Thursday, February 25, 2016

EU justice & protection



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An article from a correspondent on EU protection for British expatriates in the EU

June 23rd is now the date all eyes are focused upon according to the media in the UK.  A second, (or perhaps a third), 'D' day is fast approaching for Britain and whether the opposing camps are 'in' or 'out' the biggest arguments seem twofold, sovereignty and trade.  The 'outers' claim that the UK is losing too much control and all sovereignty should be repatriated to prevent further 'interference' from Brussels.

So what is Sovereignty?  It is understood in jurisprudence as the full right and power of a governing body to govern itself without any interference from outside sources or bodies. In political theory, sovereignty is a substantive term designating supreme authority over some polity.  So is that a good thing I ask myself and is that really the issue?

Much informed comment will say the EU was not set up as a trade association and the aims and objectives of the EU seem to support the view.  The founding principles of the Union start by saying: 'The Preamble to the draft Constitutional Treaty is preceded by a quotation from Thucydides: "Our Constitution (...) is called a democracy because power is in the hands not of a minority but of the greatest number".
 
The Union is founded, according to the Convention's proposal, on the values of respect for human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights. These values, which are set out in Article I-2, are common to the Member States. Moreover, the societies of the Member States are characterised by pluralism, tolerance, justice, solidarity and non-discrimination. These values play an important role, especially in two specific cases. Firstly, under the procedure for accession set out in Article I-57 any European State wishing to become a member of the Union must respect these values in order to be considered eligible for admission. Secondly, failure by a Member State to respect these values may lead to the suspension of that Member State's rights deriving from membership of the Union (Article I-58).

So what, you might say, we live in a democracy and we can vote for people who support our views so why do we need more bureaucracy?  For those of us who live in Europe the answer to that is clear.  We moved according to other reciprocal treaties that allowed free movement together with the right to port benefits gained whilst in employment, (if retired), or other in work benefits.  Without those treaties in place many of us would not have taken the step to live in Europe.  Those rights are now at risk because the checks and balances imposed on the UK by being a member of the EU would be removed and there would be no redress for the Brit abroad in Europe.

If you think that is not the case then take a look at what has happened in relation to the winter fuel payments for pensioners in areas of Europe that the DWP has suddenly decided are too warm in the winter for pensioners to receive that to which they are entitled.  Leaving aside the issue of whether or not WFP should or should not be paid, the fact is the entitlement is there and it has been erroneously removed for many in Europe.  

This decision has been made by the DWP contrary to the treaties signed by the UK and is currently the subject of a complaint to the EU.  Whilst we still await a ruling on the matter without this safeguard there would be nowhere for such complaints to be made and the UK government would have cart blanche to rescind or reduce such benefits that are critical to the well being of the Brit abroad and to which they are entitled.

The UK government has already indicated that it is looking to rescind the Human Rights Act and uses spurious arguments that it allows criminals to shelter behind its protection.  However, what it fails to make clear is that all citizens are protected by the Human Rights Act and watering it down would be a retrograde step for all EU citizens.
Likewise the UK government promised in its manifesto that it would change the fifteen year rule for those of us that are likely to most affected by a leave vote.  As yet there is no sign of that promise being fulfilled and every likelihood that the proposal will run out of parliamentary time.

This demonstrates that to put all our eggs into one Westminster basket leaves us very vulnerable and that we should all be fighting for Britain to remain part of Europe to enable us to remain protected by the existing treaties that allow us to live peacefully in Europe, (it will also retain those treaties that protect citizens living in the UK.)
The fundamental rights are:
As regards the protection of fundamental rights, the Convention makes significant advances. Article I-7 of the draft Constitution reproduces the guarantee of fundamental rights provided in the EU Treaty and refers to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and to the constitutional traditions common to the Member States. This Article also opens the way for the Union to seek formal accession to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

In addition, the Convention reached a consensus enabling the Charter of Fundamental Rights, solemnly proclaimed at the Nice European Council in December 2000, to be included in Part II of the Convention. The European Union therefore acquires for itself a catalogue of fundamental rights which will be legally binding not only on the Union, its institutions, agencies and organs, but also on the Member States as regards the implementation of Union law. The inclusion of the Charter in the Constitution does not compromise the division of competences between the Union and the Member States.

The Charter will be interpreted by the courts of the Union and the Member States. The Convention has slightly amended the presentation of the Charter to adapt it to the changes introduced by the draft Constitution.

The inclusion of the Charter, which contains additional rights not contained in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, such as workers' social rights, data protection, bioethics or the right to good administration, makes it more visible to citizens, who will thus be better informed of their rights.
The foregoing is an extract from the founding principles of the Union and if there is a 'Brexit' it will threaten our very existence in Europe and will have serious repercussions on those of us who have made a life, not on the Isle of Wight, but in mainland Europe thinking that we were safely covered by the blanket that is the EU.

The throw away comments made by those that would have us leave are far too elementary, as they only refer to the basic issues that they want to espouse.  The fundamental issues for us that have made a life in Europe are those rights described above that have been fiercely fought for and will be too easily given away by a 'Brexit'.

The divisions are right across the political divide and even the government of the day is split on the issue but those of us down the pecking order will have much more of a voice by remaining in Europe than we will have if Britain leaves.  That much is very clear.
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(Notes:  The author has no political affiliations and is therefore not a member of any political party.  I have lived in France for almost 12 years with my wife, over ten years of which was in the Tarn in the Midi-Pyrénées.  A move north to the Manche eighteen months ago was after much soul searching as to whether or not we should return to the UK because of the gathering storm.  We decided to stay in France because we love 'la vie en France' and because we can enjoy a less stressful lifestyle.  I left school in Dorset whilst still fourteen years of age and went straight into heavy employment as a fireman on steam engines with British Rail.  I later moved to Surrey with the railways but eventually left to join the police service where I worked until I retired just before reaching sixty years of age.  Never out of work and never claimed any benefits until I received my old age pension at the age of sixty five years of age.  We were refused the winter fuel allowance at age sixty until the EU directive that the UK was acting unlawfully.  We battled hard unsuccessfully for the back payments that had been withheld but once again the UK unlawfully refused those payments.  This winter we again find ourselves without the winter fuel payments because of the spurious and unlawful temperature test imposed by the DWP.  I still pay tax to the UK on my police pension and, just about, retain my vote.  My wife worked as a solicitor as well as raising our four sons.  We have never wished to be a burden on France and have never expected nor claimed any benefits from our host country.  As you would expect, having worked in the law for a joint total of almost sixty years we ensured that our position was sound legally before moving to Europe.  That legal status is now being threatened and it threatens our very existence here in France.  Experience has shown us that the UK government is not to be trusted and that we need the protections afforded by being part of the EU.)