Written by Ionel Zamfir, Martina Prpic and Rosamund Shreeves,
In the 70 years since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the first international document to set common standards of achievement for all states – the pivotal role and moral, legal and political significance of human rights in the international arena have become indisputable. However, despite considerable progress in many areas on recognition, codification and implementation, human rights have also come under increased attack. Whether in theatres of war or in the political arena, human rights are now rejected on ideological grounds. The EU itself has not been spared by the current backlash. In its Member States, a populist wave has empowered political forces that increasingly question the significance of core human rights, such as the right to freedom of expression.
In these troubled times for human rights, opinion polls show that European citizens perceive human rights as one of the most important values for them personally and one of the values that best represent the EU itself.
Having emerged from World War II and its atrocities, European countries were determined to secure lasting peace, and the Union they created is now founded on respect for democracy, the rule of law and human rights, which guide and shape its legislation and policies. Within the EU, recent action has included new legislation on data protection and access to justice, the European Pillar of Social Rights, and initiatives to combat inequality, discrimination and hate speech. There is also an acknowledgement that more needs to be done to complete the legal framework to combat discrimination and strengthen internal mechanisms for upholding the rule of law. Human rights are additionally a general objective of EU external action. The EU is deeply committed to promoting human rights, as enshrined in international treaties, in its relations with third countries and with other multilateral regional and global institutions. During the last EP mandate, the EU consistently applied and deepened a range of policy approaches that strengthen its role and image as a normative power that inspires others through its example. Maintaining and consolidating this policy remains vital for preserving the EU’s image and credibility as a normative power, based on values, that has the capacity to act at a time when the principle of multilateralism is increasingly questioned.
Read the complete briefing on ‘EU policies – Delivering for citizens: Human Rights‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.