Can the EU protect our fundamental rights?

This is a translation of an article I wrote for the Catalan newspaper VilaWeb entitled “La UE pot protegir els nostres drets fonamentals?“. VilaWeb publishes some of their own articles in English here.

Two and a half years ago, we Britons voted in the Brexit referendum.

As a democrat, I had always wanted to have the opportunity to vote, the opportunity to decide on our relationship with the European Union. But when this opportunity arrived, I did not know how to vote.

The European Union represents a great co-operation between countries, an economic power in which 28 nations can fight together for their interests, their economies, etc. For its citizens, the possibility of travelling and working in any European country is a right which makes the world – or, at least, the countries of this union – a little smaller and more open. Despite the mottoes of the far-right, were are all one race and we should be brothers and friends. We should live and work together.

At heart, I am a democrat. I believe in the sovereignty of national and regional parliaments. I believe, above all, in democracy. If the European Union wants to represent Europeans, before anything else it has to defend democracy and human rights. It has to defend these parliaments and rights with all of the strength which the member states give it. But it does not.

Owing to the structure of the European Union, laws are made by bureaucrats who have never been elected by the people. The Union’s only elected body, the parliament, can only say yes or no to the proposals. It does not have the option of presenting laws. And if a country does not want them, they still have to accept them if they are approved by the Parliament. The political direction of the Union and its members is also decided by these bureaucrats. National parliaments are subordinate to the European machine.

But the most dangerous thing about the Union is the lie that it protects our rights. If this organisation has power over governments and national parliaments, the idea that the European Union can protect us from an authoritarian regime makes sense. During the referendum campaign, those who wanted to remain told us that the only way to defend our human rights was to continue as members of the European Union. Even though this is a competency of the European Court of Human Rights, which is an organisation separate from the European Union, they did not stop repeating the same lie. But the European Union has shown many times that the rights of its citizens are not important to them.

So, despite the economic arguments, I voted in favour of Brexit, for democracy and fundamental rights. From then on, every day I have asked myself whether I took the right decision, and I am still not sure.

I see the farce of the British Government and its negotiations and I only feel ashamed of my country. But at the same time, I see the response of the European Union to the Catalan question, and I feel much more ashamed and indignant of the EU.

This “democratic” union has allowed one of its members to have activists and politicians imprisoned for more than a year – without trial – for having defended the right to vote. This “democratic” union has allowed one of its members to have the president of a regional parliament imprisoned for having allowed a debate (what horror!). In October 2017, this “democratic” union allowed one of its members to beat peaceful voters – without recourse, simply for having wanted to vote peacefully.

The European Union has become a union which only wants to protect its own interests. Democracy and human rights are much less important than hiding the poor administration and corruption at the heart of Brussels. When many international organisations and members of parliaments from around the world have criticised the Spanish Government’s approach to Catalonia, the European Union’s own silence implicates it in the very same repression.

The European Union has lost its moral compass, and at the moment it does not seem that it can rediscover it. But if it does not, and soon, the rise of the far-right which we have already seen in Spain, Germany, Italy, etc., will continue until the European elections in May, when these fascists will have a more powerful voice at the heart of the Union.

I am still not sure if my country should leave the European Union or not. I believe that we probably should remain, but the Union has made it very clear that it has no desire to change or improve. The only thing I can say with certainty is that the European Union must change its direction and defend its oppressed citizens, or the support it has among moderates will fall sharply.

Defending democracy and human rights in the face of repressive actions of some states places us in the most important fight of the last twenty or thirty years, and the Europe which we build today will be the Europe in which our children and grandchildren will have to live. In the Europe we want, we always combat repression and fascism and, in their place, support democracy and the fundamental rights of all.

But which side will the European Union choose, in the end?

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