Democracy & Human Rights in Europe 2015

Democracy and Human Rights

"Building Common (Democratic) Ground: Cultural rights in Europe?"

Helle Porsdam, Professor of American Studies, Saxo-Institute, Faculty of Humanities, University of Copenhagen

Cultural rights are the new frontier – and the new research field – of human rights. Identity-related questions, inherently linked to human dignity and self-respect, are frequently at the root of violence and peace issues, and ‘culture’ is now seen as a basic component of political and economic development. Yet we still have no commonly accepted definition and only limited knowledge about how to source cultural rights, how universality might be achieved, how these rights may help the inclusivity and the indivisibility of human rights – and how we prevent culture from becoming an excuse for the denial of fundamental human rights.

"Economic Governance in Europe: Comparative Paradoxes and Constitutional Challenges"

Federico Fabbrini, Associate Professor, Centre of Excellence for International Courts (iCourts), Faculty of Law, University of Copenhagen

The purpose of the talk – which is based on an ongoing book project – is to offer a broad picture of how relations of power in the EU have changed post-Euro crisis, considering three different dimension: 1) the vertical relations of power between the member states and the EU institutions: 2) the relations of power between the political branches and the courts; and 3) the horizontal relations of power between the EU member states themselves. In the aftermath of the Euro-crisis, power has been shifting along each of these axes in paradoxical ways, which call into question important constitutional values for the EU, such as the autonomy of the member states in taking decision about taxing and spending, the preeminence of the political process in settling economic matters, and the balance between state power and state equality. To address these issues, therefore, the talk will suggest possible options for future legal and institutional developments in the EU, and discuss the challenges that accompany any further step towards a deeper Economic and Monetary Union. 

"Societal Participation in EU Affairs"

Maria Strömvik, PhD, Senior Lecturer, Department of Political Science and Centre for European Studies at Lund University, Sweden

This talk is based on an ongoing investigation, carried out on behalf of the Swedish government, on how to improve Swedish societal participation in EU affairs. The point of departure has been a paradox: while the effects of EU decision-making on national, regional and local arenas are continuously increasing, it appears as if the citizens’ knowledge of, and participation in, these political processes continue to be very low. While the political and economic power is gradually shifting, the actors with the greatest ability to influence societal knowledge and participation (political elites, media, the education system) continue to act largely according to a nation-state logic. In accounting for this, is it possible to discern a vicious circle of low knowledge, low interest, and low ambitions? And if it is, what can be done to break the trend?

"Interest groups in the EU: True powers or tools of those in power?"

Henrik Alf Jonas Hermansson, Postdoc, Department of Political Science, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Copenhagen

The population of interest groups in Brussels has grown dramatically and there is little doubt these groups have become an integral part of how European decisions are made. They have certainly become a central component in the strategy to make the Union more democratic, arguably giving voice to the citizens and providing much needed bottom-up expertise. Some observers see these groups as the true powers driving and underpinning the European project. Others view them as largely domesticated organisations that support existing power structures and in turn receive most of their funding from the EU. Which is true?

"Rights, Rules and Rhetoric in the EU: Comparing the cases of Britain and Greece"

Dennis Smith, Emeritus Professor of Sociology at Loughborough University, UK

The EU has seen considerable humiliation in the past few years. This includes the European Commission itself. Brussels was almost powerless when faced with the credit crunch and sovereign debt crisis. As a result, Greece was not just a target for the fears of German savers. It was also a convenient scapegoat for the humiliation of Brussels. Greeks responded by protesting vigorously against the troika’s attacks on their dignity and human rights. In the United Kingdom, the EU became the favoured scapegoat for anger about immigration. Such pressures may (or may not) push Greece out of the Eurozone and pull the United Kingdom out of the European Union. The larger question is whether the EU can survive these clashes between bureaucracy, capitalism and democracy. Before 2007 such pressures were contained within a pragmatically balanced network of cross-cutting conflicts and alliances. Players were all kept in the same game despite their different approaches to rules, rights and rhetoric. Tensions were managed through the lubrication of readily available credit or diverted by adding new member-states. But the debt reservoir has dried up and there will be no new members for a few years. Since the recession, politics and economics have become more ‘zero-sum’. In other words, now there are big losers as well as big winners. The old spirit of mutual accommodation is under strain. Can it be restored? The fates of Greece and the United Kingdom will give us some evidence.

"EU Agencies and Migrant Interest Groups: Dialogue, Openness and Participation as a Solution for Human Rights Concerns?" (No podcast)

Roberta Mungianu, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Copenhagen

The protection of migrant and refugee rights ranks high on the agenda of EU agencies. In the light of the many episodes of lives lost in the Mediterranean Sea, both are recognised as a matter of paramount importance in the process of EU’s border securitisation. The EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency, the Frontex Border Agency, and the European Asylum Support Office, have established a cooperative relationship with migrant interest groups which, to different extents, influence the work of the Agencies. This interaction is, on the one hand, an expression of democratic participation of civil society, and on the other, a means of voicing migrants and refugees’ right claims. This talk will explore the bases, legal or otherwise, upon which cooperation is built, and what such cooperation implies for the human rights of migrants and refugees.