The EU is built on values. Values such as respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality between men and women, respect for the rule of law and for human rights form the foundation of the EU. They are set out in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and are shared by all EU member states. But do the EU and its member states always adhere to European values?
We’ve been looking at ideas from the Conference on the Future of Europe, where citizens from all over Europe propose and discuss their ideas for the future of Europe. In the last few weeks, we’ve debated whether an independent Scotland should rejoin the EU and whether there should be only one EU President. Today, we’re asking whether the EU lives up to its values and, if not, what should change?
Today’s idea comes from Till, who is convinced the EU doesn’t always act in accordance with its values, especially when it comes to dealing with refugees or migrants at its external borders. That is why he is calling for a fundamental reform of Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency. Till writes on the Conference on the Future of Europe platform:
“The human rights violations being committed in the name of the EU at its external borders by Frontex are inconceivable. A fundamental reform must be implemented as quickly as possible, and legal protection channels must be improved. Central European states must stand in solidarity with those at the external border. A European response to the challenge of migration and asylum must be found without betraying our values. If this does not succeed, the EU threatens to disintegrate because member states behave in a selfish manner, and the foundation on which the EU is built – the law – crumbles.”
What do our readers think? Reader Marion sees a contradiction between the values the EU professes and the Union’s actual behaviour, especially in the refugee crisis. She says: “Some talk about having to defend our values. But where are those values when it comes to our fellow human beings at the EU’s external borders?”
We have put Marion’s comment to Despina Spanou, Head of Cabinet for Vice-President of the European Commission Margaritis Schinas, who has the portfolio “Promoting our European way of life”, which aims to “Protect our citizens and our values”. How would she respond to Marion’s comment?
I understand what she means when she says she is ashamed. It is true that we can no longer accept not having a European Union asylum and migration policy. We have failed. With the proposal we have made on the new migration pact, we hope that we will finally get there. And I think all the parameters are there. We need a European approach, we can no longer have some member states that are more generous than others, some that are more prepared than others, some that are more negative than others. We need a European approach. We need a proportionate approach to asylum seekers versus those who are not accepted.
We also need to protect our borders, we also need a very balanced approach to everything. But I think it is indeed very important that we agree on a uniform asylum procedure in Europe. At the same time, with the new migration pact, we have also tried to do something for the rest of the world by addressing the sources from which these migration flows come. So we have stepped up our work on the external aspects of migration, working with the countries where the migrants come from to try to promote peace and opportunity in those countries. But also to make sure that we have a balanced flow of migration from those parts of the world where it is necessary that they lead to people who are eligible to apply for asylum in Europe versus those who need to be sent back or resettled. So that is a very, very important aspect of our current work on migration – to address the source of the problem, also to help people while they are still over there in their countries looking for a better future.
We have also forwarded Marion’s comment to Laura Sullivan, Executive Director of We Move Europe, a citizens’ movement aiming to strengthen the capacity of citizens to change Europe for the benefit of society, future generations and the planet. How would she answer Marion?
I would say: Marion, do you want a job? Because that’s exactly how we feel at We Move Europe. Since 2013, we have been like the proverbial “slow-boiled frogs” in Europe. What do I mean by that? We have been slow cooked in the sense of a narrative that started around 2013 when the far right in Europe compared people on the move to criminals, to bad people who either wanted to steal our jobs or were very lazy (they couldn’t decide which). And since then, unfortunately, our EU leaders have not adopted such directly toxic language, but have almost turned the language and narrative into something extremely robotic.
Let me give you an example. If you read any of the texts around migration, you will see the words “flows” or “illegals” much more often than “people” or “folk”. We reduce people to facts and figures and “flows” and “illegals” rather than people who have rights. Basically, I would say that as a pro-European and as a director of We Move Europe, I am concerned and ashamed of the path the European Union is on. It can be made good, but we need to start making amends pretty quickly.
Does the EU live up to its values? Is the EU acting against its values at its external borders? Should Frontex be reformed? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!