘actual politics’ in the world today.

On the contrary, in his famous work “The Concept of the Political” readers most encounter the interplay between the abstract and ideal and, the concrete and real aspects of politics. Perhaps, understanding of Schmitt’s discursive distinctions is necessary when it comes to the deconstruction of the liberal promoted intellectual discourse. However, the point should be kept in mind that for Schmitt the concept of the political does not necessarily refer to any concrete subject matter such as “state” or “sovereignty”. In this respect, his concept of the political simply refers to the friend-enemy dialectics or distinction. To be more precise, the categorization of the term “Political” defines the degree of intensity of an association and dissociation.

In addition, the famous friend-enemy dialectics is also the central theme of his famous book “The Concept of the Political”. Likewise, the famous friend-enemy distinction in Schmitt’s famous work has both concrete and existential meaning. Here, the word “enemy” refers to the fight against ‘human totality”, which depends upon the circumstances. In this respect, throughout his work, one of the major focuses of Carl Schmitt was on the subject of  “real Politics”. According to Schmitt, friend, enemy, and battle have real meaning. This is why, throughout his several works; Carl Schmitt remained much concerned with the theory of state and sovereignty. As Schmitt writes;

I do not say the general theory of the state; for the category, the general theory of the state…is a typical concern of the liberal nineteenth century. This category arises from the normative effort to dissolve the concrete state and the concrete Volk in generalities (general education, general theory of the law, and finally general theory of the knowledge; and in this way to destroy their political order”.[1]

As a matter of the fact, for Schmitt, the real politics ends up in battle, as he says, “The normal proves nothing, but the exception proves everything”. Here, Schmitt uses the concept of “exceptionality” to overcome the pragmatism of Liberalism. Although, in his later writings, Carl Schmitt attempted to dissociate the concept of “Political” from the controlling and the limiting spheres but he deliberately failed. One of the major reasons behind Schmitt’s isolation of the concept of the political is that he wanted to limit the categorization of friend-enemy distinction. Another major purpose of Schmitt was to purify the concept of the “Political” was by dissociating it from the subject-object duality. According to Schmitt, the concept of the political was not a subject matter and has no limit at all. Perhaps, this is why Schmitt advocated looking beyond the ordinary conception and definition of politics in textbooks.

For Schmitt, it was Liberalism, which introduced the absolutist conception of politics by destroying its actual meaning. In this respect, he developed his very idea of the “Political” against the backdrop of the “human totality” (Gesamtheit Von Menschen). Today’s Europe should remember the bloody revolutionary year of 1848 because the so-called economic prosperity, technological progress, and the self-assured positivism of the last century have come together to produce long and deep amnesia. Nonetheless, the fact cannot be denied that the revolutionary events of1848 had brought deep anxiety and fear for the ordinary Europeans. For instance, the famous sentence from the year 1848 reads;

For this reason, fear grabs hold of the genius at a different time than it does normal people. the latter recognizes the danger at the time of danger; up to that, they are not secure, and if the danger has passed, then they are secure. The genius is the strongest precisely at the time of danger”.

Unfortunately, it was the intellectual predicament at the European stage in the year 1848 that caused revolutionary anxiety and distress among ordinary Europeans. Today, ordinary Europeans face similar situations in the social, political, and ideological spheres. The growing anxieties of the European public consciousness cannot be grasped without taking into account Carl Schmitt’s critique of liberal democracy. A century and a half ago, by embracing liberal democracy under the auspices of free-market capitalism, the Europeans played a pivotal role in the self-destruction of the European spirit.

The vicious technological drive under liberal capitalism led the European civilization towards crony centralism, industrialism, mechanization, and above all singularity. Today, neoliberal capitalism has transformed the world into a consumer-hyped mechanized factory in which humanity appears as the by-product of its own artificial creation. The unstructured mechanization of humanity in the last century has brought human civilization to technological crossroads. Hence, the technological drive under liberal democratic capitalism is presenting a huge threat to human civilizational identity.


[1] Wolin, Richard, Carl Schmitt, Political Existentialism, and the Total State, Theory and Society, volume no. 19, no. 4, 1990 (pp. 389-416). Schmitt deemed the friend-enemy dialectics as the cornerstone of his critique on liberalism and universalism.

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International Law

Democratic Backsliding: A Framework for Understanding and Combatting it

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Democracy is suffering setbacks around the world. Over the past decade, the number of liberal democracies has shrunk from 41 to 32. Today, 34 percent of the global population lives in 25 countries moving in the direction of autocracy. By contrast, only 16 countries are undergoing a process of democratization, representing just 4 percent of the global population. Reflecting these troubling trends, USAID Administrator Samantha Power, during her confirmation hearing, highlighted democratic backsliding – along with climate change, conflict and state collapse, and COVID-19 – as among the “four interconnected and gargantuan challenges” that will guide the Biden Administration’s development priorities.

However, defining “democratic backsliding” is far from straightforward. Practitioners and policymakers too often refer to “democratic backsliding” broadly, but there is a high degree of variation in how backsliding manifests in different contexts. This imprecise approach is problematic because it can lead to an inaccurate analysis of events in a country and thereby inappropriate or ineffective solutions.

To prevent or mitigate democratic backsliding, policymakers need a definition of the concept that captures its multi-dimensional nature. It must include the actors responsible for the democratic erosion, the groups imperiled by it, as well as the allies who can help reverse the worst effects of backsliding. 

To address this gap, the International Republican Institute developed a conceptual framework to help practitioners and policymakers more precisely define and analyze how democratic backsliding (or “closing democratic space”) is transpiring and then devise foreign assistance programs to combat it.  Shifting away from broad generalizations that a country is moving forward or backward vis-à-vis democracy—which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to derive specific solutions—the framework breaks closing democratic space into six distinct, and sometimes interrelated, subsectors or “spaces.”

Political/Electoral: Encompasses the arena for political competition and the ability of citizens to hold their government accountable through elections. Examples of closing political or electoral space range from fraudulent election processes and the arrest or harassment of political leaders to burdensome administrative barriers to political party registration or campaigning.

Economic: Refers to the relationship between a country’s economic market structure, including access and regulation, and political competition. Examples of closing economic space include selective or politically motivated audits or distribution of government licenses, contracts, or tax benefits.

Civic/Associational: Describes the space where citizens meet to discuss and/or advocate for issues, needs, and priorities outside the purview of the government. Examples of closing civic or associational space include harassment or co-optation of civic actors or civil society organizations and administrative barriers designed to hamper civil society organizations’ goals including limiting or making it arduous to access resources.

Informational: Captures the venues that afford citizens the opportunity to learn about government performance or hold elected leaders to account, including the media environment and the digital realm. h. Examples of closing informational space consist of laws criminalizing online speech or activity, restrictions on accessing the internet or applications, censorship (including self-censorship), and editorial pressure or harassment of journalists.  

Individual: Encapsulates the space where individuals, including public intellectuals, academics, artists, and cultural leaders– including those traditionally marginalized based on religious, ethnicity, language, or sexual orientation–can exercise basic freedoms related to speech, property, movement, and equality under the law. Common tactics of closing individual space include formal and informal restrictions on basic rights to assemble, protest, or otherwise exercise free speech; censorship, surveillance, or harassment of cultural figures or those critical of government actions; and scapegoating or harassing identity groups.

Governing: Comprises the role of state institutions, at all levels, within political processes. Typical instances of closing the governing space include partisan control of government entities such as courts, election commissions, security services, regulatory bodies; informal control of such governing bodies through nepotism or patronage networks; and legal changes that weaken the balance of powers in favor of the executive branch.

Examining democratic backsliding through this framework forces practitioners and policymakers to more precisely identify how and where democratic space is closing and who is affected. This enhanced understanding enables officials to craft more targeted interventions.

For example, analysts were quick to note Myanmar’s swift about-face toward autocracy.  This might be true, but how does this high-level generalization help craft an effective policy and foreign aid response, beyond emphasizing a need to target funds on strengthening democracy to reverse the trend? In short, it does not.  If practitioners and policymakers had dissected Myanmar’s backsliding using the six-part framework, it would have highlighted specific opportunities for intervention.  This systematic analysis reveals the regime has closed civic space, via forbidding large gatherings, as well as the information space, by outlawing online exchanges and unsanctioned news, even suspending most television broadcasts.  One could easily populate the other four spaces with recent examples, as well. 

Immediately, we see how this exercise leads to more targeted interventions—support to keep news outlets operating, for example, via software the government cannot hack—that, collectively, can help slow backsliding.  Using the framework also compels practitioners and policymakers to consider where there might be spillover—closing in one space that might bleed into another space—and what should be done to mitigate further closing.

Finally, using this framework to examine the strength of Myanmar’s democratic institutions and norms prior to the February coup d’etat may have revealed shortcomings that, if addressed, could have slowed or lessened the impact of the sudden democratic decline. For example, the high-profile arrest of journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo in December 2017 was a significant signal that Myanmar’s information space was closing. Laws or actions to increase protections for journalists and media outlets, could have strengthened the media environment prior to the coup, making it more difficult for the military to close the information space.

A more precise diagnosis of the problem of democratic backsliding is the first step in crafting more effective and efficient solutions. This framework provides practitioners and policymakers a practical way to more thoroughly examine closing space situations and design holistic policies and interventions that address both the immediate challenge and longer-term issue of maintaining and growing democratic gains globally.

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International Law

Authentic Justice Thus Everlasting Peace: Because We Are One

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The ceasefire in the Israeli-Palestine conflict is a good thing. We thank God for it. Be it between two individuals or institutions or nations or the internal colonial and colonized, war does not do anything except cause more immediate or future mass misery and human destruction. Our continued memories of our interpersonal and international and internal colonial and civil wars and the memorials we erect to remember them recall and record wounds and pains we never get over. 

So it becomes a bothersome puzzle as to why we human beings still just don’t get that war like oppression leads to nowhere except to more human devastation. And we should have learned by now but have not that peacemaking like ceasefires mean nothing without justice.

 It is the reason why I constantly find myself correcting those who stress Peace and Justice.No Justice No Peace is more than a cliche.It is real politic emotionally, economically, socially, and spiritually.

Our American inner cities like those in every continent where culturally different and similar people live cramped impoverished lives and nations and colonial enclaves with such unequal wealth remind us of their continued explosive potentialities when peace is once again declared but with no justice.Everyone deserves a decent quality of life which not only includes material necessities but more importantly emotional and spiritual freedoms and other liberations.Not just the victors who conquer and rule and not just the rich and otherwise privileged.

 And until such  justices are  assured to everyone peacemaking is merely a bandaid on cancerous societal or International conflictual soars which come to only benefit those who profit from wars which are bound to come around again when there is no justice and thus peace such as  family destroying divorce lawyers, blood hungry media to sell more subscriptions , arms dealers to sell more murderous technologies, politicians needing  votes so start and prolong wars, and military men and women seeking promotion while practicing their killing capacities.

So if those of us who devoutly practice our  faiths or our golden moral principles,  let us say always and pray and advocate justice and peace always  as a vital public good  and  do justice then lasting peace in our personal lives and insist that national leaders, our own and others do the same in their conduct of international affairs and affairs with those who are stateless in this global world. 

All such pleading is essential since we are all brothers and sisters in the eyes of God who created all of us  in God’s image as one humanity  out of  everlasting divine love for all of us so we should love each other as God loves all of us  leading to desiring justice and thus lasting peace for each and every one of us.

This is difficult for those in international affairs to understand who take more conventional secular approaches to historical and contemporary justice and peace challenges as if our universal spiritual connectivennes  ( not to be confused with the vast diversity of organized religions)as human beings which makes us all brothers and sisters has no relevance. But if we are going to find true enduring peace we have no alternative but to turn our backs on increasingly useless secular methods which go either way, stressing peace then justice or justice then peace and understand how much we must begin to explore and implement approaches which we look at each other as spiritually connected brothers and sisters in which it is the expectation that peace only comes and lasts when  through the equal enjoyment of justices for every human being, we restore our universal kindred rooted in the everlasting love of God and thus for each other, no matter the different ways in which we define God or positive moral principles which originate in understandings that we human beings in all our diversities are one and thus brothers and sisters.

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