A new report says the European Union is failing to forcefully champion its values, like free expression, and crack down on threats, like government surveillance, both within and outside the bloc.
Issued Thursday by the Index on Censorship, the report faults the 28-member European Union and its executive arm, the European Commission, for not matching its free expression rhetoric with strong action.
The study offers a number of examples, including one of the most sensitive this year – the case of American whistleblower Edward Snowden who leaked evidence of widespread surveillance by the United States in Europe and elsewhere.
Not only did European countries reject giving Snowden asylum, says Index on Censorship’s advocacy director Mike Harris, who authored the report, but they failed to forcefully defend European media, like Britain’s The Guardiannewspaper, which reported on the leaked evidence.
“There’s not really been a concerted EU attempt to say ‘hang on a minute, the roles and the aspirations of the European Union are for privacy and the importance of communications to protect freedom of expression,'” said Harris.
The report is wide-ranging, going far beyond the Snowden affair. It offers a so-called democracy scorecard that places some Nordic countries like Sweden and Finland at the top and others like Romania and Hungary at the bottom.
It also criticizes the Europe Commission for not offering a more forceful defense of free expression in countries like member state Hungary, along with nonmembers like Azerbaijan or the so-called Arab Spring states.
“The European Union hasn’t used the power it has as the world’s largest trading bloc, the economic might it has and the soft power tools it has, to really push for the rights of citizens across its near neighborhood,” he said.
When Europe has acted, Harris says, it has made a difference.
“So for example in Belarus, it’s imposed targeted sanctions against some of the vilest people who are involved in the regime,” he said. “And that strong message sent to President Alexander Lukashenko was one of the main reasons why we got the release of roughly half the political prisoners that were rounded up in 2010.”
EU officials did not immediately return calls and e-mail queries for a response. But EU commissioners like Viviane Reding have spoken out regularly in defense of media freedom. Separately, the European Parliament has voted to invite Snowden to testify on U.S. surveillance and the parliament’s Green group has nominated him for the Sakharov prize, Europe’s highest human rights award.
(Photo: Steve Rhodes/flickr.com)