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UPHOLDING THE RULE OF LAW IN THE EUROPEAN UNION

07.11.2017

OPEN LETTER TO
COMMISSION PRESIDENT JUNCKER AND EUROPEAN COUNCIL PRESIDENT TUSK
cc. First Vice-President Frans Timmermans
UPHOLDING THE RULE OF LAW IN THE EUROPEAN UNION
3 November 2017

Dear President Juncker, dear President Tusk: We are scholars, politicians, public intellectuals and members of the European Parliament writing to you with the following concern: The European Union has proclaimed the Rule of Law principle and respect for fundamental rights and freedoms to be binding on its Member States (Articles 2 and 6 of the Lisbon Treaty). The EU’s leadership has been a staunch protector of these fundamental norms, most recently in countering the Polish government’s attempts to undermine the independence of judges as well as the Hungarian government’s actions to limit civil society and media freedoms. However, we are deeply concerned that the EU’s governing bodies are condoning the violation of the Rule of Law in Spain, in particular regarding the Spanish central authorities’ approach to the 1 October referendum on Catalan independence. We do not take political sides on the substance of the dispute on territorial sovereignty and we are cognizant of procedural deficiencies in the organisation of the referendum. Our concern is with the Rule of Law as practised by an EU Member State.

The Spanish government has justified its actions on grounds of upholding or restoring the constitutional order. The Union has declared that this is an internal matter for Spain. Issues of national sovereignty are indeed a matter of domestic politics in liberal democracies. However, the manner in which the Spanish authorities have been handling the claims to independence expressed by a significant part of the population of Catalonia constitutes a violation of the Rule of Law, namely: 1/ The Spanish Constitutional Tribunal banned the referendum on Catalan independence scheduled for 1 October, as well as the Catalan Parliament session scheduled for 9 October, on grounds that these planned actions violate Article 2 of the Spanish Constitution stipulating the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation, thus rendering secession illegal. However, in enforcing in this way Article 2, the Tribunal has violated Constitutional provisions on freedom of peaceful assembly and of speech – the two principles which are embodied by referendums and parliamentary deliberations irrespective of their subject matter. Without interfering in Spanish constitutional disputes or in Spain’s penal code, we note that it is a travesty of justice to enforce one constitutional provision by violating fundamental rights. Thus, the Tribunal’s judgments and the Spanish government’s actions for which these judgments provided a legal basis violate both the spirit and letter of the Rule of Law. 2/ In the days preceding the referendum, the Spanish authorities undertook a series of repressive actions against civil servants, MPS, mayors, media, companies and citizens. The shutdown of Internet and other telecom networks during and after the referendum campaign had severe consequences on exercising freedom of expression. 3/ On referendum day, the Spanish police engaged in excessive force and violence against peaceful voters and demonstrators – according to Human Rights Watch. Such disproportionate use of force is an undisputable abuse of power in the process of law enforcement.

The arrest and imprisonment on 16 October of the activists Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez (Presidents, respectively, of the Catalan National Assembly and Omnium Cultural) on charges of sedition is a miscarriage of justice. The facts resulting in this incrimination cannot possibly be qualified as sedition, but rather as the free exercise of the right to peaceful public manifestation, codified in article 21 of the Spanish Constitution. The Spanish government, in its efforts to safeguard the sovereignty of the state and indivisibility of the nation, has violated basic rights and freedoms guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as by Articles 2 and 6 of the basic law of the EU (the Lisbon Treaty). The violation of basic rights and freedoms protected by international and EU law cannot be an internal affair of any government. The silence of the EU and its rejection of inventive mediation is unjustifiable. The actions of the Spanish government cannot be justified as protecting the Rule of Law, even if based on specific legal provisions. In contrast to rule-by-law (rule by means of norms enacted through a correct legal procedure or issued by a public authority), Rule of Law implies also the safeguarding of fundamental rights and freedoms – norms which render the law binding not simply because it is procedurally correct but enshrines justice. It is the Rule of Law, thus understood, that provides legitimacy to public authority in liberal democracies. We therefore call on the Commission to examine the situation in Spain under the Rule of Law framework, as it has done previously for other Member States. The EU leadership has reiterated that violence cannot be an instrument in politics, yet it has implicitly condoned the actions of the Spanish police and has deemed the actions of the Spanish government to be in line with the Rule of Law. Such a reductionist, maimed version of the Rule of Law should not become Europe’s new political common sense. It is dangerous and risks causing long-term damage to the Union. We therefore call on the European Council and Commission to do all that is necessary to restore the Rule of Law principle to its status as a foundation of liberal democracy in Europe by countering any form of abuse of power committed by Member States. Without this, and without a serious effort of political mediation, the EU risks losing its citizens’ trust and commitment. The crisis has in the meantime developed further (the Catalan government was detained, arrest warrant was issued against Mr Puigdemont). We follow closely the situation with the interests of democracy in Catalonia, Spain and Europe in mind, as they cannot be separated, and we insist all the more on the importance for the EU to monitor the respect of fundamental freedoms by all parties.

 

*** On the initiative of Albena Azmanova (University of Kent) and Barbara Spinelli (writer, Member of the European Parliament) Co-signatories (in personal capacity):
Etienne Balibar, université Paris Nanterre and Kingston University London
David Gow, editor, Social Europe
Kalypso Nicolaidis, Oxford University, Director of the Center for International Studies Mark Davis, University of Leeds, Founding Director of the Bauman Institute Cristina Lafont, Northwestern University (Spanish citizen) Ash Amin, Cambridge University Yanis Varoufakis, DiEM25 co-founder
Rosemary Bechler, editor, openDemocracy
Gustavo Zagrebelsky professor of constitutional law, University of Turin
Antonio Negri, Philosopher, Euronomade platform Costas Douzinas, Birkbeck, University of London Robert Menasse, writer, Austria
Dimitrios Papadimoulis, Vice President of the European Parliament (GUE-NGL) Ulrike Guérot, Danube University Krems, Austria & Founder of the European Democracy Lab, Berlin Judith Butler, University of California, Berkeley and European Graduate School, Switzerland Philip Pettit, University Center for Human Values, Princeton University (Irish citizen)
Josep-Maria Terricabras, Member of European Parliament (Greens/EFA)
Hauke Brunkhorst, University of Flensburg
Judit Carrera, Centre for Contemporary Culture of Barcelona
Gabriele Zimmer, Member of European Parliament (President, GUE/NGL)
Philippe Schmitter, European University Institute, Florence
Bart Staes, Member of European Parliament (Flemish Greens)
Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson, former minister for foreign affairs and external trade of Iceland
Diana Wallis, former Vice President of the European Parliament Craig Calhoun, President, Berggruen Institute; Centennial Professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) Jane Mansbridge, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
Josu Juaristi Abaunz, Member of European Parliament (GUE-NGL)
Alyn Smith, Member of the European Parliament (Greens/EFA)
Thor Gylfason, University of Iceland and Research Fellow at CESifo, Munich/former member Iceland Constitutional Council 2011
Jordi Solé, Member of European Parliament (Greens/EFA)
Judith Revel, Université Paris Nanterre
Seyla Benhabib, Yale University; Catedra Ferrater Mora Distinguished Professor in Girona (2005) Arjun Appadurai, Institute for European Ethnology, Humboldt University, Berlin
Susan Buck-Morss, CUNY Graduate Center and Cornell University
Ramon Tremosa i Balcells, Member of European Parliament (Alde) Anastasia Nesvetailova, Director, City Political Economy Research Centre, City University of London Nancy Fraser, The New School for Social Research, New York (International Research Chair in Social Justice, Collège d’études mondiales, Paris, 2011-2016) Jill Evans, Member of the European Parliament (Greens/EFA) Regina Kreide, Justus Liebig University, Giessen
Jodi Dean, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Geneva NY
Tatjana Zdnoka, Member of the European Parliament (Greens/EFA)
Wendy Brown, University of California, Berkley Roberta De Monticelli, University San Raffaele, Milan.
Sophie Wahnich, directrice de recherche CNRS, Paris Christoph Menke, University of Potsdam, Germany
Tanja Fajon, Member of the European Parliament (S&D) Robin Celikates, University of Amsterdam Eric Fassin, Université Paris-8 Vincennes - Saint-Denis Paul Molac, Member of the French Parliament (écologiste) Alexis Cukier, Université Paris Nanterre Diogo Sardinha, university Paris/Lisbon Luke Ming Flanagan, Member of the European Parliament (GUE-NGL) Dario Castiglione, University of Exeter Hamit Bozarslan, EHESS, Paris Frieder Otto Wolf, Freie Universität Berlin
Gerard Delanty, University of Sussex
Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Coimbra University and University of Wisconsin-Madison
Sandro Mezzadra, Università di Bologna
Camille Louis, University of Paris 8 and Paris D
Philippe Aigrain, writer and publisher
Yann Moulier Boutang and Frederic Brun, Multitudes journal
Anne Querrien and Yves Citton, Multitudes journal
Bruce Robbins, Columbia University
Michèle Riot-Sarcey, université Paris-VIII-Saint-Denis Zeynep Gambetti, Bogazici University, Istanbul (French citizen)
Andrea den Boer, University of Kent, Editor-in-Chief, Global Society: Journal of Interdisciplinary International Relations
Moni Ovadia, writer and theatre performer
Merja Kyllönen, Member of the European Parliament (GUE/NGL)
Guillaume Sibertin-Blanc, Université Paris 8 Saint-Denis
Peter Osborne, Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy, Kingston University, London
Ilaria Possenti, University of Verona Nicola Lampitelli, University of Tours, France
Yutaka Arai, University of Kent
Enzo Rossi, University of Amsterdam, Co-editor, European Journal of Political Theory
Petko Azmanov, journalist, Bulgaria
Etienne Tassin, Université Paris Diderot
Lynne Segal, Birkbeck College, University of London Danny Dorling, University of Oxford
Maggie Mellon, social policy consultant, former executive member Women for Independence
Vanessa Glynn, Former UK diplomat at UKRep to EU Alex Orr, exec mbr, Scottish National Party/European Movement in Scotland Bob Tait, philosopher, ex-chair Langstane Housing Association, Aberdeen Isobel Murray, Aberdeen University Grahame Smith, general secretary, Scottish Trades Union Congress
Igor Šoltes, Member of the European Parliament (Greens/EFA) Pritam Singh, Oxford Brookes University John Weeks, SOAS, University of London Jordi Angusto, economist at Fundació Catalunya-Europa Leslie Huckfield, ex-Labour MP, Glasgow Caledonian University Ugo Marani, University of Naples Federico II and President of RESeT
Gustav Horn, Scientific Director of the Macroeconomic Policy Institute of the Hans Böckler Stiftung
Chris Silver, journalist/author
François Alfonsi, President of EFA (European Free Alliance) James Mitchell, Edinburgh University Harry Marsh, retired charity CEO Desmond Cohen, former Dean, School of Social Sciences at Sussex University Yan Islam, Griffith Asia Institute David Whyte, University of Liverpool Katy Wright, University of Leeds Adam Formby, University of Leeds Nick Piper, University of Leeds Matilde Massó Lago, The University of A Coruña and University of Leeds Jim Phillips, University of Glasgow Rizwaan Sabir, Liverpool John Moores University Pablo Ciocchini, University of Liverpool Feyzi Ismail, SOAS, University of London Kirsteen Paton, University of Liverpool Stefanie Khoury, University of Liverpool Xavier Rubio-Campillo, University of Edinburgh Joe Sim, Liverpool John Moores University
Paul Molac, Member of the French Parliament Hannah Wilkinson, University of Keele Gareth Dale, Brunel University Robbie Turner, University of St Andrews Will Jackson, Liverpool John Moores University Louise Kowalska, ILTUS Ruskin University Alexia Grosjean, Honorary member, School of History, University of St Andrews
Takis Hadjigeorgiou, Member of the European Parliament (GUE-NGL) Paul McFadden, York University
Matthias E. Storme, Catholic University of Leuven Phil Scraton, Queen's University Belfast Oscar Berglund, University of Bristol Michael Lavalette, Liverpool Hope University Owen Worth, University of Limerick Ronnie Lippens, Keele University
Zoë Dingwall, political adviser EFA (European Free Alliance) Andrew Watterson, Stirling University Steve Tombs, The Open University Emily Luise Hart, University of Liverpool David Scott, The Open University
Anders Eriksson, bureau EFA (European Free Alliance), European Parliament Bill Bowring, Birkbeck College, University of London Sofa Gradin, King’s College London Michael Harrison, University of South Wales
Ana Manzano-Santaella, University of Leeds
Noëlle McAfee, Emory University
Peter J. Verovšek, University of Sheffield
Peter Dews, University of Essex
Martin Matuštík, Arizona State University (Czech citizen)
Camil Ungureanu, Pompeu Fabra University, Barcelona
Dafydd Huw Rees , Cardiff University
Patrick Le Hyaric, Member of the European Parliament (GUE-NGL)
Martin Beck Matuštík, Arizona State University
Hans-Peter Krüger, University of Potsdam
Loren Goldman, University of Pennsylvania
Federica Gregoratto, University of St.Gallen
Rurion Soares Melo, Universidade de São Paulo
Pieter Duvenage, Cardiff University and editor, Journal for Contemporary History
Chad Kautzer, Lehigh University
Peter A. Kraus, University of Augsburg
David Ingram, Loyola University of Chicago Alain-G. Gagnon, Université du Québec à Montréal Peter Bußjäger, Institut für Föderalismus, Innsbruck Nelly Maes, Former Member of the European Parliament, former President of European Free Alliance Nicolas Levrat, University of Geneva
Helmut Scholz, Member of the European Parliament (GUE/NGL) Michel Seymour, Université de Montréal Simon Toubeau, University of Nottingham Georg Kremnitz, Universität Wien Keith Gerard Breen, Queen’s University Belfast Alan Price, Swansea University Fernando Ramallo, Universidade de Vigo
Nicolas Levrat, University of Geneva, Director of the International Law Department
Jordi Matas, Professor of Political Science, University of Barcelona
Simon Toubeau, University of Nottingham
María Pilar García Negro, University of Coruña
María do Carme García Negro, University of Santiago de Compostela
Francisco Rodríguez, writer
Carme Fernández Pérez-Sanjulián, University of Coruña
Patrice Poujade, Université de Perpignan
Colin H Williams, Cardiff and Cambridge University
Nicolas Berjoan, Université de Perpignan
Joan Peitavi, Université de Perpignan
Alà Baylac-Ferrer, Université de Perpignan
Guglielmo Cevolin, University of Udine, Italy
Robert Louvin, Professor of Comparative Law, University of Calabria
Günther Dauwen, Secretary General of the Centre Maurits Coppieters
Bart Maddens, Catholic University of Leuven
Alan Sandry, Swansea University
Justo Serrano Zamora, Bavarian School of Public Policy
Ivo Vajgl, Member of the European Parliament (Alde)
Alberto Aziz Nassif, Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, México
Sandrina Antunes, University of Minho, Portugal
Pablo Beramendi, Duke University
Nico Krisch, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva
Miguel Urbán Crespo, Member of the European Parliament (GUE/NGL)
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