“The Brussels Diary With Yana Toom”: How To Ensure That Human Rights Are Actually Respected In The EU?


Last Thursday, a colleague of mine in Renew Europe, Pascal Durand, and I held a seminar (online, of course!) in which experts discussed a topic that concerns each and every one. The EU is often, and rightly so, alas, reproached for the fact that, figuratively speaking, God is too high from here, and Brussels is too far to hear. Somewhere up in the clouds over Europe, there are some people sitting, and they can never hear our shouting.

Europe constantly insists that each and every one is important, but how is this actually implemented in practice? The link between the people and European power seems to be absent. In theory, we have excellent principles – that same Charter of Human Rights, and that same Pillar of Social Rights. But do they work? And how can we make them work?

This is what we discussed. Among the speakers was a representative of the European Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly as well as the vice-president of the Federal Union of European Nationalities Angelika Mlinar. Yes, this is the same very union that initiated the Protection Package for National Minorities. I also invited the Associate Professor of Law of the EU Carri Ginter, whom we have known for a long time. Ten years ago, the Estonian Internal Security Service (KaPo) in their yearbook accused me of putting pressure on the Russian schools in Tallinn. I demanded to remove this lie through the court. Carri Ginter defended KaPo in court, and the security service lost its case.

This excursion into history is not at all a needless tangent, as, at the seminar, we talked exactly about how to protect your rights if you think that they are being violated. This also applies to the rights guaranteed by European laws. As a member of the European Parliament Committee on Petitions, I know that EU residents often address us for protection of their rights, and they are aware of their rights. They quote the European Charter of Human Rights, for example. Only that it contains, alas, Article 51, which basically stipulates that an EU country shall be obliged to adhere to the charter when it comes to European laws. And if it comes to national ones, you can just spit on the charter.

When people find out about this, they lose heart. I can understand why. But we should not despair. We should fight. The good news, which was confirmed by the same Carri Ginter, is that the supreme courts of the EU countries are increasingly deciding that the European Charter of Human Rights is more important than local laws and even the national constitution.

Yes, this is still the goodwill of the judges, and it is not happening as such for all. As Gabriel Toggenburg of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights said: “For each article of the charter, there are ten EU countries whose constitutions do not contain the provisions of this article.” But, as you know, water never flows under settled stones.

There is only one way out: to put pressure on the authorities. Through Brussels, through petitions to the European Parliament, through civil initiatives, through the courts. The stronger the pressure, the more human rights will actually be respected in the EU. When I was suing the security service, it seemed to many that defeating KaPo was impossible, even more so in an Estonian court! But, as it turned out, this was possible.

Most often, the problem is the availability of high-quality legal assistance. Let me remind you that free legal consultations are held in my offices in Tallinn and Narva. Registration for an appointment: in Tallinn is on Mondays (9.00-12.00, phone 6720311) and in Narva on Tuesdays (10.00-12.00, phone 5917 0217).