Within Europe today, we see EU member states erecting walls and fences rather than respecting the spirit of the Refugee Convention, attempts to limit the principle of the free movement of persons, and austerity policies restricting access to healthcare and targeting vulnerable groups, among a myriad of other challenges to fundamental and citizenship rights.
At the same time, with the seeming increasing frequency and severity of events, it can often feel that we are being pushed further and further into focussing on single issues, whether on human rights violations in one member state or trying to defend the rights of one group.
In the face of these challenges, what can we do to fight for the very principles that the EU is founded on?
At European Alternatives, we believe that the answer to this question will not come from us alone, but from creating a community of civil society organisations across Europe, committed to fighting for fundamental and citizenship rights and to working transnationally to do so.
Five months ago, we started the CREATE|REACT programme to look at these questions and continue our work in building this community.
Beginning in June, we’ve been working with civil society activists from across Europe to better understand areas of right protection that are being challenged, how we can work on these areas using new techniques and how we can do so transnationally.
Our first session took place in Berlin and looked at the topic of digital rights – what are the rights implications of growing digital surveillance and how can we advocate for privacy rights across borders, when living in an age of ubiquitous surveillance? Activists from 12 countries were joined at this session by trainers from the Open Knowledge Foundation, Furtherfield, Tactical Tech and Reporters Without Borders, among more.
Lisbon was the location of our second session, which took place in July and looked at economic and social rights, how we can use community engagement as a tool to protect rights and how we can link community-led campaigns across borders. This session was led by Academia Cidada and looked particularly at the work being done in the district of Loures to combat social exclusion.
In September we went into our third session, this time in Warsaw and looking at cultural rights. Led by Krytyka Polityczna, this session looked at cultural rights, joining artistic and cultural projects to work on human rights protection and how this is being concretely practiced in Poland. Included in this session were discussions on using artistic means to challenge extreme right violence and campaigning with communities losing cultural heritage.
October has seen the fourth of our sessions. This was held in Budapest, led by the Hungarian Europe Society, and focussed on EU legal instruments to enforce rights. has seen the fourth of our sessions. This was held in Budapest, led by the Hungarian Europe Society, and focussed on EU legal instruments to enforce rights. Kicking off our event in Budapest, we held a public conference – What can we do to create a Europe of rights and values? – together with European Civic Forum. Building on previous conferences on the response of the European institutions to systematic breaches of fundamental rights, discussions at this meeting focussed rather on the concrete steps civil society could take to address gaps in rights protection, and what is already being done, from refugee and migrant political activism to the movement against the Spanish protest law. This served to frame a lot of the discussion that took place the coming days, where we looked at what EU institutions can and cannot do to enforce rights protection, in particular looking at the fields of refugee protection, media pluralism and constitutionalism and democracy.
We have two more sessions coming up – Media in Venice in January 2016 and Policy in Brussels in February 2016 – and the work is just beginning on how to build or rebuild a Europe of rights and values. An important first step though is knowing that these rights are ours and that we are not alone in fighting for them.
By February 2016 over 50 civil society groups and activists ready to work transnationally for fundamental and citizenship rights will be connected across Europe through CREATE|REACT.
The EU was ‘founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities’ – together, we can remind the EU of that.
Author: Jackson Oldfield