Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The EU threatens punishment

The news that the United States was operating secret prisons in Europe (most likely in Romania or Poland) has caused a growing scandal within the European Union. The EU takes a very serious line on human rights, requiring all members and potential members to adhere to the European Convention on Human Rights as well as the UN Convention Against Torture, which outlaw not only torture (including the preferred American methods of waterboarding, strapado and "environmental manipulation"), but also illegal detention and extraordinary rendition. The EU has begun an investigation, and now it has made clear exactly what is at stake: participation in the EU itself:

The European Union's top justice official has warned that any EU state found to have hosted a secret CIA jail could have its voting rights suspended.

Franco Frattini said the consequences would be "extremely serious" if reports of such prisons turned out to be true.


"I would be obliged to propose to the Council [of EU Ministers] serious consequences, including the suspension of voting rights in the council," he said.

He said a suspension of voting rights would be justified if any country is found to have breached the bloc's founding principles of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

While suspension would be an unprecedented move and require the unanimous approval of all non-accused members, given the widespread loathing American torture has generated within Europe, it is hardly an empty threat. When even the British are demanding answers, you know that things are serious. But the real target here isn't so much existing EU members as aspiring ones. It is a lot easier to block accession to the EU than suspend an existing member, and Romania (currently scheduled to join in 2007) may very easily find itself out in the cold if it is found to have allowed the CIA to violate human rights on its territory...