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Promoting Fundamental Values


How to Uphold Them in the European Union"

Apr 09, 2014

"Recently, Denmark, Finland, Germany and the Netherlands jointly called on the European Commission to develop an effective mechanism to strengthen the rule of law and fundamental values in the EU. On 11 March 2014, the Commission published a proposal for a new European framework for the protection of fundamental values in EU member states.

Our common values are what bind the countries of the European Union together. We actively promote those values worldwide. We also need to ensure that these values are safeguarded within Europe.

The Embassies of Denmark, Finland, Germany and the Netherlands, together with the European Commission, Providus and the Riga Graduate School of Law are organizing a seminar to discuss the rule of law and human rights in Europe. The central questions of the seminar are: Is there room for improvement in Europe? And if so, what is the best way to ensure it in the European Union?

Registration for the Conference: Please note that number of places are limited, and participation will be granted on first come first served basis."


Source: Riga Graduate School of Law



Date:     Tuesday 22 April 2014. Time: 15:00
Place:    Riga Graduate School of Law, Strēlnieku Iela 4k-2, Room W42 (4th floor)
English-Latvian interpretation will be provided

Moderator: Andris Spruds, Director Latvian Institute of International Affairs (LIIA)

15:00 – 15:30      Registration & Coffee

15:30 – 16:00      Introductory Remarks:

  • Peter Gjortler, Associate Professor at the RGSL
  • Henk van den Dool, Ambassador of the Netherlands
  • Baiba Broka, Minister of Justice of Latvia

16:00 – 18:00      Panel discussion:

  • Robin Harms, Advisor of Minister of Justice of Finland
  • Ernst Hirsch Ballin, Former Minister of Justice of the Netherlands
  • Morten Kjærum, Director of EU Agency for Fundamental Rights
  • Viktors Makarovs, Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia
  • Stefanie Schmahl, Professor for German and Foreign Public Law, International Law and European Law, Julius-Maximilians-University Würzburg, Germany

18:00 – 19:00      Reception


It is a crucial topic, but not easy to do any justice to it. When Prodi became President of the European Commission, he ventured much more into ethics and various interpretations of law, since then the European Convention started to prepare the EU Constitutional Treaty. Already then one dispute ended in a novel decision, namely to exclude religious values as religion itself had not contributed in European history to bringing people together. Rather religion and war were too often equated with each other, as seen when a priest would bless the military equipment prior to the soldiers heading into war.

There is also the crucial thesis by Cornelius Castoriadis about the impossibility to discuss values since they are set, and any attempt by someone else to change them would lead to conflict, if not to war.

Law itself is in the European context often not very clear to citizens. What is the difference between a regulation and a directive, and more so why has the European Commission the sole right to initiate 'law', and not the European Parliament? Insofar as the proposals by the European Commission amount to an evolving interpretation as to what is the socalled 'legal base' for any action undertaken by the European Commission, legitimacy is derived from interpretation of treaties and not from what has been constituted through the Parliament, and which by necessity would have to be derived from a constitution, and not treaties between states, to be legitimate claims of power. But this is too seltdom discussed.

There is the loss of legitimacy once the EU Constitutional Treaty as worked out by the European Convention was not ratified in 2005. So far the only consequence the EU member states have drawn out of this loss is the Lisbon Treaty which seeks to paper over the loss of legitimacy. While the EU member states seek to influence the decision making, the European Commission tends to cater to the interests of the EU member states in order to find its own way of handling issues, but in so doing literally sidelines the EU Parliament. The fact that after the elections in 2014 the EU Parliament will have a decisive voice in the selection of the President of the EU Commission is but a fake claim of parliament having gained more power, and therefore give sthe entire decision making process done on behalf of the EU more legitimacy. That is not so but rather a soft attempt to construct some form of legitimacy by which EU institutes exist, and therefore have the power to overrule above all citizens who are only indirectly represented by the Members of the European Parliament.

Quite a different approach was attempted in 2000 when I tried to initiate in the Cultural Committee a cultural consensus to be upheld with regards to financial i.e. budget decisions. At that time, the mood of many MEPs was to circumvent the potential veto power of just one member state when not agreeing with the budget. As this pertained at that time strictly to the budget for culture, it was a minor but important issue only resolved by various member states agreeing with the harder line taken especially by Holland. It never helped to resolve the conceptual idea behind decisions being based on cultural consensus, for then the cultural dimension would have to be taken much more into consideration than what has been the case then, and which has continued to curtail rather than open up EU decision making processes to an understanding of what is afterall the difference between upholding values and imposing laws (directives / regulations - the difference based on the need to work with the consensus of the EU member states when it comes to implementing the law).

If anything, it would be interesting what sets of problems shall be discussed in Riga, and whether or not this has any ramification for cultural values, perception thereof? There was at times a discussion around cultural rights but this topic has not been followed up by European Capitals of Culture, even though they would be a prime platform for such a thematic approach. It would put the sense of governance into another fold of evaluation i.e. what would not merely contribute to the 'flowering of cultures' (a wording used by the Maastricht Treaty), but allow for an unfolding of cultures in such a way that a liveable diversity ensures this culture is not a single national one nor would succumb to an uniform conformity. The latter has to be understood as outcome of an over commercialization of culture which reproduces much of the same e.g. festivals everywhere, and which would as stated already by the EU Commission when formulating the Article 10 ERDF programme lead to a destruction of cultural identities.

Methodologically speaking, culture can be understood here as mediation form between bottom up and top down processes needed to be initiated in order to give to the shaping of law legitimate forms. It is possible to depart from UK law and go to the general, that is European level, or one can depart from the general European level and then break down to the various cultural contexts to see what differences there exist. For example, a rape victim is treated throughout Europe very differently. Now, the EU Commission seeks to make concessions to national sovereignty by allowing for deviations of this kind, while still wanting to make sure some common denominator with other EU member states can be found. This then comes the closest to what is European law, even though a common binding power does not exist. That explains in turn the weakness of the legal base of all EU laws. It cannot be imposed as much more the method of putting some member state to shame if found not to comply, and if that does not work, to impose some fine. But a state as subject of punishment is an indiscriminate tool, and easily national politicians can bypass their responsibilities for the legal mess or non compliance, since the punishment the Commission is able to impose can easily be by passed or circumvented. No where is this clearer than what austerity measures have led to in Greece: not the forces of corruption were taken to task but instead the common people or the general publication has to suffer the consequences. That is like the sanctions imposed upon states when not the leaders responsible for the crime against humanity are punished but instead the population as a whole has to suffer the consequences.

Nevertheless it is hoped that the conference in Riga does take on this task of clarifying the difference between values and law.

Hatto Fischer

Athens 11.4.2014 

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