Fundamental Rights in unity?
The Council of the European Union moved on to their second topic on the agenda: the revision of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The opening statements already promised a fruitful debate. The European Union should be united in their values, while revising the Charter though it becomes clear that this only holds true in theory. Modern understandings of gender and sexuality do not seem to be established in every country and culture. Moreover, freedom of speech and press do not have the same status in every Member State.
The opening statements gave an insight on the divergent opinions on including same-sex in the Charter. Article 9 provides the right to marry and found a family within the restriction based on national laws regulating the exercise of these laws. As this is against the will and principles of mainly Eastern European states, it led to an intense debate. Nowadays, thirteen Member States of the EU allow same-sex marriage already, some only recognize same-sex registered partnerships or civil unions. If the delegates would want to include this specifically in the Charter, they need to exceed at persuasion or to find a compromise in order to have a majority. The Republic of Ireland is an exception among the Western member states – it is keen on finding a compromise and not to push other member states to introduce same-sex marriage early on in the debate.
Poland states it is not necessary to include more than the two genders “men and women”, because it only changes the wording and not the rights in the member states. The delegation therefore does not seem to see the real issue and neglects the feelings of anyone being part of the LGBTQI+ community. Words mean power that should not be underestimated. Reluctantly, Poland most likely will not vote in favor of any draft including clauses acknowledging diversity.
The challenges of digitalization were again a topic to be discussed in this committee. Article 8 already covers the protection of data, but in times where the internet takes over such a major role it is questionable if the article is extensive enough. The delegate of Germany points out that it is a state’s responsibility to protect data. Therefore, users should have to right to be informed how their data is used and to be protected from manipulation.
Concerning Article 11 of the Charter about freedom of expression, the propose to include protection from hate speech and fake news in a subclause was introduced by the delegate of Germany. This led to many contradictions. The delegate of Ireland emphasizes the need to be careful to not restrict freedom of speech in general by including a precise subclause. There, Ireland and Poland found a common ground.
To guarantee every citizen a salutary environment the Charter includes article 37 acknowledging environmental protection. The wording though is vague, it requests to act according to “the principle of sustainable development”. It remains unclear how a sustainable development is defined and regarding the urgent matter of climate change there may be improvements to be done. Therefore, the delegate of Slovenia suggests to define a common goal to be pursued but details should be decided by every country themselves due to different levels of environmental protection.
To revise this charter of fundamental rights it needs to be considered wisely whether the current status of the Charter is sufficient and more persistent than including narrow specification. The Charter will not be legally binding, but the Charter can function as a document to refer to. No matter what the outcome will be, it is sure that the Charter needs to get more awareness among European citizens.