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'EU needs to deliver as values crisis looms'

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'EU needs to deliver as values crisis looms'
08:49 CEST+02:00
Europe is in the midst of a values crisis, argues Sweden's EU Affairs Minister Birgitta Ohlsson, who believes it's time for European Union and Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to act as he delivers his 2013 State of the Union speech on Wednesday.

In the shadow of the economic crisis we are witnessing a values crisis in Europe. Europe's major populist, xenophobic, and nationalist parties have, on average, almost doubled in national elections in recent years.

In many Member States during recent years we have seen attacks on freedom of the press, rule of law, and fundamental democratic principles. Pride parades are being banned in EU capitals, the Roma are often treated as second class citizens, and we still have challenges regarding islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and racism.

Safeguarding the values of the European Union is more crucial than ever.

A year ago, you presented, as President of the European Commission, your 2012 State of the Union address. You emphasized, very importantly, the need for a Europe with strong support for human rights:

“It is time to learn the lessons from history and write a better future for our Europe. A Europe that stands by its values...A political union also means that we must strengthen the foundations on which our Union is built: the respect for our fundamental values, for the rule of law and democracy.

Last year, you also had the courage to criticize the sad development in some EU Member States.

“In recent months we have seen threats to the legal and democratic fabric in some of our European states. The European Parliament and the Commission were the first to raise the alarm and played the decisive role in seeing these worrying developments brought into check. But these situations also revealed limits of our institutional arrangements.”

And you presented an idea for a solution:

“We need a better developed set of instruments– not just the alternative between the "soft power" of political persuasion and the "nuclear option" of article 7 of the Treaty.

Some of these European values have become victims of the crisis. Just as we need rules to stabilize Member States' budgets, we need to improve respect for human rights, rule of law, and fundamental values.

As early as in 2003, the Commission tabled a communication on article 7, with an ambition to monitor the respect for human rights and swiftly react to violations.

This issue was discussed twice in the General Affairs Council during the 2013 Irish Presidency, and several Member States have requested the Commission to come up with a new communication on how to improve monitoring of human rights and rule of law.

I look forward to listening to your speech today. It's time to deliver, President Barroso!'

Birgitta Ohlsson

Minister for EU Affairs, Sweden

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