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- Charles Spurgeon

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09 januari 2012

The ECJ on Aslyum, Greece & the UK Protocol on the EU Charter (part 2)

On the UK-Poland Protocol
The second aspect of the judgment, albeit one given short shrift, concerns the UK-Poland Protocol on the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. A key question in the British litigation was whether that Member State has an effective opt-out from the Charter. The Court was clear that it does not. This conclusion is hardly surprising – as the Advocate General declared in her Opinion – the question is “easily answered”. Despite the rhetoric of various British politicians (including former Prime Minister Tony Blair) the Protocol simply does not read as an opt-out as it seeks to clarify the application of the EU Charter. The judgment in NS simply confirms that plain reading. The ECJ did deftly avoided any decision on the more controversial question of the social and economic rights contained in the Charter and their application in Britain. Those rights are likely to be the subject of future litigation and in that field the Protocol may be more pertinent.
This aspect of the decision may cause rancour amongst already-agitated British politicians who claim that ‘Europe’ interferes too much with national policy-making. The previous Government’s failure to escape the clutches of another rights charter can only add to the antipathy currently directed at the ECHR. This political opposition is fomented by media misunderstanding. ADaily Mail story on the ECHR saw a reference to the ‘meddling EU’ having to be amended to ‘meddling Europe’. Despite over-simplification in the public sphere the reality is that European human rights law is complex and is likely to remain that way for now. Indeed, much of the complexity is caused by the unhelpful political tactics that British and other governments tend to engage in. It was a political manoeuvre, not a legal argument, that led to a Protocol which is not an opt-out but a sop to British Euroscepticism. Drastic simplification of the law in this field could now only be achieved through a unification of European legal orders (i.e. the EU and Council of Europe) or through abandoning the very idea of a European human rights law – neither of which is desirable at present. Though the law remains fragmented gradual convergence (and thus simplification) of the law is possible (and even likely) if the debate were only conducted with more matter and less art.
The judgment in NS is not fatal to the European asylum system. There is a high bar to be cleared for any asylum seeker attempting to avoid transfer within the Union. At the same time, the very high proportion of asylum seekers that enter the EU through Greece means that a finding against that Member State alone is enough to cause something of a crisis in this field of EU law. One wonders where this leaves other states, such as Italy, which face serious problems complying with their obligations despite, or indeed because, it is a point of entry for many asylum seekers. On the EU Charter the judgment is both wiley and wise but its greatest significance may be in terms of the opprobrium it will provoke in the UK. As the well-worn proverb has it: interesting times lie ahead for human rights law.

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