Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Subsidiarity: Letter of Rights

To celebrate my 300th post, I've decided to add a new category to my blog, one devoted entirely to particularly egregious cases of subsidiarity violations by the European legislator. While I am a passionate Europhile, that doesn't go to the point that I think the EU should be in charge of everything. On the contrary, I think a religious observance of the principle of subsidiarity is essential to the Union's long-run legitimacy and, more generally, an excellent idea from a political economy point of view: healthy democracy requires both vertical and horizontal balance of powers.

My inaugural target is the European Letter of Rights that has just been adopted by Parliament & Council. The idea is to create a pan-European Miranda warning, in writing. Pursuant to the principle of audi et alteram partem, let's start with the Commission's explanation:
The objective of the proposal cannot be sufficiently achieved by Member States alone, since there is still significant variance in the precise way and timing of the provision of information which leads to divergence of standards across the EU. As the aim of the proposal is to promote mutual trust[;] only action taken by the EU will allow setting consistent common minimum standards that apply throughout the whole of the European Union. The proposal will approximate Member States' substantive procedural rules in respect of the transmission of information about rights and about the charge to persons suspected or accused of having committed a criminal offence in order to build mutual trust. The proposal therefore complies with the subsidiarity principle. (Emphasis mine.)
I think we can all agree that this is complete nonsense. After all, "setting consistent minimum standards", isn't that what we have the European Convention on Human Rights for? Last time I checked, all EU Member States have to be a party to it, and soon the EU itself will be, too. If the ECtHR says that art. 6 ECHR requires a right of access to an attorney, that's what EU citizens get. And if and when the Court in Strasbourg recognises a right to a written Miranda warning, that's what EU citizens will get as well. Should the Member States of the EU feel that the ECtHR is being to lax in this area, they are free to propose an amendment to the Convention. I fail to see how any of this requires action on the part of the EU.

That said, is there any evidence of a lack of trust? Specifically, do we know of any widespread reluctance in Member State A to honour European Arrest Warrants coming from Member State B for reasons of concerns about the latter's protection of art. 6 rights? After all, even though it is not mentioned in the section quoted above, that is the background of the proposal. I'm not aware of any such concern, but I'm open to being proved wrong. Absent such evidence, I think there's no question that this proposal should never have been adopted.

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