Assessing the strategic use of the EU fundamental and human rights toolbox

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Altafin, Chiara
Haász, Veronika
Podstawa, Karolina
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The report on ‘Assessing the strategic use of the EU fundamental and human rights toolbox’, which includes case studies on Hungary and Poland, Turkey, and Ukraine, evaluates the strategic use of the EU internal fundamental and external human rights toolbox. It builds on the previous report (FRAME Deliverable 14.1, forthcoming) which mapped the EU fundamental and human rights toolbox by identifying the concrete tools and providing different categorisations for them. The present report goes a step further and analyses what it means to use these tools in a strategic way. As objects of analysis, three case studies were chosen focusing on three crisis situations affecting human rights in EU policies: the Polish-Hungarian constitutional crisis, the refugee crisis and the Ukrainian crisis. The report starts with an introductory chapter describing the concept of ‘strategy’ and the related ‘strategic use of tools’ which the guides the analysis of the subsequent three chapters focusing on the three separate case studies. The ‘strategic use of tools’ is the use of policy tools that follows the EU strategic documents affecting human rights. Thus, the analysis of the ‘strategic use’ of the EU’s fundamental and human rights toolbox would involve effectively implementing strategic/programmatic documents. The analysis of the three case studies builds around the concept of crisis understood as an extraordinary change of circumstances. Each analysis starts off with determining the toolbox that accompanies the relevant ‘strategic document’ prior to crisis. This may be referred to as long-term strategies. Then, upon the radical change of circumstances, this long-term toolbox must be adjusted if not completely changed. In the analysis offered by the three case studies, an attempt is made to determine whether the long-term tools have been implemented and what was the impact of the crisis on the use of tools. […] The general conclusions echo the preliminary conclusions drawn by FRAME Deliverable 15.1 (forthcoming) in relation to coherence, implementation, and effectiveness. It is clear that the existence of strategy matters, and could be considered as a guardian of coherence. Yet, its content will be nothing more than declaratory if not duly implemented and its effectiveness evaluated. In this sense, the present report adds to the understanding of what makes a strategy implementable and effective. The EU human and fundamental rights policy would benefit greatly from increased coherence, effectiveness and enhanced implementation of the policy tools. In particular, there exists a gap between the strategies concerning human rights and their implementation by the European Union, and those of the Member States. An important issue with regard to the EU’s commitment to human rights is the lack of clear, visible and accountable leadership at the top of the European Union institutions. It is not surprising that human rights leadership is hardly visible at Member States’ level. This means that no matter how many strategic documents exist, the tools will tend not to be used in strategic terms but rather on an ad hoc basis. The case studies are not good examples of the strategic use of fundamental and human rights tools for preventive purposes. They show that the EU tools deal with consequences more than they prevent fundamental and human rights violations. It is admittedly difficult to foresee crisis situations, nevertheless, this report evidences the EU’s tendency to adopt a reactive attitude even in situations that have been similarly experienced in the past, such as for example the Hungarian and the Polish constitutional crisis. If the strategic use of human rights tools by the EU must be such that it follows the objectives set out in strategic documents, the research included in this report and the conclusions of the workshop on the topic that took place in Venice on 5 and 6 May 2016 point to a rather wide gap between what the strategy sets out to accomplish and the actual results delivered through the use of the tools. It must be recognised that, whilst one can desire strategic use of tools for human rights, the actual delivery is patchy and sometimes involves unpleasant choices. Likewise, it is difficult to have complete knowledge of all the stakes associated with a crisis situation, which makes the recommendations as to strategic use of tools difficult if not impossible to make. This report has evidenced that the EU was not able to fully implement its strategies, at least not without some negative collateral effects. At the same time, it is a positive thing that the strategies and the toolbox are available, even if implemented to a larger or smaller degree.
European Union, human rights, policy toolbox, Poland, Hungary, constitutional crisis, Rule of Law Framework, refugee crisis, Turkey, migration policy, Ukraine, strategy