Distorted human rights laws pose a threat to Europe’s Christian traditions, says Mary O’Regan Ispent two solid years campaigning against the Lisbon Treaty, before the referendums in Ireland (including the compulsory re-run). Now living in Britain, I intend to vote Tory: it seems to me that their policy on Europe has enormous potential. On the other hand, many who were intending to vote Tory and so get a say on Lisbon are now quite confused. Talking to British Catholic voters, I have found them recalling the counsel of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican Secretary of State, on the eve of the second Irish Lisbon referendum, that the EU threatens Ireland’s “identity, traditions and history”.
It is melodramatic to protest, as the media have done, that Cameron had “broken a promise” on Lisbon – and it’s misleading. The sad fact remains: after Ireland and the Czech Republic voted Yes this winter Lisbon passed into law, ending every possibility of a referendum. We may think of all those hundreds of millions across Europe who were denied a vote.
David Cameron is an able strategist. His policy comprises a varied set of legally effective strategies which would prevent the kind of national power giveaways we have seen in Lisbon. But the policy is not an inward-looking one. It follows the good example of our European neighbours. The “referendum lock” is influenced by Ireland. In the referendum polling booth, you would be able to reject or accept what the punters are already calling “the next Lisbon”. If Britain had this “lock”, to which the voters themselves held “the key”, then the progress of proposed future treaties would entail far more decentralisation of power from Brussels.
Worryingly, a central aim of Lisbon is to enable new EU legislation to override the laws of its 27 member states. To counteract this, Cameron’s planned Sovereignty Bill will enact the same protections of the German constitutional court, and allow us exemptions from obeying new EU laws. To make this a reality, Cameron intends to enact a simple amendment to the European Communities Act. If this in place (I write optimistically), and the EU proceeds to pass laws that might harm our national interests, we will reserve the right not to apply these laws.
The defining achievement, however, would be the clarifying of control of our legal adjudication: does it belong to British courts or EU courts? We have a treasury of papal encyclicals from Pope Benedict’s Caritas in Veritate to John Paul II’s Laborem Exercens which in its turn took the torch from Paul VI’s Populorum Progressio. These tell us that it is a high form of charity when an individual government prioritises justice. It flies in the face of our social teaching that a remote court should make rulings for 27 governments. EU courts extensively exploit their position on human rights. This, we are led to believe, is to to unify the justice systems of member countries. In reality, it is to force them into the identical mould, regardless of local culture and social conditions. In Caritas in Veritate Pope Benedict cautions against “alleged rights, arbitrary and nonessential in nature”, but also makes it clear that “Ubi societas, ibi ius: every society draws up its own system of justice”.
With the guidance of our Pope, Catholics may with a clear conscience support Cameron’s preparations to obtain a non-negotiable opt-out from the Charter of Fundamental Rights. This legal mandate is already in force in the Luxembourg Court. Poland has an opt-out, obtained by the Kaczynski twins. They heeded John Paul II’s acute criticism of the Charter for neglecting mention of God, “the supreme source of the dignity of the human person and his fundamental rights”.
It is vital that the Conservatives, having evaded the Charter of Human Rights, get free from both Labour’s 1997 Human Rights Act and from the authority of the European Court of Justice. “Independence” is the key word here: the Tories plan to demonstrate that Britain will secure the rights of her people without intervention from the European Court of Justice. They are arranging a British Bill of Rights, which will make the defence of human rights a nationwide matter. Is this just more “rights without responsibilities”? No, it seeks to abolish the circle of “justice mismanagement of human rights” that has been rotating between the Human Rights Act 1997 and the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights.
The British Bill of Rights would replace the 1997 Human Rights Act. This Act has regretfully been applied by British judges in such a way that that Britain can be seen to keep pace with the rulings of the Strasbourg Court. An example of the arbitrary application of this principle is the situation where British courts prevent the deportation of criminals. Blocking the removal of criminals who have committed violent acts is following a trend of the European Court of Human Rights. This court invariably rules that criminals may not return to their country of origin if there is suspicion that the country practises torture. But is it charitable to citizens to have dangerous criminals on their street who might owe nothing to the nation? Pope Benedict is clear that “charity demands justice: recognition and respect for the legitimate rights of individuals and peoples”. Preventing the imposition of penalties on convicted criminals amounts to a transfer of “legitimate” rights from victim to criminal.
Closer to the hearts of many Catholics is the fear that activists such as atheists who want religious symbols and even Nativity plays banned from faith schools will take cases to either the Strasbourg or Luxembourg Courts – and be successful. The case of the Finnish mother who won her case seeking the removal of crucifixes in Italian classrooms makes even the only nominally religious feel uneasy. Furthermore, the European Court of Human Rights has more than 100,000 cases currently on file. Caritas in Veritate explains our qualms: that a human rights culture “can run wild, leading to an escalation of demands which is effectively unlimited and indiscriminate”. If carefully worded, the British Rights Bill would strengthen domestic law, and could prevent orchestrated “activist” cases where a person or group uses the power of the European Courts to impose rulings that affect us all. The judiciary would have become the legislature.
All things considered, the new Tory policy does not make Britain “the odd country”. Rather, as John Paul II said, Europe constitutes “a symphony of nations”. We are not a block of countries making one loud noise. Each European country has a unique resonance. We are merely getting the reverberations right between us and Europe as a whole.