EPRS Admin By / July 8, 2019

Worst performers in terms of human rights and democracy among the parties to EU trade agreements 2018

Worst performers in terms of human rights and democracy among the parties to EU trade agreements, 2018

Table 2: Worst performers in terms of human rights and democracy among the parties to EU trade agreements, 2018

An analysis of EU trade partner countries, whose systems of governance range from authoritarian regimes to liberal democracies, shows a great diversity among them with respect to human rights and democracy indicators. These indicators have a relatively balanced distribution in the different categories (Figures 2 and 3 below give visual information on the indicators as provided by the EU-based Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Institute and the US-based Freedom House).
To date, the EU has never suspended trade preferences under a bilateral trade agreement containing an HRC or a linkage clause to an HRC. The presence of so many countries with a problematic human rights and democracy record among the parties to the EU’s trade agreements may of course raise questions. However, a common misconception is that the primary objective of the clause is to enable the EU to place sanctions on its partners by blocking their enhanced access to its market as granted by the agreement. In fact, the clause gives the EU a legal basis to address human rights issues with its partners in various other, more constructive ways. By affirming the parties’ commitment to human rights, the clause opens the way to political dialogue, consultations and a range of cooperation measures in the field of human rights and democracy (e.g. on the implementation of international human rights instruments). The aim is therefore to create incentives for improving respect for and protection of human rights, and this has been the EU’s preferred approach.

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  • How can we report a human rights breach and offically request the EU to place sanctions on one partner by blocking their enhanced access to its market as granted by the agreement if this partner has been constantly refusing to improve its human rights approach including the sytematic abduction of European Citizens? thank you for your help

    • Dear Vincent,

      EU’s bilateral agreements do not contain any provisions granting a right to individual persons to submit to EU decision making bodies complaints about cases of human rights breaches by the other party to the agreement. Nor do so EU’s internal relevant legal provisions, particularly the EU Treaties (e.g. see article 218 of the Treaty on the functioning of the European Union, particularly paragraph 9 on the procedure for suspending international agreements). In practice, the European Commission or the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, which have the power to make a proposal to the Council on suspending an agreement, may undertake consultations with a broad range of stakeholders, particularly civil society.

      Concerning the possibility to invoke the human rights clause because of a breach by the other party, before a tribunal in the EU, this EPRS briefing contains some clarifications and refers to independent research on the topic:
      EU trade agreements concluded after 2008 contain explicit provisions excluding any direct legal effect15 (i.e. an agreement cannot be construed as conferring rights or imposing obligations that can be directly invoked before EU or Member State courts and tribunals). This preclusion is legally codified in different ways, via a combination of several provisions in the text of the agreement and/or in the Council decisions on signing it, and on the provisional application of the agreement (as in the case of FTAs with Korea, Colombia and Peru).16 Therefore, individuals and organisations cannot invoke the HRC before the courts of the EU or Member State courts over failure of their trade partners to adopt appropriate measures in response to human rights breaches.

      There are also other ways to address issues such as the abduction of EU citizens in a third country. For example in the case of child abduction, the European Parliament Coordinator on Children’s Rights can provide assistance. This page offers more information: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/at-your-service/en/be-heard/coordinator-on-children-rights/for-parents

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