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Members of the European Parliament sit in the plenary chamber of the European Parliament during a vote. Among other things, MEPs will vote today on a free trade agreement with Vietnam.

A Human Rights Guide to the 2024 European Elections

Members of the European Parliament sit in the plenary chamber of the European Parliament during a vote.  ©2020 Philipp von Ditfurth/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Between 6 and 9 June 2024 voters in all 27 EU member states will go to the polls to elect 720 members of the European Parliament. These will be the first European elections since Brexit, the Covid-19 pandemic, and conflicts in Ukraine and in the Middle East that have polarized Europe.

The European Parliament is the only EU institution directly elected by EU citizens. In turn, the  composition of the European Commission is also influenced by the election results, as Commissioners need to be approved by Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to take office. These two institutions work together with the Council of the European Union on many issues that are central to the protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms of every EU citizen and of everyone else globally. These issues include poverty and inequality, rule of law and fundamental freedoms, racial justice and non-discrimination, disability rights, climate change, corporate accountability, human rights in foreign policy, migration, and many more.

What does the European Parliament do to protect your rights inside the EU and promote respect for fundamental rights and freedoms globally?
  • Legislation: the European Parliament proposes, discusses, and approves laws that affect your daily life and the lives of many around the world. It is a co-legislator, along with the Council of the EU, which includes the 27 EU member state governments, and the European Commission, which proposes legislation.
  • EU watchdog: the European Parliament monitors the activities of the other EU institutions. It holds debates, sends letters, adopts resolutions that denounce wrongdoing or requests specific action from the Commission and Council, often urging compliance with international human rights law.
  • Trade and foreign policy: the European Parliament approves trade and bilateral treaties with countries outside the EU, denounces human rights abuses by foreign governments, and urges EU action to address them.
Which human rights issues are at stake in these European elections?

We face complex challenges ahead: wars in Europe and in its neighborhood, rising and entrenching authoritarianism, erosion of democracy and the rule of law at home and abroad, poverty and inequality, an assault on human rights in the EU and around the world, and climate change.

As candidates seek your vote, think about how the policies they propose will protect and advance the human rights agenda both in Europe and abroad. Here are some of the issues you could consider:

 

1. Poverty and Inequality

The EU is the world’s second largest economy, but that collective wealth doesn’t mean everyone has equal rights and opportunities. The latest data show that one in four children in the EU is at risk of poverty and social exclusion.

A cost-of-living crisis across Europe and the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted that many EU households are struggling without enough money at the end of the month to make sure they can pay the bills and everyone can eat. The EU has agreed on  an important measure that could make a difference to the rights of children at risk of poverty and their families, if it is carried out well and with adequate resources.

The EU Child Guarantee is an ambitious plan to tackle child poverty by 2030, by requiring EU governments to guarantee access to education, with a daily school meal, health care, and housing for all children facing social exclusion and disadvantage.

Check to see where the candidates and parties on your ballot stand on:

  • Implementing the EU Child Guarantee and taking steps to make sure children at risk of poverty enjoy their rights to education, health care, and housing.

     

2. Rule of Law 

Concerns about the rule of law and the integrity of democratic institutions are growing in many EU countries. In Hungary, the government has clamped down on the courts, parliament, the media and civil society. Media freedom is at risk in Greece, Poland, and elsewhere, while civil society faces curbs in France, Greece, and Italy, among others.

The European Parliament has pressed EU member states to act collectively under the EU treaties’ scrutiny and sanctioning procedures to address the erosion of rule of law and fundamental rights in Hungary and has acted to protect the EU budget from corruption. It demanded measures in response to the capture of the judiciary in Poland, and stood up for journalists and media freedom in Greece.

European Parliament action to tackle breaches of the rule of law is essential to ensure that EU governments are accountable to their citizens, that justice systems and other democratic institutions can operate freely, and that EU funds benefit EU taxpayers.

Check to see where the candidates and parties on your ballot stand on:

  • Using the European Parliament’s influence to protect the rule of law and democratic institutions in Europe and hold EU governments to account;
  • Defending freedom of assembly, civic space and media freedom throughout the EU.

     

3. Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and Migrants

People who risk their lives in search of safety and opportunity face violence and pushbacks at EU borders. The new EU Pact on Migration and Asylum makes it harder for people to find refuge in Europe and increases detention, even of children, but does little to help share responsibility among EU countries. The EU gives billions of euros to countries with poor human rights records and abusive security forces to try to contain migration.

The European Parliament has called on the European Commission to take action against pushbacks and pressed for proactive EU action to save lives at sea. It has urged the EU border agency, Frontex, to be transparent and respect human rights in its work. Members of the European Parliament have been asking tough questions about cash-for-migration control deals with rights-abusing countries.

Check to see where candidates and parties on your ballot stand on:

  • Ending pushbacks and deaths at EU borders, ensuring fair asylum procedures and protection against unsafe deportations, and expanding legal pathways to Europe;
  • Making sure EU funds are not used to violate the rights of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants, whether in the EU or abroad.

     

4. EU Tech Policy and Human Rights

The EU has positioned itself as a global leader in tech regulation. The European Parliament passed new rules to regulate the export of commercial spyware and carried out a far-reaching investigation into the use of Pegasus and other spyware in Europe. The Digital Services Act (DSA) is a landmark regulation that sets rules for transparency and accountability of internet platforms, such as Meta, Google or X, across the EU. The EU’s AI Act will govern the use of artificial intelligence and contains important rights protections.

These new regulations are floors, not ceilings. The EU’s work on spyware did not go far enough to rein in and investigate misuse. The DSA failed to address tech companies’ pervasive surveillance of users. The AI Act includes loopholes in requirements to ensure transparency and accountability, particularly when AI is used in law enforcement and migration.

Check to see where the candidates and parties on your ballot stand on:

5. Racial and Decolonial Justice

Europe’s marginalized racial, ethnic and religious communities are stigmatized, excluded, discriminated against, and increasingly under attack. Racial inequalities and discrimination are perpetuated by existing laws and practices, by European governments’ unwillingness to genuinely reckon with their colonial legacies, and by negative narratives about marginalized communities amplified by European politicians.

The European Commission adopted the EU’s first Action Plan Against Racism in 2020. It provided a road map for responses to structural racism within Europe. In December 2023, MEPs introduced a draft resolution calling on European governments to acknowledge the historical injustices perpetuated by colonialism and to commit to reparations,  but it was never voted upon.

Check to see where the candidates and parties on your ballot stand on:

  • Addressing racial inequalities and discrimination and acting on behalf of the most marginalized;
  • Holding European governments to account for their colonial legacies;
  • Urging EU institutions and EU governments to promote racial and decolonial justice and including affected communities in policymaking.

     

6. Rights of People with Disabilities and Older People

In the EU and neighboring countries, people with disabilities and older people face higher risks of harm in the context of armed conflict or in extreme weather events caused by climate change.

More than a million Europeans with disabilities live in institutions, unable to live and participate in their community or to make decisions (legal capacity).

The EU has legal obligations to ensure the safety and protection of people with disabilities from climate change’s adverse effects and in wars, to end institutionalization, and to guarantee people’s legal capacity.

Check to see where the candidates and parties on your ballot stand on:

  • Condemning abuses against people with disabilities and older people;
  • Protecting people with disabilities and older people in wars and from adverse effects of climate change, and other humanitarian emergencies;
  • Ending institutionalization of people with disabilities and older people, and ensuring their access to quality community-based support including independent living and mental health services;
  • Ensuring that legal capacity reforms align with international law;
  • Ensuring that no law or policy is decided without the full and direct participation of people with disabilities and older people, in line with the principle of “nothing about us without us.”

     

7. Climate Action

Climate change is the defining crisis of our time – and the world’s forests are one of the greatest natural allies to mitigate it, given that they absorb planet warming carbon dioxide. This is why, in 2023, the European Parliament passed milestone legislation called the EU Deforestation-Free Products Regulation (EUDR).

Europe consumes millions of tons of products tainted with deforestation and rights abuses. The regulation seeks to change that. Beginning in January 2025, companies will have to clean up their supply chains. Key products sold in the EU will have to be deforestation-free and produced in conditions that respect the land rights of forest peoples.

Effective implementation of the regulation is key for Europe to do its part in protecting its own and the world’s forests. The regulation also has important implications for places from which European companies source their commodities, whether it’s leather from Brazil or timber from Malaysia. Setting a high bar for European companies means they will need to demand sustainable practices from their business partners abroad. More tools like the EUDR can help align business with urgently needed climate action.

Check to see where the candidates and parties on your ballot stand on:

  • Taking effective climate action to protect human rights and the planet;
  • Holding companies accountable for their negative environment and climate impacts.

     

8. Corporate Accountability 

Corporations’ activities have a huge impact on human rights around the world. Millions of workers are employed by the companies’ global supply chains, and many of them toil in bad working conditions, including forced labor, poverty wages, illegal child labor, and poor occupational health and safety conditions. Corporate activities can also have significant environmental impacts, which can disproportionately harm  Indigenous Peoples and other local communities.

On April 24, 2024, the European Parliament adopted the EU Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD), which if approved by EU governments would require large corporations to respect human rights, labor, and environmental standards in their operations and supply chains. The European Parliament in April 2024 also adopted legislation prohibiting the import and export of products made with forced labor, a key tool to tackle both state-imposed and other forms of forced labor.

Check to see where the candidates and parties on your ballot stand on:

  • Speaking up against corporate abuses;
  • Enacting and expanding legislation to regulate corporations’ activities;
  • Ensuring that affected people and communities have access to justice and remedies.

     

9. EU Foreign Policy and Human Rights 

Around the world, many governments oppress their people and arbitrarily detain those who denounce abuses and demand change. Human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists, and political activists end up behind bars or worse, simply for criticizing their government.

The European Parliament calls for their release and protection during debates and country visits, and in resolutions and letters, and urges other EU institutions to defend them. The European Parliament has contributed to the release or improvement in the situation of many unjustly jailed activists, such as an Azerbaijani scholarGubad Ibadoghlu; a Ukrainian filmmakerOleg Sentsov; Bangladeshi human rights defenders Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan; and a Burundian human rights lawyer, Tony Germain Nkina – among many others.

Check to see where the candidates and parties on your ballot stand on:

  • Speaking up against abuses and supporting human rights defenders all over the world, without exception;
  • Urging EU institutions and EU countries to take action against oppressive governments and to use the EU’s political and economic influence, including trade and targeted sanctions, to demand accountability and press for human rights progress.

     

10. EU Support for International Justice

As conflicts and human rights crises multiply and civilians suffer widespread abuses, the need for accountability and justice persists.

The EU has long been a supporter of international justice. All EU member states have joined the International Criminal Court (ICC) and committed to protect the integrity of the court’s treaty and the court’s independence. The EU has been a critical player in encouraging countries like Ukraine to join it. The EU and its member states have also enhanced cooperation to prosecute individuals responsible for atrocity crimes around the world in EU national courts, and they have in some cases supported the International Court of Justice work on cases involving serious international crimes. However, inconsistent responses in calling for accountability in different situations where it is desperately needed, for instance in Ukraine and Gaza, have increased the perception of double standards in the EU’s support for justice.

Check to see where the candidates and parties on your ballot stand on:

  • Supporting the work and independence of the International Criminal Court, everywhere in the world without exception, and urging other countries to join the court;
  • Enhancing EU and member states’ support for prosecuting international crimes in the countries where crimes are committed, in mixed-international jurisdictions, or in European national courts.

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