EU human rights, democracy and rule of law: from concepts to practice

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Timmer, Alexandra
Majtényi, Balázs
Häusler, Katharina
Salát, Orsolya
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This report provides an analysis of the EU’s conceptualisation and operationalisation of the concepts of human rights, democracy and rule of law. It is the second Deliverable in Work Package 3 of the FRAME project. The report understands the term ‘concepts’ to refer to the content of, or the ideas that underlie, the notions of human rights, democracy, and rule of law (Chapter I). Accordingly, the objective of this report is to analyse what content the EU assigns to human rights, democracy, and rule of law. As human constructs, concepts are dynamic and they have no clear boundaries. To complicate matters, the concepts of human rights, democracy and rule of law are famously elusive, which also certainly holds true for their application by the EU. Chapter II describes one clearly discernible trend: the EU has increasingly moved away from ‘thin’/formal to more ‘thick’/substantive conceptions of human rights, the rule of law and democracy. Over the years, the EU has come to interpret these concepts in a fairly broad and holistic manner, which is conceptually underpinned by respect for human dignity. In external action, the EU’s approach to these concepts is even broader. This report shows that the content of each concept consists of several components: o Human rights are the rights humans universally enjoy, and that entail a universal legal obligation on the part of states to uphold them. Human rights are indivisible, in the sense that the EU recognises civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights. In the EU’s conceptualisation, human rights are primarily individual but they can also have collective dimensions (e.g. when it comes to environmental protection). o Theruleoflawisthepropermethodofgovernance,whichincludesbothformalandsubstantive elements. Within the EU, the rule of law includes legality; legal certainty; prohibition of arbitrariness of the executive powers; independent judiciary; effective judicial review including respect for fundamental rights; and equality before the law. o The concept of democracy determines who governs. There are several principles underlying the EU’s vision of democracy: democratic equality; representative democracy; participatory democracy; transparency and deliberation. There are several themes that cut across all three concepts. This report highlights two in particular: the interaction between universalism and cultural relativism, and the question of how to ensure that human rights, democracy and rule of law are conceptualised in inclusive ways. Chapters III and IV turn to the question how the EU operationalizes these concepts. On the internal scene (Chapter III), the report provides a case study of Hungary. In spite of the fact that Hungary is an EU member state, it diverges from the values enshrined in Article 2 of TEU and the concept of democratic rule of law with human rights. Criticism by international and European organizations has not been followed by fundamental changes of the characteristics of the newly setup constitutional system. Chapter IV analyses the ways in which the EU operationalizes human rights, democracy and rule of law in its external action through its human rights dialogues (HRDs), election observations missions (EOMs) and resolutions by the European Parliament (EP). It focused thereby on the case studies of Egypt and Pakistan. The key question of this analysis is whether the EU’s external policy actors in practice follow the conceptual principles, which have been developed. The conclusion is that this is mixed. Especially as regards social and economic rights and the protection of ‘vulnerable’ groups, conceptualisation and operationalisation do not seem to correspond.
European Union, human rights, democracy, rule of law