European Convention on Human Rights
EU accession to ECHR: Talks enter final stretch
By Irina Smirnova-Godoy | Wednesday 27 June 2012
A joint informal body of members of the European Parliament and Council of Europe (CoE) parliamentarians applauded the new impetus given to the EU’s accession to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR). The recent decision by the CoE Committee of Ministers to resume the talks came on the heels of a similar recommendation by the Justice and Home Affairs Council, meeting in Luxembourg on 26-27 April. Both European bodies concur that the necessary legal documentation has to be finalised as soon as possible, thus putting an end to the six-month hiatus in the accession talks.
The legal personality bestowed on the EU by the Lisbon Treaty makes it possible for the Union to become party to international treaties. According to Article 6(2), “the EU shall accede” to the ECHR. In June 2010, the EU Council adopted a mandate for negotiations on the matter and after several rounds of talks between the CoE Steering Committee for Human Rights (CDDH) and the EU, the draft accession agreement was submitted to the CDDH’s extraordinary meeting, on 12-14 October 2011.
The two co-chairs of the joint informal body, Pietro Marcenaro (CoE) and Carlo Casini (EU), asserted, at their third meeting in Paris, on 19-21 June, that the agreement “is crucial with a view to securing a common space for human rights protection across the European continent. According to Union officials, accession will allow the harmonious development of the case law of the EU Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
Despite the binding nature of the EU’s commitment to become an ECHR signatory, debates at the European Parliament in April revealed several points of contention, expressed mostly by UK MEPs. A recent study, commissioned by a group of Conservative British MPs, concluded that in over 270 cases the European judges had “breached a convention right,” which means the UK has lost three out of four cases lodged against it in the court.
A number of recent ECHR decisions have angered the UK’s public opinion, especially the 2005 ruling that obliged the country to grant voting rights to prisoners (the UK has so far refused to execute the judgement) and the 2012 Abu Qatada deportation case. The EP’s April debates on the issue of accession also revealed MEPs’ concerns about the credibility of the ECHR’s judges and the court’s discretion in human rights protection interpretation, as well as the power of encroachment on national legislative and constitutional systems.
Whereas opposition in the UK is mostly political, France opposes subjecting the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) to the convention and wants more clarity on the interaction between the EU Court of Justice and the ECHR.
Sources close to the negotiating bodies, however, indicate that some member states are expected to express reservations.
By now, the Union has accepted its accession to the convention and its Protocols 1 and 6, ratified by all member states, as well as the EP’s participation in voting procedures on the judges of the court and the co-respondent mechanism, allowing EU or a member state to join a case in an alleged violation against the other.
A number of aspects are still to be resolved, namely the voting arrangements for the supervision of judgements against the EU and submission to the ECHR in the field of the CFSP.
For accession to materialise, the following steps should be taken: unanimous agreement should be reached in Council; all 47 CoE member states should agree in the Committee of Ministers; the ECJ should issue a legal opinion on the compatibility of the final accession agreement with the EU treaties; and all 47 states, the EU, as well as the European Parliament should give their consent.