Civil liberties, data privacy, protecting the vulnerable
The European United Left/Nordic Green Left Group considers democracy to include that peoples' civil and human rights and freedoms are never violated and that agreements, such as that between the EU and US, allowing the transfer of EU citizens’ financial data via the SWIFT banking system and the US and UK's spying activities, are an infringement of peoples' fundamental rights.
In light of the revelations that millions of EU citizens, as well as European diplomats and MEPs, are being spied on by the United States, protecting Civil Liberties and data privacy has never been more important. We reject the 'fight against terror' being used as a moral blank cheque to carry out what is nothing short of criminal activity. We won't stand for these breaches of fundamental rights.
Europe must defend the rights of asylum seekers and respect human rights and democracy both at home and around the world. We can't turn a blind eye to the plight of those seeking a better life in the EU and ignore the reasons they are forced to flee. The GUE/NGL fights for freedom of movement and opposes fortress-Europe. Europe needs to fix its broken immigration and asylum system.
SAME SEX COUPLES' RIGHTS
GUE/NGL considers that couples who are officially registered or married in one EU member state should not be discriminated against in another EU country. Exercising the EU right of free movement of workers in certain EU countries means same-sex couples losing a number of fundamental rights, for example, in the field of social security and pensions. Whilst married heterosexual couples can simply retain their status, same-sex couples cannot. Thus, the right of free movement is restricted. In this regard, the group asked the Commission to present proposals ensuring that the rights enjoyed by employed and self-employed workers in connection with freedom of movement are the same for everyone in all member states.
The GUE/NGL welcomed the Parliament vote on the EU Citizens' Initiative, an EU regulation whereby one million citizens can call on the Commission to draft a new EU law. Some members of the Group highlighted shortcomings, notably that it did not include participation of all EU residents, just EU citizens. The Group vowed to push for more improvements when the Initiative came up for review.
Noting a decline in legislation and attitudes to LGBT people, particularly in Eastern Europe, the group called for a positive signal from the Commission. It explained that in more and more Eastern European countries, laws were making it impossible merely to talk positively about lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) issues in public or even to hold gay pride festivals.
An agreement between the EU and US, allowing the transfer of EU citizens' financial data via the SWIFT banking system, was seen by the GUE/NGL as an infringement of peoples' fundamental rights during its passage through the Parliament where it was twice rejected before being finally adopted. The group considered that SWIFT was symptomatic of the security side slips imposed in the name of fighting terrorism that overlooked the fundamental rights of citizens.
Following revelations in 2013 that the US National Security Agency has been secretly tapping into EU citizens' personal financial data via the SWIFT system, the group called for "termination of the agreement which it had opposed since the very beginning as it does not provide for sufficient guarantees for European citizens' fundamental rights. Edward Snowden's revelations had shown that fundamental rights to privacy and freedom of speech are not guaranteed anymore, nor are they defended by European governments. As long as intelligence agencies can break laws as they please, there is no possibility to control or scrutinise them."
When the European Parliament voted to suspend the EU-US SWIFT agreement, the group said the result was a positive first step but called for the out-and-out suspension of the EU-US TFTP agreement.
NSA & PRISM PROGRAMMES
Revelations that the US had a wide-scale espionage programme spying on EU citizens and a subsequent revelation that EU institutions and diplomats had also been bugged was condemned in the strongest terms by GUE/NGL
"In light of this scandal, EU-US trade negotiations should be immediately suspended pending clarification of the situation, Edward Snowden must be protected and that the EU should grant him asylum. The group calls for the setting up of an EU-level control and inquiry committee which deals with the cooperation of member states' intelligence agencies and the use of EU citizens' personal data."
PASSENGER NAME RECORDS (PNR)
In reaction to a Commission plan for a new EU-US agreement on the sharing of passenger flight data in the fight against terrorism and serious crime, the GUE/NGL said Parliament must be kept fully informed on talks for the new agreement and urged all institutions to fully respect the right to the protection of personal data of 500 million EU citizens. Subsequently, the Group protested against negotiations between the Commission and third countries including the US, Canada and Australia on the collection and retention of data for all flight passengers. Following a further agreement on data transfer brokered between the EU and Australia, the group asked for the agreement to be checked by the European Court of Justice for its compliance with the Treaties. That demand was opposed by the bigger political groups.
The GUE/NGL continually opposed the use of body scanners in airports during debates on the subject because it considers that they infringe on personal privacy and fundamental rights and freedoms and that the effects on health were not clear.
REVISION OF EU DATA RETENTION FRAMEWORK
The group considered that the Commission’s aim of establishing uniform rules was quite simply misguided. One reason was that some Member States, due to their constitutional arrangements, were not in a position to transpose the European Directive. What’s more there are a patchwork of arrangements in the other countries which have transposed the Directive. Some countries store data for six months, others for a year. Some only use the data when investigating serious crime; others use the data to investigate minor offences. If the Commission had nothing new to contribute, the group considered it should at least suspend the Directive pending the judgment of the European Court of Justice. Aside from that, it called for a Europe-wide ban on the retention of communications data where there is no reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing.
DATA PROTECTION DIRECTIVE
The Group stressed that improvements were necessary to the protection of personal data processed in the framework of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters during a debate on a possible new directive. We need the same standards of protection in the public and the private sphere and in relation to the police and judiciary. This is essential in order to protect civil rights.
The GUE/NGL group supported a call for a review in 3 years of the Biometric Passports Regulation at the time of its last amendment in 2009. One of the reasons the group supported this was because it expressed major concerns on data protection and on the overestimation of the benefits of using biometric data in passports. The use of biometric data is still subject to a major misconception, namely the assumption that these data are unchangeable and mostly reliable. That is absolutely not the case. These data are also subject to change throughout a person’s life. They differ between childhood and old age. We therefore need reliable and sound studies and conclusions.
- Stockholm programme
- The Group voted against the so-called Stockholm Programme aiming to provide an area of freedom, security and justice (2010-2014), because it fell so far short of its potential to offer protection for fundamental human rights to all people living in the EU. It criticised the programme for not living up to the challenges of today and said its major failure is that it wants to create a 'Europe of justice' that grants civil and human rights to the citizens of the EU but not to all the people living in the EU."
- Refugee resettlement programme
- During a debate on the proposal for the creation of a European Resettlement Programme, GUE/NGL enumerated its wishes for such a programme to: take into account the need to respond quickly and appropriately to an emergency; assess the needs of refugees to be resettled; bring together expertise and allow the sharing of information between countries; respect the need for an evaluation of the quality of reception and integration in host countries; provide structured cooperation on resettlement activities within the EU; set up a support office to manage all information and assist member states in their own programmes.
- Following rumours that an Italian boat was about to send back to Tunisia approximately one thousand migrants who arrived on the island of Lampedusa, GUE/NGL stated its strong opposition to such inhumane practices that violate European human rights standards saying that refoulement is prohibited by the 1951 Geneva Convention on refugees.
- Common asylum system
- With negotiations on a common European asylum system taking place for some years, GUE/NGL expressed its hopes that 2012 would mark its completion and thus, the start of a new era. But it expressed concern that the signs also indicated that the common European asylum system would not meet initial expectations. However, the group hoped that at least some positive steps will be made and that others – albeit fragmented – steps will follow.
- Family reunification
- A public debate on the right to family reunification of third-country nationals living in the European Union was perceived by the group as an opportunity to strengthen that right, not weaken it. Immigration policy and the credibility of the European Union were already being severely tested. The reality is that family reunification covers a very small part of immigration.
- When the Parliament debated a Commission plan to allow member states to temporarily reintroduce border controls in the Schengen area, following an influx of North African refugees in the wake of the Arab Spring revolutions, the GUE/NGL expressed its strong opposition to this plan saying that the EU cannot and must not put Schengen to one side. The group said free movement of people in Europe should not be called into question and national borders should not be re-established to face up to the "flow" of migrants that is hitting Europe since the Tunisian revolution. We should be sending a different message to the emerging democracies on the other side of the Mediterranean.
- After breaches of the Schengen rules by France, Belgium, Germany, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands, the group insisted that the Parliament had the right under the Treaty to be involved in decisions on all matters relating to Schengen and not just to be casually consulted.
The GUE/NGL Group expressed its horror upon hearing the news of the terrible tragedy a few kilometers off the shore of Lampedusa when a boat carrying over refugees sank with the loss of over 300 lives. The group called on the Commission to make concrete proposals to ensure safe and legal EU entry for migrants during the plenary debate in Strasbourg the following week on EU migratory policies in the Mediterranean Sea.
The GUE/NGL has been unwavering in its support for Roma, the EU's largest ethnic minority, and an integral part of central Europe's cultural heritage. However, this ethnic group is increasingly subject to all kinds of discrimination and prejudice. The group has consistently called for a fully-fledged European Roma Strategy, particularly after a wave of deportations of Roma people from France, Belgium, Austria, Germany, Austria and Sweden during this term of office. When the Commission finally announced its long-awaited policy to coordinate national Roma integration strategies, the GUE/NGL welcomed the framework but was critical of certain aspects such as the fact that it did not go beyond education, employment, health and housing, and did not contain specific targets for member states. "As long as we do not fight the widespread hostility against Roma and as long as there is no change in the situation of Roma people and if, in addition, the member states do not put the strategy into practice, the whole plan remains a toothless tiger because no sanctions are provided."
Swedish Roma database
The GUE/NGL Group condemned Swedish police for collecting information on thousands of Roma and called on the Commission to make a statement on the matter at Parliament's next (October I, 2013) plenary session. The group said it considered that collecting data on people, many of whom have never committed any crimes, and many as young as two years old, was a clear breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. "We cannot tolerate the existence of a register based solely on ethnic background and I want to see this matter put on the agenda for the next plenary session. We can't stand by and let discrimination like this go unchecked."