Citizens could face an additional hurdle when they file complaints against the EU, once it accedes to the European Convention on Human Rights. Finland has voiced concerns that an extra and unnecessary legal layer is being created.
Finland fears that commitments to bring the EU closer to its citizens that were made in the Lisbon treaty are being broken.
The difficulty arises from how the EU’s Court of Justice in Luxembourg will interact with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
While all 27 EU member states are members of the Council of Europe, and signatories to its human rights convention, the EU as a body is not. The Lisbon treaty, however, commits the EU, which is now a legal entity, to join the convention as a way to bolster and protect citizens’ rights under EU law.
The problem that member states and the European Commission are currently grappling with is how to ensure the ‘supremacy’ of EU law and to prevent compromising the authority of the Luxembourg court by referring human rights cases to Strasbourg.
Efforts to agree on a mandate for the Commission to conduct membership talks to the convention are currently bogged down on how to ensure the Luxembourg court is not undermined.
Finland objects to allowing the Luxembourg court a check on any cases filed against the EU, preferring to see national courts refer such cases directly to Strasbourg, as is the procedure with other rights cases. But other member states claim the EU court would have a valuable role in helping national courts filter out cases that do not qualify.
“We see this as problematic for individuals,” said one Finnish diplomat involved in the discussions. “It would just be unreasonable. It makes the process even longer than the years and years it already takes now to get a case to Strasbourg.”
The issue is one of many that will have to be resolved before a negotiating mandate is agreed to, which officials and diplomats say could drag on into July. The goal of the Spanish presidency of the Council of Ministers was to have a mandate agreed by June, so that the Commission could start negotiations in either July or September. The accession process could take up to two years to complete, according to officials.
Spanish centre-left MEP Ramón Jáuregui Atondo, who drafted the Parliament’s position on the issue, said he expected “a long procedure” due to the legal issues and national protocols that the EU has to iron out to join the convention.
“I expect six months of negotiations, followed by a ratification process of 12 months,” said Jáuregui Atondo. “The problem is that the EU is not a state,” he said.
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