London, United Kingdom (TFC) – While the Brexit vs Bremain debate has been- and will continue to be- argued and analysed to death, one very important issue has escaped mainstream attention: human rights. The EU’s European Court of Justice, its laws and its Charter of Fundamental Rights safeguards our human rights more than the European Court of Human Rights. What’s more, the EU’s justice is much easier to access than that available through the ECHR. A case can only be heard by the ECHR once a case has gone through all the domestic courts- which is usually costly and very time-consuming. However, EU law can be applied directly by even the lowest level domestic courts; so if an EU law would mean you’d win your case at the District Court in Glasgow, then win it you shall, and immediately.
EU law protects Britons from age, race, sex, belief, disability and sexuality discrimination (see overview of EU discrimination law here).
The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights further safeguards our rights to privacy, education, being fairly dealt with by the police, and practising our religion/belief amongst many others.
If Britain leaves the EU, we forfeit all of this protection, forever.
The EU’s European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that Europeans have a “right to be forgotten”- i.e. that we can request Google to take down information about us. This gives us an important right that nobody else in the world yet enjoys, and could very well open doors to employment for those of us who have been maligned on the internet.
The ECJ is also in the process of deciding whether the UK’s DRIPA (Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act) contravenes EU human rights law. If the UK leaves the EU, in future such cases will have no legal remedy if UK courts uphold the legality of DRIPA-esque legislation, or will have to be referred to the European Court of Human Rights- which is much less likely to safeguard the rights of citizens.
The EU has struck a happy medium on the contentious issue of welfare. Its rules stipulate that after three months’ residency in another EU country, any EU citizen or long-term resident can claim the same welfare benefits as a citizen of that country. However, this doesn’t mean you’ll be handing over your taxes to benefits tourists- the ECJ has recently cracked down on immigrants who exploit the system.
EU law also provides for guaranteed criminal compensation if you are the victim of a crime while travelling within the EU.
The EU’s Europe 2020 strategy aims to “eradicate child poverty, promote the active inclusion in society and the labour market of the most vulnerable groups and overcome discrimination and increase the integration of people with disabilities, ethnic minorities, immigrants and other vulnerable groups.” The EU Commission’s PROGRESS programme supports policy development work relating to employment, working conditions, gender equality, social inclusion and social protection, non-discrimination and diversity. NGOs and charities- including British ones- can apply for funding. The Citizens for Europe programme provides civil society organisations and think tanks at European level with operating grants covering part of their running costs.
The EU has been promoting gender equality since 1957. The Strategy for Equality Between Women and Men represents the European Commission’s work program on gender equality for the period 2010-2015. In 2012 the Gender Equality Directive stopped insurers using gender as a risk factor. Currently it combats violence and discrimination. The EU’s Women, Peace and Security agenda works to prevent violence against women and girls in conflict zones. The European Social Fund (ESF) has introduced a gender-mainstreaming approach and the EQUAL initiative was launched in 2000 to develop new ways of tackling discrimination and exclusion in the labour market including that which is based on gender.
The EU has also created an Institute for Gender Equality and a Fundamental Rights Agency. Winnet, a network of European Women Resource Centres was created to improve efficiency and transparency of women’s rights NGOs and therefore improve gender equality policies and tools.
Impact assessments on the effect of EU policy on women are carried out by each of the Commission’s Directorate-Generals.
The ECJ has previously interpreted “family life” to protect the rights of children of unmarried and lone parents to enable the children to remain living with their parents. Cases include Johnston v Ireland (1986), Eur. Ct. H.R., Ser. A, No. 112, Marckx v Belgium (1979) 2 EHRR 330:342, Berehab v Netherlands (App. 10730/84) 21 June 1988 Series A No. 138, (1989) 11 EHRR 322 S21 and Keegan v. Ireland (App.16969/90) 26 May 1994, Series A No. 290 (1994) 18 EHRR 342 S44.
The Fundamental Rights Agency devotes one of the chapters of its Annual Report on Fundamental Rights to the rights of the child. In 2009 the FRA published a report on “Developing indicators for the protection, respect and promotion of the rights of the child in the European Union.”
The Audiovisual Media Services Directive binds Member States to ensure that audiovisual media services provided by media service providers under their jurisdiction do not contain any incitement to hatred or sex discrimination.
The ECJ has ruled on age discrimination in employment, pensions and the retirement age.
When Belgium attempted to deny residence permits for two French nationals on the ground that they were suspected to be engaged in sex work, the ECJ ruled that as Belgium allowed its own citizens to do sex work, denying free movement to French citizens was a contravention of EU law.
More intersectional and specific forms of discrimination haven’t escaped EU notice, either. In 2007, the Monitoring and Evaluation Unit of the Employment and Training Corporation (ETC) published a study on lone mothers in poverty, which found that the mothers “experienced stigma and prejudice at the workplace and they felt as if they were looked down upon by their co-workers”. The European Working Conditions Observatory concluded that “A respectful environment at work…would also help more lone mothers to enter or return to the labour market.”
The EU’s ECJ court, its Commission, its laws and its many agencies and platforms do much more to safeguard our rights than the European Court. They also pump money into impoverished areas of the UK to improve the lives of Brits in rural and deprived areas. The scale and scope of the EU’s human rights protection is unique in the world. If Britain leaves the EU, we must be prepared to give up all of the EU’s human rights protections- for which we will find no replacement.