Bosni i Hercegovini je do sada u EU integracijama bilo potrebno više vremena nego bilo kojoj drugoj državi Balkana. BiH još uvijek nije predala aplikaciju za članstvo, a probila je sve rekorde kada je u pitanju Sporazum o stabilizaciji i pridruživanju (SSP). Pregovori o SSP-u sa EU krenuli su još u novembru 2005. A sporazum, osam godina kasnije, još uvijek nije stupio na snagu.
U najnovijem izvještaju Evropske incijative za stabilnost (ESI), “Houdini u BiH – Kako otključati process EU integracija”, ESI ukazuje na konkretne posljedice zastoja. U desetljeću nakon 2003. tri zemlje koje su ostvarile najgori napredak u pristupanju EU, Kosovo, Albanija i BiH, su ujedno i tri zemlje Zapadnog Balkana koje su ostvarile najgori ekonomski napredak, bilo da se radi o ekonomskom rastu po glavi stanovnika, rastu izvoza ili broju zaposlenih. Biti najsporiji dolazi sa cijenom, a ta cijena se plaća prosperitetetom.
Sve to čini prevazilaženje trenutnog zastoja u BiH još hitnijim. Uzrok i bh. muke oko SSP-a i njenog oklijevanja u predaji aplikacije za članstvo u EU je samo jedan: neuspjeh političkih vođa da se dogovore o provedbi presude Evropskog suda za ljudska prava u slučaju Sejdić i Finci. U proteklih 46 mjeseci sigurno nije nedostajalo pokušaja da se ispregovara rješenje. Više od 50 prijedloga je razrađeno, a o istim se raspravljalo tokom više od 130 sastanaka. Samim tim nedostatk pokušaja nije razlog što se bh. političari nisu dogovorili.
U idealnoj situaciji, vođe najvažnijih političkih stranaka iz oba entiteta će se što prije dogovoriti o potpunoj provedbi presude u slučaju Sejdić i Finci. Ali ako se ne mogu dogovoriti o svemu sada, onda se trebaju barem dogovoriti o reformi Doma naroda Parlamentarne skupštine BiH.
Sud za ljudska prava presudu u slučaju Sejdić i Finci, u dijelu o Domu naroda BiH, zasniva na Konvenciji o ljudskim pravima i njenom prvom protokolu, a koji su na snazi u svim zemljama članicama EU. Samim tim ima smisla da fokus Evropske unije bude na promjeni Ustava BiH u dijelu koji se odnosi na Dom naroda. U dijelu o Predsjedništvu BiH, Evrospki sud svoju presudu bazira na protokolu 12, koji je na snazi u samo 8 od 28 zemalja članica EU. Samim tim politički je teže opravdati blokiranje BiH od stane EU u ovom dijelu.
Naš izvještaj nudi izlaz iz trenutnog zastoja. Bh. političke stranke trebaju potvrditi svoju volju za implementaciju presude Suda za ljudska prava. Treba da priznaju kako im za postizanje dogovora o Predsjedništvu BiH treba više vremena i treba odmah da se dogovore o rješenje za Dom naroda. EU treba da prihvati promjene vezane za Dom naroda kao ‘kredibilan napor’ dovoljan za pokretanje procesa pridruživanja EU, te nastavi da inzistira na potrebi ispunjavanja preostalih obaveza do punopravnog članstva BiH u EU.
U takvom razvoju događaja Predsjedništvo BiH bi trebalo da pošalje pismo Vijeću Evropske unije i podnese zahtjev za članstvo u EU. Ovo bi bilo dobro i
za BiH i za EU jer bi omogućilo jednoj od najsiromašnijih zemalja na Balkanu da odbaci okove koji je predugo usporavaju i zaustavljaju.
In his wonderful book on Turkish history – The Young Turk Legacy And Nation Building - Dutch historian Eric J Zuercher has an intriguing chapter on “Turning Points and Missed Opportunitities in the Modern History of Turkey: Where Could Things Have Gone Differently?”. Here he discusses how Ottoman and later Turkey history might have developed if the wars of 1877 and 1912 had NOT taken place; if there had NOT been the Istanbul uprising of April 1909; if Kemal Ataturk had NOT established “an almost totalitarian grip” over the country in the 1920s; and if the transition to democracy after World War II had happened differently. And Zuercher concludes:
“it is a very useful exercise for us historians to remind ourselves that the historical developments with which we are all too familiar, should not be seen as inevitable … Thinking about what could have been makes us more sensitive to processes and contingencies that we too easily overlook when we already know how the story ends.”
It is indeed a useful exercise and I only regret that Zuercher stops his what if in the 1950s.
One of the most intriguing missed opportunities in Turkey’s modern history surely took place in the late 1970s, when Turkey decided not to follow Greece, Spain and Portugal and did not submit an application for full EU accession. Why did it not? Would it have succeeded? Was it discouraged by EU member states or was this above all a result of its internal politics?
I have long been puzzled by this question; and so far I have found it difficult to find detailed accounts of what actually happened then. For now I only hope that Zuercher, or some other curious historian, will go and look in the diplomatic archives to tell us the full and real story.
Here are, for now, the outlines of this missed opportunity as I have pieced them together from different sources.
On 12 June 1975 Greece, having just emerged from military rule, submitted its application to the (then) European Economic Community (EEC). Negotiations started in July 1976. On 28 March 1977 Spain submitted its application. This was followed by Portugal in July that same year.
If Turkey had submitted an application at the time chances are that it would have been very difficult for the EEC to reject it while accepting Greece. While some EEC countries (including, not surprisingly, the France led by president Valery Giscard d’Estaing) did not believe that a Greek and Turkish application would necessarily be treated together, others apparently disagreed. Armagan Emre Cakir discusses evidence that some high level European politicians and officials travelled to Ankara and urged the government of the prime minister Bulent Ecevit in 1978 to apply. Ecevit was opposed; so was his deputy prime minister at the time, the Islamist Necemettin Erbakan. It seems that for Ecevit the EU was too capitalist; for Erbakan it was too much a “Christian club.”
There were even then those in Turkey who urged the country to be more proactive. The Turkish ambassador in Brussels, Tevfik Saracoglu, returned to Ankara in summer 1975 (after Greece had just applied) urging the prime minister Demirel, and party leaders Turkes and Erbakan to do the same. He left empty handed.
In May 1978, as the membership for Greece was finalized, Ecevit, instead of submitting a Turkish application, froze relations with the EEC.
But this was not the last chance. In 1980 the foreign minister of Turkey, Hayrettin Erkmen, told the government of Suleyman Demirel that Turkey should apply urgently. Erkmen failed. In fact, in July 1980 the Islamist Erbakan brought a motion against him into the parliament because of his idea to take Turkey into the EEC. This motion was supported by the left-wing Kemalist Bulent Ecevit. And so Erkmen was removed from office on 5 September 1980.
A week later, on 12 September, tanks rolled in streets of Ankara and Istanbul, as a military junta took control of the country. One of Turkey’s darkest periods was about to begin.
This is the rough outline of what must surely be regarded as one of the great missed opportunities of modern European history. I wonder if a Turkey on route to joining the EEC would have experienced the brutal coup in 1980 that finally and decisively separated its fate from that of other European Mediterranean countries with autocratic traditions. Greece joined the EU in 1981. Spain and Portugal followed in 1986. In 1989 the Berlin Wall came down and the division of Europe ended. During this time Turkey first adopted a military-inspired constitution, then fought a bitter counterinsurgency campaign against the PKK – while trying in vain to suppress all expressions of a separate Kurdish identity. Economically the gap between Turkey on the one hand and Spain, Portugal and Greece on the other became ever wider during the two decades that followed.
I hope this fascinating episode will one day soon be researched in depth. Unfortunately Hayretting Erkmen died in 1999, so it is no longer possible to interview him. Erbakan also died, as did Ecevit. And yet, there must be witnesses and documents that would allow a diligent historian to reconstruct the events that led to such a tragic denouement.
This also qualifies a claim sometimes still made by Turkish politicians that the EU has prevented them from joining the EU “for half a century”. For much of that period it appears Turkey’s biggest obstacle were the attitudes of Turkey’s leaders.
One also hopes that Turkey’s leaders do not repeat the mistakes of this time and miss further windows of opportunities. I could think of a few even now. This is, however, another story.
PS: If any readers know of any more detailed study of this period, in English , German or Turkish, please let me know at email@example.com!
Summer always offers plenty of opportunities for reading. One of the most interesting new books I came across this time was a little tome, freely available on the internet, written a long time ago and almost from the moment of its first publication in 1759 part of the canon of European literature: Voltaire’s Candide, or Optimism.
This is a text everyone who ever went to school in France has probably read then; although I wonder if an adolescent can appreciate it as much as an adult with a bit more experience of the ways of the world. Since I had not read it before it was a pleasure to discover its wit this summer.
Classics can be read in myriad different ways. I read Candide while thinking about the economic and social future of the Western Balkans. I feel impatience with complacent assumptions that it is somehow a given that countries of the region will develop and catch up before long (because they remove trade barriers; because they have a European perspective; because they rise in the Ease of Doing Business tables; etc …). There is little sign for it at the moment and no reason to assume that they will unless a lot changes. On the other hand, it seems clear that there are also no simple and obvious policy prescriptions to be applied with no new intellectual effort, certainly not without taking into account the specific realities, legacies and potentials of these societies.
I read Candide while preparing project applications for ESI to work more on economic development in Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo in the coming months. And as I looked up from this little book one thought struck me: unless policies, mentalities and public debates in Balkan societies change a lot, and fast, it is perfectly possible and indeed likely that in ten years the main economic activities will still be what they have been ten years ago, and are now: construction of private houses (some of them never to be inhabited), fuelled by remittances; the organisation of sumptious weddings, funded from money earned abroad; the purchasing of gold bracelets for brides for thousands of Euros, with little left for investments in education, new skills, or technologies to bring about development; misallocating scarce resources, one household at a time.
There is no need here to further interpret Voltaire’s 18th century master piece; this has been done before by tens of thousands of impressed readers, many much more qualified than I am. Candide is one of the most biting and witty attacks ever written against superstition and optimistic determinism, authoritarian rule and religious extremism, scholarly arrogance and brutal traditionalism. However, I do want to whet your appetite if you happen to belong to the small group of people coming here and not having read it yet. I simply defer to the wisdom and genius of Voltaire and quote three short excerpts (The whole book is online.)
Candidate is, above all else, an unrivalled attack against complacency, as presented by the German teacher of the ingénue Candide, Professor Pangloss:
“Pangloss was professor of metaphysico-theologico-cosmolo-nigology. He proved admirably that there is no effect without a cause … “It is demonstrable,” said he, “that things cannot be otherwise than as they are; for all being created for an end, all is necessarily for the best end. Observe that the nose has been formed to bear spectacles–thus we have spectacles. Legs are visibly designed for stockings–and we have stockings. Stones were made to be hewn, and to construct castles–therefore my lord has a magnificent castle; for the greatest baron in the province ought to be the best lodged. Pigs were made to be eaten–therefore we eat pork all the year round. Consequently they who assert that all is well have said a foolish thing, they should have said all is for the best.”
Candide, after erring around the world, like a naive and hapless 18th century Ulysees, from France to Constantinople and across the world, discovers in the end that looking for ultimate answers to the biggest questions may well be in vain.
“In the neighbourhood there lived a very famous Dervish who was esteemed the best philosopher in all Turkey, and they went to consult him. Pangloss was the speaker.
“Master,” said he, “we come to beg you to tell why so strange an animal as man was made.”
“With what meddlest thou?” said the Dervish; “is it thy business?”
“But, reverend father,” said Candide, “there is horrible evil in this world.”
“What signifies it,” said the Dervish, “whether there be evil or good? When his highness sends a ship to Egypt, does he trouble his head whether the mice on board are at their ease or not?”
“What, then, must we do?” said Pangloss.
“Hold your tongue,” answered the Dervish.
“I was in hopes,” said Pangloss, “that I should reason with you a little about causes and effects, about the best of possible worlds, the origin of evil, the nature of the soul, and the pre-established harmony.”
At these words, the Dervish shut the door in their faces.”
So what is the conclusion of this tale, the distilled wisdom Candide arrives at … after travelling the four corners of the world? It is a lesson of startling simplicity: let everyone cultivate their gardens. The good life, and the good philosophy, is practical, like that of a gardener … sweating while working to help along things which can grow, aware that all good things are the result of patience as much as effort.
“”Grandeur,” said Pangloss, “is extremely dangerous according to the testimony of philosophers. For, in short, Eglon, King of Moab, was assassinated by Ehud; Absalom was hung by his hair, and pierced with three darts; King Nadab, the son of Jeroboam, was killed by Baasa; King Ela by Zimri; Ahaziah by Jehu; Athaliah by Jehoiada; the Kings Jehoiakim, Jeconiah, and Zedekiah, were led into captivity. You know how perished Croesus, Astyages, Darius, Dionysius of Syracuse, Pyrrhus, Perseus, Hannibal, Jugurtha, Ariovistus, Cæsar, Pompey, Nero, Otho, Vitellius, Domitian, Richard II. of England, Edward II., Henry VI., Richard III., Mary Stuart, Charles I., the three Henrys of France, the Emperor Henry IV.! You know—-”
“I know also,” said Candide, “that we must cultivate our garden.”
“You are right,” said Pangloss, “for when man was first placed in the Garden of Eden, he was put there ut operaretur eum, that he might cultivate it; which shows that man was not born to be idle.” “Let us work,” said Martin, “without disputing; it is the only way to render life tolerable.
The whole little society entered into this laudable design, according to their different abilities. Their little plot of land produced plentiful crops. Cunegonde was, indeed, very ugly, but she became an excellent pastry cook; Paquette worked at embroidery; the old woman looked after the linen. They were all, not excepting Friar Giroflée, of some service or other; for he made a good joiner, and became a very honest man.
Pangloss sometimes said to Candide:
“There is a concatenation of events in this best of all possible worlds: for if you had not been kicked out of a magnificent castle for love of Miss Cunegonde: if you had not been put into the Inquisition: if you had not walked over America: if you had not stabbed the Baron: if you had not lost all your sheep from the fine country of El Dorado: you would not be here eating preserved citrons and pistachio-nuts.”
“All that is very well,” answered Candide, “but let us cultivate our garden.”
I just returned from Albania. There I came across a strong sense of new optimism in this late August; a can-do-spirit accompanying the arrival of a new government. Now I just hope that Candide’s final motto will become the guiding idea for reformers, there and across the Balkans, in coming years: let them all be like good gardeners!
Committed, hard working, confident. Better harvests are possible. Panglossian philosophies are dangerous. All good things take time and patience. And politics is either a succession of rulers, one replacing the other, in an almost meaningless carousel of vanity (at least today this no longer involves bloodshed in the Balkans) … or, at its best, the noble art of helping society cultivate its talents: producing crops, embroidery, citrons and pistachios.
Can this be all? And how does this argument relate to other current debates, like those on international interventions – from Afghanistan to Egypt? Is this really an argument for wise restraint or an excuse for selfish navel gazing?
What you make of it depends on you, of course. And yet it is always worth hearing this call for humbleness, this appeal in favour of practical, concrete and modest activism. Voltaire seems to say: do not pretend to change things you do not understand … but do change those you can, and make every effort then.
On Saturday night, central Istanbul descended into apocalyptic scenes of unfettered violence. The police targeted tear gas, water cannons and plastic bullets at protestors, and stormed a hotel near the park, which had set up a makeshift clinic to treat children and adults caught up in the events. Among those trapped in the hotel was the co-chair of Germany’s Green Party, Claudia Roth, who is an avid follower of Turkey’s politics, a witness to the decade of violence in the 1990s in the country’s Kurdish provinces, and politician who supported the Turkish government’s democratic reform process. Shaken and affected by the teargas fired into the hotel lobby, she described her escape from Gezi Park, which she had visited in a show of solidarity. “We tried to flee and the police pursued us. It was like war”. She added the next day that it is the peaceful protestors in Gezi Park and elsewhere, braving police violence to stand up for the democratic right to speak out, who are providing the strongest argument for advocates of the future European integration of Turkey.
Only a few hours before Roth’s initial statement on Saturday, the protestors in the Gezi Park and Taksim Square were discussing the results of a meeting of their representatives with the Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Erdoğan seemed to have made some concessions and accepted part of the requests of the protestors to reconsider the construction scheme on Taksim and wait for a pending court decision. The Taksim Platform, the closest there is to a representative body of the protestors, had decided to take down the different tents of trade unions and political organizations and only leave one symbolic tent. Most protestors were getting ready for a final weekend in the park, before returning to their lives as usual. True, the Prime Minister had delivered a warning for the park to be cleared, but such warnings had been made before and passed without decisive action. The mood among the people in the park was to wind down the protests and consider new ways of political mobilization. So hopeful was the spirit on Saturday that families took their children to the park to plant trees and flowers and get a sense of what has arguably been Turkey’s largest and most peaceful civil society movement ever. No one was expecting a major crackdown. They have been proven terribly wrong.
Should they have listened to Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s EU minister and chief negotiator? On Saturday, well before the evening raid, he not only scolded international news channels like CNN and BBC for having made a “big mistake” by reporting the protests live and accused them for having been financed by a lobby intent on “doing everything to disturb the calm in our country.” He also declared that “from now on the state will unfortunately have to consider everyone who remains there [i.e. the Gezi Park] a supporter or member of a terror organization”. In the last three weeks of the Turkey protests, we have already witnessed the Prime Minister turning to a progressively belligerent rhetoric for reasons of his power-political calculus. Now it appears that the Minister responsible Turkey’s European future has not only been aware of the massive police brutality that was to be unleashed on the peaceful protestors, but also that he fully endorsed it. No European politician, no representative of any European institution will be able to meet Mr Bağış from now on, without taking into consideration his justification of the breakdown and his inciting rhetoric, which confuses citizens pursuing their rights to free assembly with terrorists.
Within only a few hours, the government of Prime Minister Erdoğan has destroyed all hopes for a peaceful resolution of the conflict, which is now spreading all over the country. Yet no friend of Turkey would want to see the country descending into violence. So what remains as a possible way out of ever deepening polarization?
In recent weeks some members of the Justice and Development Party have publicly expressed their dismay at the unfolding events and the polarizing rhetoric of Erdoğan. President Abdullah Gül has voiced concern too, but he has stopped short of condemning the police violence and criticizing the Prime Minister openly. Gül is a respected politician and enjoys considerable public sympathy. Many have praised the President’s conciliatory style of politics. The time has come for him to show his statesmanship and to speak out clearly and forcefully against the abuse of power, which the government of the Justice and Development Party has been engaging in in recent days.
The president should in particular oppose the witch hunt against protestors and against the doctors and lawyers who have supported them. Such action may yet avert the country’s deterioration into further violence and polarization. The president would also do a great service for those, Turkey’s citizens and many European friends alike, who continue to believe in a common European future.
Gerald Knaus, European Stability Initiative, Berlin/Paris/Istanbul
Kerem Öktem, St Antony’s College, University of Oxford
PS: See also the appeal, in German and Turkish, just published by director Fatih Akin:
„Sehr geehrter Herr Gül,
ich schreibe Ihnen, um Sie über die Ereignisse vom Samstagabend zu informieren, da die türkischen Medien kaum bis gar nicht darüber berichtet haben.
Samstagabend wurden in Istanbul erneut hunderte von Zivilisten durch Polizeigewalt verletzt. Ein 14jähriger Jugendlicher wurde von einer Tränengaspatrone am Kopf getroffen und hat Gehirnblutungen erlitten. Er ist nach einer Operation in ein künstliches Koma versetzt worden und schwebt in Lebensgefahr.
Freiwillige Ärzte, die verletzten Demonstranten helfen wollten, wurden wegen Terrorverdacht festgenommen. Provisorische Lazarette wurden mit Tränengas beschossen.
Anwälte, die gerufen wurden, festgenommene Demonstranten zu verteidigen, wurden ebenfalls festgenommen.
Die Polizei feuerte Tränengaspatronen in geschlossene Räume, in denen sich Kinder aufgehalten haben.
Die bedrohten und eingeschüchterten türkischen Nachrichtensender zeigten währenddessen belanglose Dokumentarfilme. Diejenigen, die versuchen über die Ereignisse zu berichten, werden mit hohen Geldstrafen und anderen Mitteln versucht, zum Schweigen zu bringen.
Eine Trauerfeier für Ethem Sarisülük, der bei den Demonstrationen ums Leben gekommen ist, wurde verboten!
Stattdessen darf ein Staatssekretär hervortreten und alle Demonstranten, die am Taksim Platz erschienen sind, als Terroristen bezeichnen.
Und Sie, verehrter Staatspräsident, Sie schweigen!
Vor zehn Jahren sind Sie und Ihre Partei mit dem Versprechen angetreten, sich für die Grund- und Bürgerrechte eines jeden in der Türkei einzusetzen.
Ich möchte nicht glauben, dass Sie sich um der Macht wegen von Ihrem Gewissen verabschiedet haben. Ich appelliere an Ihr Gewissen: Stoppen Sie diesen Irrsinn!
Die türkische Version des offenen Briefes:
Belki duymamissinizdir diye dusunerek yaziyorum.
Dun aksam saatlerinde yeniden baslayan polis siddeti sonucunda yuzlerce insan yaralanmıstir.
14 yasinda bir cocuk, polisin attigi biber gazi mermisiyle beyin kanamasi gecirdi. Ameliyatin ardindan simdi uyutuluyor. Hayati tehlikesi yuksek.
Yaralilara yardim etmek isteyen gonullu doktorlar, terorist diye gozaltina alınıyor. Revirlere gaz bombalarıyla saldırılıyor.
Gozaltina alinanlarin haklarini savunmak isteyen avukatlar gozaltina alınıyor.
Polis, kapali alanlarda gaz bombası kullaniyor. Bu yetmezmis gibi, insanlarin kendilerini korumak için taktigi basit gaz maskelerini cikarttiriyor. Sularina el koyuyor.
Tehdit ve gozdagiyla susturulan medya, belgesel yayinlamaya devam ediyor.
Gercekleri gostermeye calisanlar agir para cezalari ve baskilarla susturulmaya calisiliyor.
Milletvekilleri de polis siddetinden payina duseni aliyor.
Gosterileder polis kursunuyla oldurulen Ethem’in cenaze torenine bile izin verilmiyor.
Bir bakan cikip, Taksim Meydanda olan herkesi terorist ilan edebiliyor.
Polis hicbir ayirim gozetmeden halka tonlarca biber gazi, gazli su, plastik mermiyle mudahale etmeye devam ediyor.
Ve siz, susuyorsunuz..
Cok degil, on yil once, temel hak ve ozgurlukleriniz icin mucadele eden siz ve sizin partiniz… Bu halki en iyi sizin anlamaniz gerekmez mi?
Iktidar gomlegini giyen digerleri gibi vicdanınızı soyunup bir tarafa biraktiginizi dusunmek istemiyorum.
Vicdani olanlara sesleniyorum; bu vahseti durdurun!
One decade has been lost. What about the next one?
Op-ed by Gerald Knaus (for Koha Ditore)
In Athens, spring 2003
One decade ago, in spring 2003, the New York Times published an appeal by four Balkan leaders, the presidents of Croatia and Macedonia and the prime ministers of Albania and Serbia. Its title: “The EU and South-East Europe need each other.” The occasion was a special Balkan meeting of the World Economic Forum in Athens where all these leaders also came together.
I was there too at the time, and I remember both the appeal and the atmosphere in Athens well. In fact, together with my friend Misha Glenny, I drafted it. There was a sense of urgency in the air, and of anticipation. Zoran Djindic, the prime minister of Serbia who had delivered Slobodan Milosevic to the Hague tribunal, had been assassinated by ultra-nationalist members of the Serbian security forces. Croatia had handed in its application to join the EU, the first Western Balkan state to do so. The host of the meeting, Greece, then the EU’s rotating president, pushed hard to get a European commitment to continued Balkan enlargement.
Shortly before the Athens gathering Boris Trajkovski, the president of Macedonia, invited me to draft an appeal that he planned to ask other leaders to co-sign. He knew that the region would receive a better hearing if it spoke with one voice. He was concerned. His own country had recently been on the verge of civil war. Serbia was on the edge, its ultranationalists growing in confidence. The future of Montenegro and Kosovo was not yet settled. Would the EU, following its 2004 enlargement to Central Europe – then just about to happen – get tired of further expansion? The Balkan leaders’ appeal warned: “Until the whole Southeastern Europe is safely integrated into the European Union, the job will not be complete. And until it is, Europe cannot feel secure about itself.”
One decade later, where do we stand? Today, when EU leaders talk about crises in South-East Europe they think of Athens not Skopje, of Nikosia, not Belgrade. Europe does not feel “secure about itself” but it is not the Western Balkans or the threat of renewed conflict that keeps EU leaders awake, literally, at one crisis summit after another.
Montenegro and Kosovo are independent states; the fear of armed conflict in the region has never appeared more distant. And yet, despite these important breakthroughs, it is hard not to regard the years since 2003 as a lost decade for the Balkans. Boris Trajkovski tragically died in an airplane crash in the Bosnian mountains, on his way to submit Macedonia’s own application for EU membership. His country has been stalled for years now by a Greek veto (a threat which did not appear real in 2003 in Athens). Serbia, ten years after the death of Djindic, has still not even opened EU accession talks. Albania is not an EU candidate yet. The Greek foreign minister in spring 2003, George Papandreou, became prime minister, only to be swept away by the Greek economic melt-down. 2003 was perhaps the last success of Greek diplomacy. At the European Union summit on the Balkans in Thessaloniki in summer EU leaders stated their “unequivocal support to the European perspective of the Western Balkan countries. The future of the Balkans is within the European Union.” Croatia used the past decade, opened accession talks, closed them, and is today on the verge of accession. And yet, it is likely that ten years from now in 2023 Croatia will still be the only Balkan country inside the EU.
Rereading the Trajkovski appeal today highlights a further disappointment. It contained a specific proposal: to make EU regional and cohesion funding available to the region, so as to help it catch up economically, rather than fall further behind. The appeal warned that “the long-term stability of Southeastern Europe depends on the region’s economic health, but this does not mean the usual plea for more money … We are committed to opening our markets to our neighbors and to the EU. We have made huge progress in curbing inflation. And we are now greatly encouraged by the proposal by Greece … that the Thessaloniki summit meeting focus on the possibility of applying cohesion and development policies in our region.”
This was a hope that has not come true. The Western Balkans remains one of the poorest regions of Europe. In Serbia today less than half of the working-age population is actually employed. Unemployment levels in Macedonia and Bosnia are disastrously high. Foreign direct investment in the region, which had transformed the economic structures of Central European countries, has fallen to very low levels. And yet, if a focus on underdevelopment in the Balkans has never been more urgent, the EU’s confidence in its ability to bring about convergence and growth in its own periphery has rarely been lower. The 2003 Trajkovski appeal stated that “The EU has a remarkable record of triggering economic success by helping poorer regions — Ireland, Greece, Spain and Portugal have experienced veritable revolutions in social and economic development in the last 20 years.” It is hard to imagine anybody writing like this today, in the wake of bail-outs, bank failures and rapidly rising unemployment in Spain or Greece.
EU leaders no longer worry about war in the Balkans. They are no longer confident in their ability to bring about economic convergence. They fear the weakness of democratic institutions in Romania or Greece. They worry about inadequate regulation in Cyprus or Spain. Given this state of affairs: what arguments can sway them to open their institutions to accept even poorer states, with even weaker institutions, and even worse images among the public and political elites in Berlin, Paris or The Hague?
Perhaps Greece will prepare for its EU presidency in 2014 by changing its policies on Skopje and Pristina. Perhaps Serbia and Kosovo will soon reach an agreement that allows both countries to move beyond their confrontation. Perhaps Albania will manage to hold free and fair elections this summer. Perhaps Bosnia’s leaders will soon be able to put together a credible application for EU accession. Perhaps Macedonia’s leaders will be capable of renewing the national consensus to focus on EU integration that existed in 2003. Perhaps politicians throughout the region will wake up late at night worrying about youth unemployment and the inadequacy of vocational training, about export opportunities and the best way to use scarce public resources for growth, rather than about building statutes or wasting public money on prestige infrastructure of little proven economic benefit. And then, perhaps, a successor of Boris Trajkovski will invite all his regional counterparts to an informal meeting to seriously discuss what they might do together to correct the image of their region, driven by the recognition that the whole region has dropped out of the focus of the rest of Europe.
If Boris Trajkovski would be around today, and would propose drafting a new appeal for Balkan leaders to sign and publish, what could it say? Appeals are expected to end with proposals, a sense of hope, recommendations. But sometimes it is better to resist this temptation. To acknowledge just how steep the wall is that one has to climb. To recognise that before any new appeals to the EU a whole series of steps have to be taken by the region itself. To recognise that time matters; and that April 2013 is another crucial moment which Balkan leaders miss at their peril. I believe Trajkovski would have realised this. Will his successors?
Perhaps this is not a time for appeals at all, but for a blunt and honest recognition: a decade has been lost. The next might be as well. And it is not by formulating words on paper that this can be prevented.
In the Conservative Party manifesto at the last general election the following commitment was made: “To protect our freedoms from state encroachment and encourage greater social responsibility, we will replace the Human Rights Act with a UK Bill of Rights.”
A private members bill proposing this was presented and debate in Parliament on 1 March 2013. The debate culminated in a gripping exchange of views between two young Conservative members: Rory Stewart, defending the European Court of Human Rights and the Convention, and Jacob Rees Mogg, proposing for the UK to stop deferring to the Court.
(Rory is a good friend for a very long time, and also co-author of Can Intervention Work; Jacob Rees Mogg I remember well from more than twenty years ago. He was then active in the politics of the Oxford Union Debating Society as a student, while I was a member of the Oxford Union debating team. I disagreed with his views on European institutions then, and do so now, but cannot help but respect his lucidity, honesty and clarity of argument. I just very much hope his views on the ECHR do not prevail in the Conservative Party) .
Excerpts from this debate
Charlie Elphicke (Con)
The February 2011 YouGov poll also found that 55% thought that Britain should leave the ECHR altogether, and that we should have our own Bill of Rights instead, with the British Supreme Court as the final court of appeal. Just 24% thought that we should remain part of the ECHR.
Mr David Nuttall (Con)
Does my hon. Friend agree with that opinion poll finding? If so, why does the Bill not reflect the opinion that we should withdraw from the European convention on human rights?
Britain is in the rather unfortunate situation of embarrassment. We were proud of this Court, and if we wished to tease ourselves a little bit, we could point out the fact that for 40 years we rather enjoyed the fact that the Court told other countries how to behave. We felt—probably intuitively—that the point about the Court was that it would hopefully drag others up to what we rather pompously felt was “our level”.
We became anxious about the Court only once it turned round and started telling us, as opposed to foreigners, what to do—a
difficult and embarrassing situation. We liked the Court when it did a good job of insisting that countries in southern Europe should have habeas corpus and no detention without trial. We became anxious only when the countries that we had cheerfully made accord with British legal norms for 40 years, turned round and tried to demand that we accord with their legal norms on prisoners voting. There is a good reason to feel politically and institutionally, in terms of public opinion, that we do not like that idea and would allow subsidiarity
simply to avoid political embarrassment. However, as I have argued, that is not a moral or legal position; it is purely a question of expediency and convenience, and no moral principle can be based on expediency.
That is, of course, a position that I reject. I cannot accept it because rights are absolute, universal and inviolable. It cannot be the case that one’s possession of rights is relative to the circumstances of a particular culture. It cannot be the case that the mere fact that somebody lives in Saudi Arabia means that they have fewer rights as a woman. It cannot be the case that the mere fact that somebody lives in Taliban
Afghanistan means that they do not have freedom of the press. Those rights, if they are rights at all, rest on one fact and one fact only: the fact of one’s humanity, not the fact of one’s nationality.
In other words, my hon. Friend would say to the European people, “We created the European Court of Human Rights 60 years ago,
and we—Conservative and Labour Governments—spent a long time saying that it was a great force for civilisation and progress. We sent some of our most distinguished barristers and judges to the Court. We celebrated its judgments. We used it to put pressure on eastern Europe and Russia. But now we have decided that it was all a terrible mistake. We will leave, and we will encourage other countries to leave as well. The whole European Court system can collapse, and the consequences for our commitment to human rights, and our attitudes towards eastern and central Europe and Russia, can take their own course.”
I think we do take the view—the rather foolish view—when we set up these Courts that they will never affect us. Let us take the International Criminal Court. Nobody ever thinks that any senior British politician could be hauled in front of it. If that ever happens, we might suddenly decide that we were not so keen on the ICC. I admire the judgment of the Americans who have not joined the ICC because they recognise that if it is justice for one, it is justice for all.
As a strong independent sovereign nation with a history of behaving well going back way before the Magna Carta, I think that we ought to be able to settle our rules for ourselves and should be cautious of setting up courts that are essentially victors’ justice. In setting up the
European Court of Human Rights, what we were really doing was saying, “We have defeated all these nations of Europe. They have had terrible dictatorships before. They are not like good old Blighty, so let us therefore show them how to behave like gentlemen by giving them this Court and this convention.” Then, when they started saying to us, “Well, you, too, must behave like gentlemen”—and of course like ladies in this modern age—we did not like it because we thought it affected and undermined our sovereignty.
We have created an awful lot of things that we do not necessarily still run. After all, we created Belgium, and we do not claim to run that. I think we can fairly argue that our legal system and tradition are fundamentally different from the continental system, and that over generations the common law has built up protections that differ from those in the universal declaration of human rights. Indeed, it was probably a mistake for us ever to sign that declaration.
Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border) (Con): I begin by praising my hon. Friend the Member for
Dover (Charlie Elphicke) for introducing the Bill. It raises an extremely
important issue which clearly irritates many people in Britain and is very
dangerous. We have got to a situation where human rights are talked about as
though they were some trivial, unnecessary issue. The phrase is connected in
people’s minds with phrases such as “health and safety”. That is a very sad
The question for us today is how we deal with the
problem. My hon. Friend has eloquently explained that we have a problem and has
eloquently given countless examples of things which intuitively make many
members of the British public extremely anxious and extremely unhappy with the
judicial and the political institutions. We should respect that. It might be
tempting to say, as some lawyers do, that the British public are not focused
enough on the moral details and the legal details of the case, and to
trivialise their objections. This would be unfair, because there is obviously
something important, deep and intuitive going on that makes people anxious
about this kind of activity under the banner of human rights.
What is our solution? How do we look at these issues? We have to begin with a sense of
what human rights are. Let me politely challenge slightly the definition of
human rights put forward by my hon. Friend, without calling into question his
overall point, which is that we are now in a mess. It seems to me that we can
begin with a definition of human rights that would state that to say that
somebody has a human right is to say that anyone, anywhere, treated in this
fashion is wronged, and that their possession of that right is not relative to
the costs or benefits of upholding it in any particular case. That sounds very
technical and it sounds pathetic, but it is an important thing to establish at
the beginning of this debate.
Human rights are based on notions of dignity and of inviolability, and they are in
their nature universal. To say that somebody has a human right is a statement
about their moral status. It is not a statement about their nationality. It is
not a statement about their citizenship. It is to say that anyone, anywhere,
treated in this fashion is wronged, and that although there may be a threshold
above which that right could be suspended, below that threshold their
possession of the right is not relative to the cost or benefits of upholding it
in any particular case.
Jacob Rees-Mogg: But surely once there is a threshold, the right is not absolute.
Rory Stewart: My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Let me give an example. The concept of human
rights is based on a notion of human dignity and on a notion
that humans should be treated as ends in themselves, rather than as a means to
an end. In other words, it is a sort of Kantian world view. It has an absolute
view of the world on how people should be treated, but at a very extreme level
there may be a threshold at which we in the Chamber would intuitively feel that
that right could be suspended.
For example, if a child was in possession of information about a ticking bomb that was going to destroy a million people in
a city, we might feel that in that situation it was justifiable to twist the
child’s thumb to find out where that bomb was. In other words, there might be a
threshold, in situations so extreme as to be almost hypothetical, where our
human intuition would be that the right would be suspended, but, below that
threshold, the possession of the right is not a function of the costs or benefits
of upholding it in any particular case.
example, it would not be justifiable in any situation to kill one individual in
order to harvest their organs to save five other individuals.
Rees-Mogg: May I come
back to my hon. Friend on his previous example? He said that a particular act
would be justifiable to save a million people. What about 500,000? What about
50,000? What about 10,000? What about one?
Stewart: That is a
fantastic argument. The argument that I was trying to make was that in the case
of five, 10, 15 or 20 people, our moral intuition is that a particular act is
unacceptable. At another level, at the level of a million, our moral intuition
is that it might be acceptable. This is a very difficult point. The point that
I am trying to make is that we are in a sense deontologists. We are absolute up
to a certain threshold, but there is a certain threshold at which a utilitarian
or consequentialist calculus comes in.
As I said
earlier, if it were a case of one person being killed to save five—in other
words, that somebody could be killed, their organs would be harvested, and
those organs would be used to keep five people alive, that would not be
justifiable. Their possession of their inviolability—their immunity, their
right to life—is not proportional to the costs or benefits of upholding it in
any particular case. There may be—we almost never get anywhere near this kind
of threshold—as a hypothetical, theoretical point, a threshold at which a right
might be overruled by a consequentialist consideration, the one against a
million. But below that threshold, the possession of the right is not relative
to the costs or benefits of upholding it in any particular case.
Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way once again. I think that he rather sold the
pass once he had the child whose thumb could be twisted to save 1 million
people, because if their thumb could be twisted, could their arm be broken? We
are now getting into an argument about what is relative and find that there is
no absolute in this. The same applies to the example of harvesting a person’s
organs: we might not allow it if it would save five people, but what if it
would save 5 million people? Does it then become justifiable?
Rory Stewart: My hon. Friend asks a very important question of moral philosophy. It is a question of moral
intuitions. We are trying to create in our legal and moral systems something
that reflects our common-sense intuitions as humans. We try to interrogate
them, be logical and go back to first principles, but our common-sense
intuition, I feel, is that humans have a moral status, that they are
inviolable, that they have an intrinsic dignity, and that they should be
treated as ends in themselves, not as means to an end.
However—this relates to the case of one against 1 million—we also have a strong moral
intuition that there might be certain extreme circumstances in which it is
justifiable to overrule an individual’s rights. There are different ways we can
deal with that. In the German legal system, for example, it would be argued
that twisting the child’s thumb, although morally justifiable, is not legally
justifiable. The individual responsible would be prosecuted and convicted, but
they would be congratulated on having made the correct moral decision, even if
it was the wrong legal one. In our normal lives, however, such scenarios are
purely hypothetical; we do not come across ticking bombs or children who could
save 1 million people.
In our everyday lives, human rights are, in themselves, inviolable, which is why, as
we consider the case brought by my hon. Friend the Member for Dover, we must
ask ourselves this: what is wrong with the current system? It seems to me that
there are four possible answers to that question, and he has given four
possible answers. One of them, which my hon. Friend the Member for North East
Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) has raised, relates to the question of sovereignty.
The first possible answer on what is wrong with the current settlement on
rights is that there is a problem of parliamentary sovereignty. The notion,
which we could explore in greater depth, is that Parliament is sovereign and
that the European Court of Human Rights, by overruling the decisions of the
British Parliament, is not acting in accordance with the British constitution.
The second argument that could be made is that a question such as whether prisoners
should have the right to vote—a recent and difficult case—is purely relative;
that it is culturally relative. It could simply be argued that the reason the
European Court should not get involved in prisoner voting is not because of
sovereignty, but because the question is culturally relative—I say “tomato”,
you say “tomayto”. These things are purely subjective and based on a particular
cultural or historical context and the Court should not be fussing about them.
The British think one thing, the Spanish think another. There is no way of
resolving it, because it is purely relative.
The third argument is that we are dealing with subjects that are purely trivial, the
argument being that voting rights for prisoners simply do not matter. There
might theoretically be a moral solution to the question of whether prisoners
should be able to vote, but it is a trivial issue and not something the
European Court should be dealing with. Instead, it should be looking at more
The fourth argument, and the one I am tempted to choose, is that this is not
fundamentally a problem of sovereignty, relativity or triviality; it is the
problem of the European Court using the wrong principles to come to the wrong
Permit me to expand on those four arguments in more detail. The first argument is about
parliamentary sovereignty, which my hon. Friend the Member for North East
Somerset dealt with so eloquently. It is of course true that traditionally
within the British system parliamentary sovereignty was supreme. Although Dicey
talks about parliamentary sovereignty and the rule of law, it is quite clear
that what he means by the rule of law is not what Lord Bingham means by the
rule of law. In other words, in the conventional British interpretation, the
rule of law is not something equivalent to the US constitution. It is not an
independent body of law against which parliamentary statutes can be judged. It
was not the case in Britain that an Act of Parliament could be struck down by a
court on the grounds that it did not accord with the rule of law. That notion,
which is of the 15th and 16th centuries, that there was an independent common
law that trumped the actions of Parliament, was put aside. Essentially, for the
past 300 years we have believed that Parliament is sovereign.
Under that interpretation, the European Court cannot possibly be engaged in trying to
subjugate Parliament. At the very best, all it is engaged in is an
international treaty obligation through which the British Parliament has
voluntarily determined that it wishes to accept the rulings of the Court but
can choose to ignore them if it so wishes, and in doing so it would not be
breaking British law but would simply be in breach of its international treaty
So deep is that belief in the British mind that we are now the only advanced democracy
in the world that makes no explicit distinction between constitutional and
normal law. In other words, we have a situation in which, as my hon. Friend the
Member for Dover has so eloquently explained, our constitution shifts
continually over time and, at its worst, “bends like a reed” in the wind. It is
theoretically possible, in a way that it is not in any other advanced democracy
in the world, for a simple majority in Parliament—a majority of the people
gathered here today, for example—to change the fundamental constitution of the
Every other advanced democracy draws a distinction between constitutional and normal
law so that changing the fundamental constitution requires a special procedure.
In northern European countries there is generally a demand for a two-thirds
majority in Parliament, and in southern European countries there is more of a
focus on a referendum. In some countries, such as Italy, there is interest in
an intermediate vote, so the Parliament must be dissolved and the proposed
constitutional change put to the electorate through a general election. That is
all designed to make it very difficult for a Parliament to change the
constitution. The idea—not a British one—is that a Government or Parliament are
temporary, but the people are public, and the constitution exists to protect
the people from the Parliament.
It would be possible to base the entire opposition to the European convention on human
rights on an argument about parliamentary sovereignty, as my hon. Friend the
Member for North East Somerset has, using British constitutional history. But
that argument rests, fundamentally, on political institutions, not morality. It
is difficult to see an ethical or moral case for the notion of untrammelled
parliamentary sovereignty as an alternative to the protection of the
inviolability of the individual’s rights. Indeed, the modern notion of
democracy, which is shared in every other advanced
democracy in the world, combines representation of the majority with protection
of the individual’s rights.
Jacob Rees-Mogg: I do not think that my hon. Friend has fully established the inviolability of the individual’s rights. He has stated it, but he has not established it.
Rory Stewart: My hon. Friend, with enormous eloquence, raises a fundamental philosophical debate. The answer
to his point is that one cannot establish the existence of inviolable rights
unless one accepts two further principles. The first is the equality of humans;
the notion that I, you, Mr Deputy Speaker, my hon. Friend, and indeed someone
we have never encountered who lives at the other end of the Congo, are in all
important respects equal in dignity and in rights. That is an insight of logic
and of human consciousness and a basic commitment to the notion that, although
we might feel that we are special and the only people who exist, as we become
adults we acknowledge that other people, too, are independent moral actors who
possess exactly the same dignity. The inviolability—the rights of the human
being—which my hon. Friend has raised, is derived from that notion of equality
Jacob Rees-Mogg: For the record, I think that the Deputy Speaker is so many leagues above me that I am
not sure my hon. Friend is right. If one takes my hon. Friend’s point about the
equality of humanity—the equality before God that I believe as a matter of
faith—that does not mean that rights are always applied equally. Even in this
Bill, the right to life—that most essential right—is qualified in the case of
self-defence, so rights immediately become relative.
Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Just for the record, I think we are all equal unless there is a long intervention, when I might show a little more power.
Rory Stewart: Rights are indeed qualified, but that does not mean that they are relative. This is an
important distinction. The clause that my hon. Friend mentioned does indeed
establish the right but says that under certain specific circumstances it may
be qualified or overruled. That is not a statement that the right is relative.
It is not a statement that the right to life contained in the European
convention on human rights is purely relative. It is not a statement that,
below the threshold of the qualification, in other words, the specific
circumstances in which a right may be suspended—this is what makes rights quite
different from any other form of moral law—one’s possession of a right is not
relative to the costs or benefits of upholding it in a particular case.
One’s right to life may be suspended at a certain threshold. The thresholds described
in the European convention include those relating to civil disorder and
military law. However, below those thresholds one’s right to life cannot simply
be looked at in terms of the costs or benefits of upholding it in any
Jacob Rees-Mogg: But this right is so clearly absolute. The old Riot Act provided for the militia to start
shooting because of the decision made at that time that the
maintenance of order required immediate use of fatal force. That is no longer
thought to be appropriate. It is therefore about a relative judgment relating
to the balances between the individual and the collective.
Rory Stewart: We need to be very clear about what we mean by “relative”. The notion of “relative” that my hon. Friend is rehearsing simply
says that rights and moral values evolve in a historical context. As he says,
it is simply a matter of historical fact that different cultures at different
times have taken different moral positions. Aristotle, alongside his other
great observations, believed that women and slaves lacked souls. Today we
realise not merely that he thinks one thing and we think another—that it is
relative—but that he is wrong. He is wrong because moral language is implicitly
not relative; it is, in its very structure, absolute. Moral language does not
say, “I don’t happen to like you killing someone, but if you want to kill
someone that is up to you.” In other words, it does not say that killing
someone or not doing so is like you liking chocolate ice cream and me liking
strawberry ice cream; it says that it is wrong and ought not to be done. Moral
language is about questions of “ought”, not questions of “is”.
Jacob Rees-Mogg: But in saying that something ought not to be done one immediately goes on to add “except in certain circumstances.”
Rory Stewart: I will try again. The central point is that the notion of moral obligation—the notion of what
ought or ought not to be done—relies on two conflicting principles that connect
at the moment of the threshold. Those two conflicting principles are, on the
one hand, the notion of the inviolability and dignity of the human being, and,
on the other, a consequentialist or utilitarian argument of the greatest
happiness of the greatest number. Philosophically, the origins of these two
types of argument are entirely distinct. One is a deontological argument that
simply states the dignity of the human being and their inviolability; the other
is an instrumental argument based on consequences or results. Our legal system,
and indeed our moral intuitions, combine these two, which meet at a point of
the threshold. This is what we mean by “ought”. We mean exactly what my hon.
Friend the Member for North East Somerset suggests: that the individual ought
not to be treated like this except in very extreme circumstances above a
certain threshold below which the individual’s possession of the rights is not
a function of the costs or benefits of upholding it in any particular case.
This is important because it is a distinction between a relative position that says “I
can take your life whenever I feel like it on the basis of no moral argument
and no logical position” and a separate position that says “I may not take your
life. There are certain extreme situations in which it could become legally
permissible to do so, but I may not.” The distinction between human rights and
a relative position is a distinction on permissibility—a distinction on what
may be done.
Jacob Rees-Mogg rose—
Rory Stewart: Before my hon. Friend intervenes again, let me be absolutely clear that the distinction is this: when I say that somebody has a right not to be tortured, I am saying that they may not be tortured. I am not saying that they will not be
tortured; there might be a horrible situation in which their Government do
torture them. The statement is a moral statement, not a prediction about the
future. It is a statement about what we morally give permission to do: “You may
not be tortured; you may not be killed.” It is then possible to state certain
threshold circumstances in which our moral intuitions in terms of human rights
shift to moral intuitions in terms of a consequentialist world view in which we
say, “One person might be killed for the benefit of a million.” These are nice
questions of moral philosophy that do not usually come up in our everyday life,
which is based on the dignity and inviolability of the human being regardless
Charlie Elphicke: My hon. Friend is making a very powerful argument in which he highlights a key difference
between civil law and common law. In common law, we would take a utilitarian
approach. If a plane were heading to London with 100 people on board and a
nuclear bomb, we would say “Save the city”, but in Germany, under the civil law
code, people would say, “You can’t touch the plane because of the inviolability
of the right to life.” That is at the heart of some of the problems that I have
been wrestling with in the Bill.
Rory Stewart: The example of the plane is a very good one. It is an exact example of where our moral
intuitions collide. My instinct would be that neither ourselves nor a German
legislature would be comfortable with the decision either way. These are
terrible, terrible decisions involving two very deep moral intuitions. The
first of those is that individuals should be treated as ends in themselves and
not means to an end. As my hon. Friend so rightly points out, the German
supreme court holds that a plane could not be brought down in those
circumstances because it feels deeply that that would be to treat the people on
it as a means to an end rather than an end in themselves. In effect, it would
be doing to them something similar to killing one person in order to harvest
their organs to benefit five others. The calculus is that five having benefited
is not enough to outweigh the harm done to one. That is an important moral
However, my hon. Friend is correct to suggest that in the end most of us would disagree
with that notion. I personally would disagree, as would, presumably, my hon.
Friend the Member for Dover. In a situation of that sort, where 1 million
people are going to be killed by an atom bomb, another deeper, stronger moral
intuition arises which we often describe in terms of common sense but is in
fact a utilitarian calculus—that there is a certain threshold of absurdity beyond
which the protection of the rights of the individuals in that plane no longer
makes sense. My hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset has been very
good at pointing out the contradiction that these are two separate
philosophical principles, and at raising the question of where the threshold
comes in. The terrible judgment that a politician would need to make in that
situation is not one that can be resolved except through a deep understanding
of the particular facts of an individual case.
Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way; I
will try to make this my last intervention. Once we accept the threshold, it
becomes fundamentally arbitrary and merely a matter of arguing where it should
be set. Therefore, the question is of the legitimacy of who sets that
threshold—whether it should be the Queen in Parliament or a foreign court.
Rory Stewart: There is a disagreement here and it is not one that we can paper over. The question is:
where should we put the weight of sovereignty? How important is sovereignty?
Does sovereignty confer some form of immunity? Is there some magic in this
Chamber that allows the legislators in it to do whatever they want? Is it the
case, as Lord Hoffmann suggested in his judgment, that if this Chamber wished,
it could simply flout human rights? Is that a statement about political fact in
institutions, or is it about morality? Do we think that it is simply a fact
that this Parliament could do whatever it wants, or do we think that this
Parliament ought to be able to do whatever it wants? On this is based our whole
conception of democracy.
Those who feel that this Chamber not only could, but ought to be able to do whatever it
wants are basing their argument on one principle only, which is the principle
of majority representation. Where I suspect there may be a disagreement between
myself and my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset is on the notion
that democracy is based not on one, but on two principles—majority
representation and the protection of minority rights—and that, in the absence
of the second criterion, we cease to be, in the full sense, a democracy.
This is a very difficult argument to make, because in this country we have every reason to be proud of the performance of this
Parliament. Although theoretically, constitutional anxiety leads us to believe
that this Parliament could do truly barbarous things, as a matter of fact it
has not. In fact, consistently this Parliament has shown itself very respectful
of the unwritten laws of the British constitution. When Parliament has
attempted to fundamentally change the constitution of the United Kingdom
through a simple majority in the House of Commons—as, indeed, it did with the
proposal to abolish the House of Lords—it refused to take that opportunity. It
backed away from it. Parliament’s reluctance, innate conservatism and caution
with regard to issues relating to the constitution have meant that, from 1911
to the current day, people pushing for a written constitution or more formal
constraints on the power of Parliament have not won.
That is good and it shows two positive things. First, it shows the important principle
of common sense. Everyone in this Chamber agrees that we do not want to live in
a world of technocrats. We like the fact that the British public have a say and
that their common sense permeates this Parliament. At our best—we are not
always at our best—we are a lens that connects the Executive to the voting
public. We act as a mediator between public opinion—the sentiment, imagination
and culture of the British people—and the laws passed in Parliament. Nobody in
this Chamber wishes to pass to a world where we vest our power in technocrats
or experts, such as a Mario Monti-type figure with great insight, who think
they know what is best for the people. Our unruly common
sense means that the public have tended to respect their landscape, to
challenge the Government on, for example, wind turbines, and to refuse to
co-operate—in a similar way to that in which the French public occasionally
refuse to co-operate on farming—with the theoretical ideas of experts and
The second reason to be proud of the sovereignty of Parliament is that it reflects a culture, but the question for my hon.
Friend, who is one of the great supporters of untrammelled parliamentary
sovereignty is this: do we have the confidence that the unwritten rules, the
culture of this House and the deep understanding of the history of the British
constitution—which meant in 1911 that Members of Parliament were very cautious
about changing it—still hold, or did our vote on the House of Lords Reform Bill
take us close to the brink? Is it possible that we are suffering from
collective amnesia and that one can no longer say that the British Parliament
is so deeply entrenched in its constitutional history that it can be guaranteed
never to change fundamentally the British constitution?
If we are moving into a world that takes us into that danger zone, I believe that we need
to follow the example of every other advanced democracy in the world and
separate constitutional and normal law, and say that, in order to make a
fundamental change to the constitution, which would affect the rights of
citizens—this is why this is relevant to the European Court of Human Rights—we
must ensure that special procedures are followed. The special procedure that we
have tended to develop through precedent over the past 40 years is, of course,
a referendum. We may not want a referendum to be the fundamental means by which
we change the constitution. We may want to adopt a different procedure, such as
a two-thirds majority or a free vote in the House—which, of course, is what the
previous Government used to deal with the issue of the House of Lords—but we
are moving to a world in which we need a proper procedure.
The reason why that is relevant to this debatee is that the question of parliamentary sovereignty and its relationship with the
European Court is the nub of the issue. The argument against the European Court
cannot simply be that Parliament is sovereign, absolute and always right and
that it should never be challenged. We have developed a doctrine of
international intervention with regard to the notion that sovereignty does not
confer immunity—that the rights of a country’s individual citizens can trump
the sovereignty of a Parliament.
The second argument—moving on from sovereignty, with apologies for having paid so much attention to it—is about the question of moral relativism, although my exchange with my hon. Friend may have covered this issue adequately. The idea
of moral relativism states that the question of prisoners voting is purely
relative. I like chocolate ice cream, Mr Deputy Speaker, but perhaps you like
strawberry ice cream—that is a question of taste, not of moral decision. The
Spanish believe that prisoners should have votes and the British do not, but to
argue that such things are purely relative and that there is no way of
resolving them is very dangerous, because all these questions about rights are
fundamentally issues of morality. Moral language is a statement about what is
right and what is wrong—what we ought to do and what we ought not to do. It is
not a statement of personal taste akin to saying, “I like red, you like blue, and that’s the end of the discussion.” What one says is,
“You are wrong.” We must believe it is possible to resolve the question of who
is right and who is wrong on the issue of prisoners voting and to do so through
moral investigation and debate.
Charlie Elphicke: I thank my hon. Friend for giving way; he is being very generous in taking interventions. I would say that the issue is
slightly different. The Spanish think that prisoners should have the vote and
the British do not, but the error is the one-size-fits-all approach taken by
the European Court. There should be an acceptance that different countries will
arrive at different solutions. A universal morality should not be thrust on
Rory Stewart: The powerful argument made by my hon. Friend is, indeed, the same as that made by Lord
Hoffmann, who says that universal rights, such as those under the European
Court of Human Rights, are simply aspirational and that any universal code is
aspriational, but it is always national in its application. The argument made
by Lord Hoffmann and my hon. Friend is that the European Court of Human Rights
and the convention are purely aspirational: they are a good way of encouraging
people to behave better, they are a good way of doing political lobbying and
they are a good way of applying pressure, but in their application, human
rights can only be national. The notion is that human rights are relative to a
particular historical or political context. In the view of Lord Hoffmann and my
hon. Friend, but not in my view, the question of whether prisoners should vote
should not be determined by moral debate because it is specific to a particular
historical or national context. For them, the real answer to whether prisoners
should vote depends on the difference between Spanish culture and British
That is, of course, a position that I reject. I cannot accept it because rights are
absolute, universal and inviolable. It cannot be the case that one’s possession
of rights is relative to the circumstances of a particular culture. It cannot
be the case that the mere fact that somebody lives in Saudi Arabia means that
they have fewer rights as a woman. It cannot be the case that the mere fact
that somebody lives in Taliban Afghanistan means that they do not have freedom
of the press. Those rights, if they are rights at all, rest on one fact and one
fact only: the fact of one’s humanity, not the fact of one’s nationality.
Charlie Elphicke: Lord Hoffmann said that human rights are universal in their abstraction, but national in
their application. I think that what he was saying was that one-size-fits-all
does not work and we need room for what used to be called subsidiarity, but
which in this debate has been called proportionality or the margin of
appreciation. The margin of appreciation is central to getting the right
settlement that all countries can live with.
Rory Stewart: My hon. Friend brings us neatly to the third question on the Bill: the question of
subsidiarity and triviality. on from the big questions of sovereignty and meta-ethics, the central argument
that my hon. Friend has made, which is an important one, is fundamentally
about triviality. Lord Hoffmann may be suggesting that although at a
theoretical level it may be possible to resolve whether prisoners should vote,
as a practical point, the issue does not really matter. It is subsidiary—that
is, it should be left to individual countries—because it is just too disruptive
to the international system to try to impose, as my hon. Friend puts it, a
one-size-fits-all approach. The argument is that trying to resolve the issue of
whether prisoners should have the vote is disruptive to the international
That is a strong intuitive argument and one that we might have a lot of sympathy with in this House as politicians. It is
obviously not a moral argument, because Lord Hoffmann’s argument does not hold
water as a moral argument. It cannot be the case, as a question of ethics, that
nationality is the prime determiner of one’s rights. However, that may be true
as an issue of practicality. We might want to allow some flexibility in the
process for the sanity of the international system. Although that is really
tempting, the reason why we should not go down that path is twofold.
For a legal system, the question of triviality cannot be relevant. It is not possible
for a judge to determine a case simply on the basis of whether they think that
the question of prisoner voting is important in the grand scheme of things. The
judge is there to make a decision on the basis of the law. That is why we often
get frustrated and often find the system very peculiar.
The classic example, which is something that I hate about the European Court of
Human Rights, is the case that was brought by the man who did not want to give
his name when he was caught speeding. That case went all the way up through the
courts system. The man argued that he should not have been obliged to give his
name when spotted by a speeding camera because he had a right of privacy and a
right to silence. He objected to the fact that he was going to be fined for
giving his name.
Throughout the process, the courts did not say, “This is a trivial issue. It is a minor
speeding fine, so we’re not interested.” The case went all the way up to Lord
Bingham who, at great length and with enormous politeness, explained to the
gentleman that his right to silence did not extend to not giving his name in
relation to a speeding fine. At that point, the gentleman applied to the
European Court which, perhaps to the delight of speeding motorists, seemed for
a moment in a majority judgment to say that the man should not have to give his
name because of the right of privacy.
That case shows that the triviality argument does not operate and, much more importantly,
that judges are not politicians. It is not for a judge to determine whether it
would be politically disruptive or inconvenient for a particular judgment to be
passed. They may intuitively, in the back of their mind, be influenced by what
they have read in the newspaper and they may be anxious that if they pass a judgment
that is objectionable to the public, it will undermine the legitimacy or
reputation of the judiciary, but those cannot be formal considerations in their
decision. It cannot be that the European Court, which by its very nature has
sanctions, can consider whether making a certain decision is disruptive to the
international system or undermines the legitimacy or reputation
of the Court itself. Those cannot be the terms on which moral or legal
decisions are made, although we may often feel that they are the terms on which
political decisions should be made.
A good example of that is the question of gay marriage, which has been a controversial
issue in this Chamber. It makes perfect sense for a political Chamber to say,
“This is a philosophical question and we feel, for political reasons, that this
is not the appropriate moment to raise it because it would cause too much
disruption and unhappiness.” However, at the point at which the issue is raised
and put to the vote, it no longer makes sense to talk purely in terms of public
opinion and disruption, particularly in a case that relates to morals or
ethics, and it becomes necessary to look at the merits of the case and examine
The argument for why the European Court should not get involved in prisoner voting
therefore cannot be that the issue is trivial or disruptive. The reason why
there must be subsidiarity and why there cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach
cannot, from a moral or legal point of view, be that it causes inconvenience.
Before I move on to the fourth and final part of the argument, I will go over the three
arguments about the European Court that we have considered and that do not hold
water. The first is the argument that the European Court should not exist
because Parliament is absolutely sovereign. As a moral principle, as opposed to
a statement of constitutional fact, that is objectionable. The current
evolution of British culture and the behaviour of the British Parliament over
the past 20 years suggest that it would be dangerous to put the entire reliance
for our constitutional system and the protection of rights on the individual
decisions of a temporary majority in a sovereign Parliament.
The second argument that we have rejected is that questions such as prisoners’
voting rights are purely relative, that there are no moral absolutes and that
such questions cannot be resolved in a philosophical sense. The contention is
that moral arguments are simply a question of, “You think this and I think
that,” and there is no way of resolving them, as if they are just a question of
taste, as in the trivial example that I gave of one person liking chocolate ice
cream and another liking strawberry ice cream. No; we believe very strongly
that moral arguments are different from arguments of taste. There is an answer
to these questions.
There is therefore an answer to the question of whether prisoners should have voting
rights. It is based on whether we believe that the dignity and inviolability of
the prisoner’s status as a moral actor—as a human—requires them, always and in
all circumstances, to have a vote or not. Personally, I do not find that
argument convincing. A prisoner is not entitled, as a fundamental element of
their human dignity and inviolability, to a vote in all circumstances. That is
not, however, simply a question of taste. It is a question of moral argument.
The third argument we are rejecting is that it is simply inconvenient to talk about such
matters and that it disrupts the international system. That is a tempting
argument, because we set up the Court; David Maxwell Fyfe essentially drafted
this document and steered it through. Britain is in the rather unfortunate
situation of embarrassment. We were proud of this Court, and if we wished to
tease ourselves a little bit, we could point out the
fact that for 40 years we rather enjoyed the fact that the Court told other
countries how to behave. We felt—probably intuitively—that the point about the
Court was that it would hopefully drag others up to what we rather pompously
felt was “our level”.
We became anxious about the Court only once it turned round and started telling us, as opposed to foreigners, what to do—a
difficult and embarrassing situation. We liked the Court when it did a good job
of insisting that countries in southern Europe should have habeas corpus and no
detention without trial. We became anxious only when the countries that we had
cheerfully made accord with British legal norms for 40 years, turned round and
tried to demand that we accord with their legal norms on prisoners voting.
There is a good reason to feel politically and institutionally, in terms of
public opinion, that we do not like that idea and would allow subsidiarity
simply to avoid political embarrassment. However, as I have argued, that is not
a moral or legal position; it is purely a question of expediency and
convenience, and no moral principle can be based on expediency.
The fourth and concluding argument concerns what we should do about the European
Court. We should not give up the notion that there are inviolable and universal
human rights, or that the sovereignty of Parliament must respect the rights of
the individual. We should not give up the notion of moral absolutes or accept
the notion that political expediency can override moral or legal principles. We
must return to the fundamentals and challenge the moral and legal argumentation
of the European Court, and we would do that in exactly the way that my hon.
Friend the Member for Dover has so eloquently explained.
From my point of view, my hon. Friend is not producing a measure that would lead us to
leave the European convention, but he points out that the Court’s current
operations are resulting in absurd, surreal consequences. The way to address
that problem is to look again at the European convention on human rights, and
consider how it was drafted in 1950, what ingredients lie within it and how
much latitude that gives the Court. A Court that one year ago had 100,000 cases
waiting to be heard—an absurd number—needs to say no to far more cases. The
Court must understand that the 1950 drafting of the convention allows it very
little latitude, and that it is currently engaged with many issues that are
outside the purview of the original convention on human rights.
A classic example of that is prisoners voting. The point is not that the question of
prisoners voting cannot be resolved legally or philosophically but that it
cannot be resolved on the basis of the European convention on human rights.
Nothing in the convention provides sufficient detail or cogency to allow a
judge, purely on the basis of the nostrum of a democratic society, to derive
from that vague and abstract principle the conclusion that prisoners should
have a vote. Such a thing could be done, but not by the European Court. It
could be done by the British Parliament or by a British court, because it
requires a much deeper background of legislation. In our case it would require
the corpus of the common law; in Spain it would require the corpus of its
continental legal system. To reach such a conclusion requires far more than the
brief statements in the European convention on human rights.
That does not mean that the European convention on human rights is useless—far from it.
The convention with its fundamental principles is an incredibly useful, dynamic
document that is unambiguous and clear—as it should be—on questions of torture.
It makes every sense for the European convention on human rights and the
European Court to rule on the protection of fundamental political rights of the
sort contained in that document. It is not that torture, genocide, arbitrary
arrest and arbitrary imprisonment are the only issues that matter. Many other
issues of human rights also matter, but those are the only issues covered in
the convention and on which the Court should be ruling. That is why the
Brighton declaration brought together by this Government as the President of
the European Council—the statements by the Secretary of State and the Lord
We require fundamental reform of the European Court. We must radically reduce the
number of cases it deals with and clarify its legal and philosophical basis to
determine on which cases it should and should not rule. The notion of
subsidiarity, which was raised so eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for
Dover, is not a moral, legal, or philosophical principle but concerns the
ingredients of the European convention on human rights. Those things are
subsidiary because they are not covered in that document. We should not lose
confidence in the notion of rights and in a convention that we were proud to
create and which was created by a Conservative Member of Parliament and Lord
David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): My hon. Friend is giving an eloquent defence but the logic of his position
seems to be that we should not have a European convention on human rights or a
Court, but rather a world convention. Is that his position?
Rory Stewart: That is a telling intervention. The answer is that we have signed and ought to respect
and uphold the United Nations universal declaration of human rights. It exists; we are signatories to it.
Bob Stewart: We have signed up to it.
Rory Stewart: Yes. As my hon. Friend points out, we are signatories to that declaration of human rights. We
were the first signatories to it in 1948 and it is the precursor to the
European convention. We have signed it and we should respect it. Should we
establish a court to uphold the information in the UN universal declaration of
human rights? I think we should be very cautious of doing that. The UN
declaration includes many elements that would be difficult for a court to rule
on and that would be difficult to apply to the 200 members of the United
Nations. For example, the declaration includes a right to paid holiday. That is
difficult to imagine in Chad, Mali or the Congo. It is difficult to imagine
what would be involved if somebody in a developing country who lives on a
dollar a day asserted their right to a paid holiday, and it is therefore difficult
to imagine an international court that would rule on that kind of information.
Nevertheless, in certain circumstances we should respect the UN declaration and international
courts. A classic example is the International Criminal Court or the International
Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
Britain is a signatory to all cases with the ICTY and the ICC and upholds the rulings
of those courts that deal with crimes against humanity. To return to the
beginning of the argument, we sign up to such bodies because we accept that
crimes against humanity can be committed anywhere by anyone in any
circumstance, and the sovereignty of an individual Parliament or country does
not trump an individual’s rights to be exempt. Not even the sovereignty of this
Parliament. Not even this Parliament ought to be allowed to commit crimes
against humanity—to put the most extreme situation. We sign these things at
international level, and we constrain the power of our Parliament, as we
should, in those specific cases.
In other cases, the moral, legal and philosophical arguments are better conducted in the
Bob Stewart: Is it not the case that the International Criminal Court and the International Criminal
Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia try crimes against humanity and crimes of
genocide only if there is no way that a national jurisdiction will deal with
the problem? Only then does it go to the ICC or the ICTY.
Rory Stewart: That is a fundamental principle, and my hon. Friend is correct to raise it. In the
international system, we have an important conception of state sovereignty. The
only argument being made today is that state sovereignty is not absolute; it
does not trump everything else, but to return to the language that my hon.
Friend the Member for North East Somerset does not like, up to a certain
threshold, state sovereignty obtains. Up to a certain point, there must be the
opportunity to attempt to resolve the situation domestically, but at that
point, when the state concerned has failed to deal with crimes against
humanity, it is not only legal under the international system but morally
correct for an international court to overrule the national Government.
David Mowat: May I press my hon. Friend further on his position on a world court of human rights? The logic
of his position seems to be that the scope of the European court should be
extended as far as possible, given that these things are absolute and not
relative, as he says.
Rory Stewart: That is a very interesting and important question. The answer of course is that when David
Maxwell Fyfe, of whom Conservatives should be proud, and Hartley Shawcross, of
whom the Opposition are equally proud, brought the convention together, the
objective was to spread it as widely as possible. Indeed, for more than 60
years the British Government have had as their policy an attempt to push it as
far as possible, which is why the European convention now extends a long way
beyond the boundaries of the European Union and takes in countries such as Russia.
That is because we believe that the ingredients of the European convention on
human rights are basic, inviolable and universal dignities. If anybody wishes
to sign up to the European convention, we absolutely encourage them to do so.
Any country that wishes to join, to sign up to the declarations and to be held
to the high and exacting standards contained in that document, should be
welcomed, but if the Court is to survive at all it
needs to narrow its focus drastically; that is where my hon. Friend the Member
for Dover is absolutely correct.
If the Court is to have any credibility or legitimacy in the long run, it cannot continue contributing to a situation
where the British public end up feeling that human rights are trivial, that
human rights are an excuse, that human rights are a charter for triviality,
that human rights have the same relationship to real rights as “Health and
Safety” does to real health and safety—in other words, that it is a factory for
lawyers and insurance claims. To return to its fundamental principles, the
Court needs to remember what it is there to do, and it is on that point that I
really will conclude.
The European convention on human rights is not something that we as a party should
set aside by suggesting that human rights do not exist. Human rights do exist,
and all of us are proud to live in a society where our rights have been
protected in different forms since Magna Carta. We did not use the words human
rights until the French began to popularise them in the late 18th century;
until then it was a specialist phrase that nobody in this country would have
used. Indeed, it was not until after the second world war that anyone in this
country started using the words human rights, but we have had the basic notion
of the rights of man for 800 years. It is that the human is dignified and
inviolable; certain things may not be done to that individual; anyone anywhere
who is treated in that fashion is wronged; their possession of that right is
not relative to the costs or benefits of upholding it in any particular case.
The European convention, drafted by us, enshrines those notions of basic decency—of
equality of humanity and of inviolability. The problem with it is not the
sovereignty of Parliament. The problem is not that rights do not exist. The
problem is not that it is politically too complicated. The problem is that we
have allowed the Court to stray from its fundamental job. It was given a very
narrow task and a very narrow focus, which, broadly speaking, was to deal with
crimes against humanity. We should therefore join my hon. Friend the Member for
Dover in strongly demanding that the case load of the European Court is
radically reduced, that the principles of subsidiarity are radically increased
and that the Court ceases to get involved in situations that in principle,
ethics or law, it is not competent to handle.
The man emerging from the metro in Saint Germain-en-Laye on this cold Sunday afternoon in February is ebullient, unbowed and confident about the future of his country. This is remarkable, for my visitor is the political activist and writer Emin Milli, who had just emerged (again) from prison; the country in question is Azerbaijan.
Our paths first crossed when ESI worked on and then published in March 2011 a report about him, his friend Adnan and other members of Generation Facebook in Baku. The report described the emergence of a new generation of dissidents in Azerbaijan, and the strategy of repression used by the regime.
Emin Milli, a blogger, writer, activist and former political prisoner protesting
against violence against conscripts in the Azerbaijani military in Baku, 12 January 2013
Since Generation Facebook we have been in touch regularly. In January this year we met in Budapest during a seminar discussing the future of election observation missions in Europe. We then spent a day in Rumeli Hisari in Istanbul, discussing how the Council of Europe might help set free political prisoners across Europe. For Emin this is also a personal issue. He had spent 16 months in jail in 2009 and 2010. Our discussion was in the shadow of a forthcoming vote we were both watching carefully.
Emin Milli in Rumeli Hisari, Istanbul, January 2013. A few days later he will again be arrested after peacefully demonstrating against police violence.
I ask Emin how he felt when he heard about the outcome of this debate on his country. He notes:
“When I heard about the vote against the resolution what came to my mind, strangely, was the fall of the Roman Empire. I thought: it is amazing how one small authoritarian regime can bring the proud tradition of democracy in Europe down in the Council of Europe.”
Three days after this vote Emin was arrested again following peaceful demonstrations. He spent two weeks in jail, together with others who had taken part in the demonstration. Emin tells my young daughters that prison offers a lot of time to read and that it helps to lose weight. Emin also explains that this time in prison he reread Les Miserables, one of the great novels of the 19th century. I tell him that Victor Hugo once lived near Saint Germain-en-Laye in the West of Paris, where we are now. Hugo was a visionary himself. He did, after all, tell the 1849 (!) Peace Congress in Paris:
“A day will come when the only fields of battle will be markets opening up to trade and minds opening up to ideas. A day will come when the bullets and the bombs will be replaced by votes, by the universal suffrage of the peoples, by the venerable arbitration of a great sovereign senate which will be to Europe what this parliament is to England, what this diet is to Germany, what this legislative assembly is to France. A day will come when we will display cannons in museums just as we display instruments of torture today, and are amazed that such things could ever have been possible.”
Compared to this vision, is the idea of the Southern Caucasus one day joined together with the rest of democratic Europe any less realistic? Is it less realistic than imagining in 1983 Poland joining the European project or in 1993 Croatia being a part of it? Hugo spoke those words before the Paris Commune, the two World Wars and the Cold War. He spoke them as an optimist – but given the European Union of today a farsighted rather than foolish one. I am certain that Hugo would have liked the vision and determination of Emin’s generation in Baku. As Hugo put it at the end of Les Miserables:
“… a progress from evil to good, from injustice to justice, from falsehood to truth, from night to day, from appetite to conscience, from corruption to life; from bestiality to duty, from hell to heaven, from nothingness to God. The starting point: matter, destination: the soul. The hydra at the beginning, the angel at the end.”
The hope for peaceful change
What is the hydra in Azerbaijan today? It is the authoritarian and oligarchic regime of president Ilham Aliyev. Is there an Angel? It must be the hope of a peaceful transition to democracy.
We sit down and Emin begins to explain:
“Before I did not see a chance for a democratic, non-violent and managed transition, as opposed to violent, anarchic and chaotic change. Now I can see a chance for this, even this year.”
Emin arrested again, following peaceful protests against police violence on 26 January 2013
The key for any breakthrough is for new and traditional opposition groups to come together around a common platform, program of change and a common candidate in upcoming presidential elections.
“There are of course the old opposition parties like Musavat and the Popular Front, but they are no longer alone. There are also now intellectuals who defected from the regime and who are popular in Azerbaijan, members of the new Intelligentsia Forum: scientists like Rufiq Aliyev, who is a candidate for a Nobel Prize, or film makers like Rustam Ibrahimbegov, who won an Oscar. They have now broken with Aliyev. There are many Western educated young people who have returned, like Harvard-educated former political prisoner Bakhtiyar Hajiyev. There are other opposition parties with serious programs, such as the Republican Alternative of Ilgar Mammedov or Erkin Gadirli. There are the young activists of the facebook generation.
In the past it was easier for the regime to discredit the opposition, but this would be hard in the face of a common opposition front. This is a very different scene from the one we had before elections in 2010, 2008 or 2005.”
But will there be a joint platform for elections in 2013?
“Different political groups and social forces seem to realize now that coming up with a united political platform for change may be the key game changer in Azerbaijan this year. This would mean having one joint presidential candidate and a joint political platform with a clear agenda for a transition government, which would lead Azerbaijan from a presidential monarchy to a parliamentary republic.“
Emin’s cautious optimism is also based on the new media revolution in Azerbaijan. He sees many concrete signs of the impact of this ongoing revolution:
“Opposition newspaper Azadliq sold 200,000 hard copies during the national independence movement in the late 80s. It went down to selling just 10,000 copies. This year in January 2013 some news put on the website of Azadliq were read by more than 200,000 people. So there is a bigger public sphere, which has expanded enormously.”
“The reason I am optimistic is the monopoly of information once held by the government in Baku is corroding, even beginning to crack. First, you see this on YouTube, as countless of videos capturing violence and abuse of power circulate. The Internet has lowered the barriers to entry
“Furthermore, the rise in satellite TV broadcast from Turkey are spreading these videos. These YouTube clips expose the regime as a criminal gang. They show threats, blackmail, the open selling of parliamentary seats … and how even members of the elite treat each other.”
“Hundreds of thousands now watch Youtube videos. These include the shocking videos put online by the former rector of Baku university Elshad Abdullayev in conversation with various important members of the regime. Elshad Abdullayev taped many of his conversations over many years; having fled Azerbaijan he is now putting them online. These tapes have exposed just how corrupt and criminal the regime is. People knew this, but these videos made the truth obvious, and create a lot of silently rising anger and outrage: they see members of parliament selling seats for more than a million Euro. Hundreds of thousands also watch them broadcast from Turkey on satellite TV.”
“These clips expose the regime as a criminal gang. They show threats, blackmail, the open selling of parliamentary seats … and how members of the elite treat each other.”
“There is also a growing sense of disenchantment with the regime all over the country. Various social groups shop-keepers, relatives of people serving in the military, local people in different provinces of the country – have started to protest in numbers and ways not seen before within one month. In January 2013 I saw groups I had never imagined would go on the streets to protest. Shopkeepers closed a road and protested against the owner of one of the biggest shopping malls in Azerbaijan who wanted them to pay more rent. Then there were the protests on 12 January against violence against conscripts in the military.”
“a repeat of protests in another region, Guba, last year. There local people were so frustrated with their living conditions that they did not see any other means to communicate their frustration than violence. In Guba in 2012 they burned down the house of the governor, who was then fired by the president. In Ismayili the hotel and part of the governor’s house were again burned down.”
There is a possibility of such protests spreading:
“People protested and burned the house of governor in Guba, then he was fired. People in Ismayilli burned hotel and house of the governor, then he was fired too. What sort of message does this send to people in other regions? The only way the government respects the people is when houses burn? This is no way to govern the country. Firing a couple of governors will not solve the problem of feudal style governance in the regions either. People want to be heard.”
“These protests are out of control of the opposition, which is not even allowed to go to the regions.”
The Aliyev regime is clearly nervous about all this:
“For the first time in a very long period the regime moved troops into regions of Azerbaijan. The pictures of the stand-off reminded people of the days when in 1990 Soviet troops entered Baku. Now again hundreds of people were detained, arrested, tortured. And in spite of this very violent reaction of the state it did not stop any of the following protest actions.”
The president has also appeared unnerved:
“The first reaction was that the governor will stay, that these were just some local hooligans. Then a couple of weeks later Ilham Aliyev goes on television and threatens governors and ministers that their sons will be put in jail if they misbehave, that if they curse or insult people they will be jailed and their fathers will be fired.”
At the same time the regime is clamping down hard in light of the upcoming presidential elections in October 2013:
“For the first time in recent Azerbaijani history a presidential candidate was put in jail during an election year! This is a different level of nervousness than before. Ilgar Mammedov from the Republican Alternative opposition party is a presidential candidate. He went to Ismayilli and was jailed, accused of inciting events. This is absurd: he went there after everything was over. Isa Gambar, another presidential candidate, was prevented by a mob and police from entering Lankaran in the South of the country. Ali Kerimli, another potential presidential candidate and opposition leader does not have a passport for seven years now, and he also does not have an office.”
“The government has tried to close more political space. It started clamping down on the opposition. This explains this rise of unorganized, sometimes violent, unpredictable revolts. If these developments are ignored by the international community we might end up with situations similar to those in the Arab world.”
Emin sees an opening for a different kind of opposition under conditions of general dissatisfaction, leading to a gradual transition:
“This is the moment for opposition groups and leaders to come together in a united front, to direct frustration and outrage of the population in a responsible way. The opposition must unite and organize the transition to a parliamentary republic. The problem in 2003 was that the opposition was split. It was not united, not on the street, and not politically. Until now it has never united.”
“A united opposition sharing resources, sharing energy, with a message of unity, thus giving real hope to people could be a historic moment in our country. This means presidential elections this year in October might be very interesting. There are symptoms of real change in the air. It all depends now on how internal and external actors behave in this situation.”
Of course, much can go wrong and even more would have to go right for any of these optimistic scenarios to come about. There still is no united opposition. There is always the potential for further repression. So far there have never been free and fair elections in Azerbaijan, so it is unrealistic to expect 2013 to be different. There are likely to be further arrests. Standing up for democracy and human rights in Baku is a high risk strategy still, and any rewards are highly uncertain.
All of this makes it even more important what messages outside institutions are prepared to send. So I ask Emin: how does he see the role of external actors? Will they care? Will democratic Europe, will European institutions, do what they can to support a peaceful evolution, based on respect for human rights in Azerbaijan?
“The situation in Azerbaijan may change rapidly. The international community must sternly warn the government that any violent suppression of peaceful democratic change will not be accepted. The challenge is to prevent another Egypt, another Libya. The challenge is to have a peaceful transition like in Central Europe in 1989. We need a scenario in Azerbaijan like the one in Eastern Europe at the end of the 1980s.”
As I see Emin off, next to the former royal castle of Saint Germain-en-Laye, I think again of Victor Hugo, and his universal concern for the rights of the oppressed. As Hugo put it in a letter to a publisher of Les Miserables:
“It addresses England as well as Spain, Italy as well as France, Germany as well as Ireland, the republics that harbour slaves as well as empires that have serfs. Social problems go beyond frontiers. Humankind’s wounds, those huge sores that litter the world, do not stop at the blue and red lines drawn on maps”.
This remains as true today as it was in the 19th century.
A few months ago I visited Macedonia to present EU diplomats, ambassadors, the Macedonian prime minister, the foreign minister and party leaders a slighly revised version of the ESI proposal for overcoming the stalemate in the name dispute between Macedonia and Greece.
I also presented this proposal once again in Brussels, Berlin and in other EU capitals. I gave everyone a paper copy of the revised proposal. Since then it has circulated among EU diplomats.
It would be foolish to be too optimistic that anything can help overcome such a complicated dispute. And yet, there are a number of reasons to be more optimistic this time than in a long while. I remain convinced also that nothing can be forced by outsiders on either party, not now, not later. It will take a compromise that national leaders can present to their publics in both Skopje and Athens as a step forward for their side; and one where both sides retain their leverage until actual EU accession of Macedonia.
Then, earlier this month, the Macedonian weekly Gradjanski reported the following:
“drawing on unnamed diplomats, reported that Brussels was working on a‘date for date’ strategy about the country in December: start of membership negotiations would be announced for next June with Skopje being obliged to deliver by then tangible results on good neighbourly relations (improved ties with Bulgaria and Greece, including essential reviving of the name negotiations). The sources stressed the importance in this context of a constructive response of Skopje to Greece’s memorandum, which would offer ideas, but also pointed at the government being reserved about the plan. The weekly also reported on an upgraded 2010 proposal by the European Stability Initiative that the name issue be resolved in the early stage of membership negotiations but the referendum on the solution take place at the end of the process, i.e. together with the referendum on EU membership. According to Gragjanski, the upgraded document, which is reportedly supported by an influential lobby group in Brussels, foresees for the new composite name to immediately replace the current reference and its wider use to enter into force together with EU accession. Constitutional changes are expected from Skopje in order to accept the new name for international use; the constitutional name will remain official name of the country in its official languages and the use of the adjective ‘Macedonian’ will not be called in question, says the proposal.”
I have since been asked by a number of people to share the new version of the proposal. This then is the latest version in full:
What is needed is a way forward that accepts the bottom lines for Athens and Skopje. This can be achieved through a constitutional amendment in Skopje that changes the name of the country with a geographic qualifier today: to replace Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia where the latter is currently in use, allowing Athens to support the start of EU accession talks and to sending an invitation to join NATO later this year or early next year, but which foresees that the change will enter into force permanently and erga omnes on the day Macedonia actually joins the EU.
Such a solution is possible if the following happens:
1. There is active mediation between both sides which focus solely on finding a compromise name for the country with a geographical modifier, dealing with the issues of RM NATO accession and the opening of EU
2. Greece and RM agree on a compromise name, XYZ, with a geographical modifier. This will immediately replace F.Y.R.O.M. wherever that is currently in use in international
3. Greece commits to allow RM to join NATO under this new provisional name XYZ and an invitation to join NATO is extended.
4. RM changes its constitution to say something like this:
“From the day the Republic of Macedonia joins the European Union the international name of the country will be XYZ, used erga omnes in all languages other than the official languages of the country.”
The promised referendum on EU accession at the end of the negotiation process becomes thereby de facto the real referendum on the name issue (there was no referendum for F.Y.R.O.M., and until accession the new name is used only in place of F.Y.R.O.M.).
Leaders in RM replace one name their citizens do not like (referring to a state that has disappeared decades ago, Yugoslavia) with another name they do not like, both used in the same way.
Neither side loses leverage in the future. If future Greek governments block EU accession of RM or make additional demands judged unacceptable in Skopje this would also delay the entering into force of the core provision of this compromise. Greece shows its EU partners that it remains actively in favor of Balkan enlargement. Greece also keeps its leverage until the very end of the accession process