Category Archives: Group 5

Gender equality – not so equal in the European parliament

The number of women elected as European members of Parliament in the elections of June 4th, 2009 has risen from 30 percent to 35 percent. A good result but not yet good enough. Malta failed to elect one single woman, while Finland is keeping the lead of having the most female representation in the European parliament. Finding the road towards gender equality is through patterns of national culture. At least that is where they put the blame.

The European Union has 27 membership countries. There are 732 members of the European parliament (MEP). About 35 percent of those are women. Malta is the only membership country who doesn´t have any female representation. Finland, on the other hand, has a female representation of  62 percent. In their national parliament they are also doing far better off in gender equality, than any other EU membership country. About 40 percent of the members of the Finnish parliament are women, and they have a female president. What is their secret? Sari Essayah, a Finnish MEP of the European People´s Party, believe that the media coverage has a lot to do with it.

–          In Finland the media is watching over the political parties carefully and they really care about gender equality. If a party has a very unequal amount of men and women, then it will definitely be on the news. This makes the parties strive for gender equality because, of course, they don´t want bad publicity, says Sari Essayah.

The Hawkeye of media may be one of the reasons to why Finnish women are almost about as equal as men in the political scene. But Finland also have systems implicated in their parliament, to secure the strive for gender equality. In the committees there is a quota that says that at least 40 percent has to be of the opposite sex. Satu Hassi, a Finnish MEP from the Group of the Greens, says that quotas are necessary because people tend to engage in different issues, partly depending on gender.

–          There is a tendency, proven by studies and opinion pulls, that all the professions that women tend to emphasize is more focused on soft values, such as health care and environmental issues. These different values of men and women can be seen in the parliament. For example there are more women in the environmental committee. So the quotas is a good thing because it forces both men and women to activate in all areas, says Satu Hassi.

Finland is famous for its sauna culture and this steams up the Finnish parliament as well. Sari Essayah tells us about how women experience the male sauna as a threat to gender equality.

–          The male politicians sauna together very often and a lot of women in the parliament used to feel like a lot of the important decisions were made in there. But as a strike back, women of the parliament formed a network against the sauna culture. They basically did the same thing but in another room, says Sari Essayah.

In Malta the warm climate doesn´t demand a culture for saunas. Nor is there a need for a room in the parliament, into which male members can go to exclude women from the decision making. The parliament of Malta houses 69 members. Only six of them are women. That is nine percent. Edward Scicluna, from Malta, is a member of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European parliament. He thinks that the national culture of family values is holding the women back.

–          Something is blocking our system and it is not the educationally quality or lack of opportunities. It comes from employers and maybe also the employees. It has to do with culture. The husbands’ don´t want their women to work. In Malta women are not expected to work after they had kids, but to raise them until they are grown up, says Edward Scicluna.

In Malta it is difficult for women because men are looking at women as a minority at work and many men would feel uncomfortable with having a female manager ordering them around. This will reflect on politics. But why do so few women offer themselves for politics? In the last election for members of the European parliament there were five women, out of 12 candidates, going for the job. But they were not voted for. Edward Scicluna sees two reasons to this problem.

–          First of all, less women offer themselves to politics, therefore they have a reduced chance of representation. But more importantly, women do not trust women. When a woman wants to have a career they ask themselves “why is she so ambitious to get away from her husband and kids?” because it goes against their culture, says Edward Scicluna.

In order to break the glass ceiling, Edward Scicluna thinks that quotas would be a good solution. But successful women in Malta are not in favor of quotas, just as most women in Finland. One of the arguments against quotas is that it is to help women who are weak and poor, but the opposition arguments that quotas will not force companies to hire unqualified people only due to gender.

Eva-Britt Svensson is chair of the committee of Women´s Rights and Gender Equality. She thinks that the balance of men and women in the European parliament isn´t good.

–          The atmosphere here is very manly. But it is hard to make a change because it is up to each country to work on how to let more women in to politics. It´s a lot about attitudes due to different cultures. I would say that here in the European parliament gender equality is not at all prioritized, says Eva-Britt Svensson.

In the European parliament nothing concrete is being done to enforce its membership countries to increase their female representation. Discussions are being held, but moving slowly. On March 8th, the 100th anniversary of International Women´s Day, gender equality was high on the agenda. José Manuel Barosso, the President of the European Commission, said that the main focus of this year should be gender equality. He also said that he was pleased with the current situation on women´s progress in the fields of work and politics. He is happy that nine out of 27 commissioners are women, although this is one less than last period. To this, Eva-Britt Svensson shakes her head in despair. Many female MEPs, such as Satu Hassi and Sari Essayah have a dream that young women in Europe will soon stop to associate the European parliament with male politicians. Edward Scicluna feels shame as he walks into plenary sessions and debates.

–          Of course I am embarrassed of the fact that we have no women representing us in the EU parliament. We have a joke between us MEPs form Malta, saying that when we go in to the plenary we laugh and say “let´s put on our turbans” because we feel like we come from Iran or some place where they really suppress women, says Edward Scicluna.

Louise Wernvik

List of sources:




–          Eva-Britt Svensson, chair of EU´s committee on Female Rights and Gender Equality

0046 706331546

–          Britta Thomsen, Danish MEP and member of Committee of Female Rights and Gender Equality

0045 20716740

–          Satu Hassi, Finnish MEP

0032 22845437

–          Sari Essayah, Finnish MEP

0032 22845178

–          Edward Scicluna, Malta MEP

0032 22845543


–          Roger Falk, assistant of Eva-Britt Svensson

0032 22847105

–          Meria Eräpulku, assistant of Sari Essayah

0032 22847178

–          Aino Valtanen, assistant for Sirpa Pietikäinen

0032 22845264

–          Desislava Demitrova, assistant for Louis Grech

0032 22845235

–          Benjamin Fox, assistant of Edward Scicluna

0032 22845543

Organisations and experts:

–          Åsa Dahlvik, Information on Human Rights for the United Nations

–          Petteri Nyman, information, Finnish parliament

–          Lina Olsson, Feministiskt initiativ

–          Drude Dahlerup, statsvetare


–          “Special EB 100th anniversary of Women´s Day: Bridging the gender gap in the EU EB75.1-March 2011”, opinion pull made by European Parliament and “tns opinion”.

–          “Sexism thrives in the EU bubble”, anonymous journalist, New Europe, February 27th, 2011






EU member states lag behind on energy efficiency targets

EU Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard announces the Low Carbon Roadmap to 2050 at the March parliamentary plenary session. Photo: Biwa Kwan.

EU Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard has identified energy efficiency as a crucial tool in the EU’s battle to reduce carbon emissions but it is often overlooked by the EU member states, who are currently on track to only meet half of the 20 percent energy efficiency target by 2020. Biwa Kwan investigates why.

Energy saving light bulbs. Better insulation for houses through the use of double glazed windows. Fixing leaky energy ducts.

Not to be confused with carbon emissions, the idea of energy efficiency measures is to encourage consumers to use less energy by making smarter, more aware choices.

It is an area which has plenty of untapped potential to mitigate against climate change simply because it is cheaper and quicker to cut back on energy you already consume, said Vera Hoefele from the German think tank, Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy.

“If you have to change your production process to reduce emissions you will only have costs, but if you improve your energy efficiency you will also save energy costs. Therefore most energy efficiency measures pay back rather quickly or at least during the lifetime of the product or building – you will save more than you had to invest originally,” she said.

EU member states performance below par

The European Commission has calculated the possible cost savings of energy efficiency to be 100,000 euros per household annually. Yet politicians of the EU member states are failing to achieve the EU’s 2020 energy efficiency targets, despite political statements of support for the approach.

Commissioners revealed in a high level ministerial meeting in February that based on current rates, the EU member states would achieve between 9 and 11 percent improvement in energy efficiency by 2020, only half of the 20 percent target.

“I think it has always been seen as the kind of the Cinderella, if you like, of the climate objectives. Everyone says how important energy savings is but then it’s always seen to be the last to get any attention. It is certainly the last [climate change policy area] to receive resources and funding,” said Catherine Pearce, senior policy officer for the umbrella NGO group, European Environmental Bureau (EEB).

“Many people regard it as a very difficult policy area, in terms of the number of people and stakeholders you’re trying to reach – it’s across the whole supply chain…and in terms of what ministers and what big heads of government like, they like big projects that you can see.”

The winds of change?

At the formal presentation of the European Commission’s “Energy Efficiency Plan for 2011” and the “Low Carbon Roadmap to 2050” earlier this month, Hedegaard renewed the call for member states to ramp up efforts to achieve their energy efficiency targets, saying such action would enable a further 5 percent cut in carbon emissions by 2020.

“If we deliver on our energy efficiency targets that would, alone, bring us to the 25 percent [to make the transition to a low carbon economy cost efficient],” said Hedegaard.

But the proposed measures to require 3 percent of all public buildings to be refurbished each year and have better energy labels on products were criticized by NGOs for the lack of measures to ensure the enforcement of the plan among the member states.

Energy efficiency targets are the only part of the EU’s “20-20-20” climate change policy package that is not binding.

“The impact assessment that supports the plan, says itself, that there is no guarantee that any of the measures will meet the 20 percent energy savings target. It says that the few measures that are proposed are left to the individual ambition of the member states,” said EEB’s Pearce, adding that binding targets were needed to ensure member states followed through on their stated intentions.

Energy Commissioner Oettinger has said member states will have until 2013 to improve their energy efficiency through voluntary actions, when a review will take place to determine if binding targets are needed.

To date individual member states have been against mandates from the EU on energy efficiency.

EU Commissioner for Energy Günther Oettinger and Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard. Photo: Biwa Kwan.

Burden on member states

Without binding targets, enforcement of the individual member states’ National Energy Action Plan (NEAP) has been problematic.

The stated energy efficiency goal within the 2007 energy efficiency action plan for the newer EU member state of Poland, is a reduction in the Polish economy’s energy intensity to EU 15 level.

Wojciech Stępniewski, head of climate policy at World Wildlife Foundation Poland, has carried out an analysis of the Polish government’s energy efficiency action plan to conclude that little has been achieved in recent years.

“Poland is not on track with its action plan, basically the majority of the actions are not done, the majority of the measures proposed are not undertaken,” he said.

In the coal-intensive economy of Poland, where about 90 percent of its energy is derived from the fuel source, politicians remain unconvinced of the cost savings benefits of energy efficiency projects.

“In the view of the finance minister, energy efficiency is not a measure to save money for the budget. He thinks of it only as a cost and not as a form of income in the future,” said Stępniewski.

He said only 2 percent of available funding from the EU’s structural and cohesion policy goes into energy efficiency projects in Poland, with the majority of investment being funnelled into large infrastructure projects.

“I think that it is essential that the [energy efficiency] target is binding because if the target is indicative it doesn’t give any obligation to anybody to fulfil this, so it should be binding.”

Denmark recently ranked in the top three European countries, with the UK and Ireland, who used the least amount of energy per unit of GDP in the eight years until 2008, according to a Commission report released earlier this month.

But even considering its track record on the energy efficiency front, the voluntary national targets on energy efficiency of 9 percent reduction by 2016 do not inspire confidence, said senior scientist Kenneth Karlsson from the DTU Climate Centre at the Technical University of Denmark, who has done future projections on Denmark’s energy-use for the Danish Climate Commission.

“With what has been started with Denmark’s energy strategy, I don’t see how they can manage to reach the 20 percent target of energy savings. My guess is around 15 percent or so in 2020, depending on whether they put up new measures after the presentation of the government’s new energy strategy [released last month].”

Although Karlsson conceded Denmark is “one of the most efficient countries when it comes to energy “, he identified electricity use in households and industry, and incentives for energy efficient household appliances as areas in need of improvement.

EU compliance measures

Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said a voluntary approach from member states until 2013 would enable the EU to use more of an incentives-based approach to encourage the compliance of member states.

“There are many tools that the Commission has – and of course through the budget, it could be a possibility to say: why don’t we give a higher priority through the EU budget to energy efficiency, so that you make carrots instead of always sticks,” she said.

But NGOs and experts said there was little evidence of strong compliance measures within the Commission’s updated Energy Efficiency Plan.

“We have a lot of good approaches, good ambitions, but the implementation is a problem here, and this is something that is not mentioned in the new energy efficiency plan – that it is important to improve the compliance and implementation of the existing legislation,” said Wuppertal Institute’s Hoefele.

“For example, with the energy performance of buildings directive. It really is a good directive for what its goal is and what is written down there, but the problem is, the directive is not implemented correctly at a member state level. There are also many delays [with the energy performance of buildings directive] and with the eco-design directive.”

As the NEAP deadline approaches in June and the European Commission releases its white paper on transport later this month, the EU’s energy efficiency policy is likely to come under increased scrutiny.

Meanwhile, international developments such as the oil crisis, puts even greater pressure on the European Union to examine its energy efficiency policy.

“I believe that in the time we are now in, where the oil prices are increasing as much as they are, I think the whole attention towards energy efficiency will be much bigger in the months and years to come than in the years we have been in since the crisis hit,” said Hedegaard.

Sexual assault – an unprotected environment in the European parliament

Video reported by Louise Wernvik. Edited by Søren Tang, Biwa Kwan & Louise Wernvik.

Story by Louise Wernvik

Gender equality ranks highly on the agenda nowadays. This interest is partly because of the 100th anniversary of International Women´s Day, and partly because female discrimination is still occurring in many areas of society. Throughout Europe, women are disadvantaged in work terms of wage levels, pensions and they are also victims of objectification by their male superiors. In the charter of the European Union, it is specified that they seek to achieve gender equality within its member countries. However, the European parliament is having difficulties putting their own agenda into practice.

Sexual discrimination is common in many workplaces therefore it is no surprise that there is an ongoing power discrepancy within one of Europe’s most powerful organizations. What differs from many other workplaces is the fact that the European parliament lacks a system to protect its employers from sex-oriented discrimination. In an article published by New Europe magazine (February 27th, 2011), an anonymous journalist tells the story about politicians in the European Union making sexist remarks and putting their hands on the thighs of their female co-workers. The journalist refers to this as near-daily occurrences in EU-Brussels. The European Parliament is turning a blind eye concerning this issue as it is not being discussed within the European Parliament.

Eva-Britt Svensson is the chair of EU’s committee on Women´s Rights and Gender Equality. Throughout her seven years in the parliament, she has met several victims of the elected sexual offenders. She says the biggest issue is male member of the European parliament (MEP) sexually harassing their female assistants.

“I have female assistants coming to my office and telling me about male members of parliament sexually harassing them. It is a difficult situation because these girls have no one to turn to. In one of the cases, the girl had proof for being sexually harassed by her MEP, but it wasn´t enough and you can´t fire a man who is elected by the people. At the end of it all, she was the one who had to leave,” says Eva-Britt Svensson.

Since there is no institute of the European parliament dealing with this, there is also no documentation other than personal note- taking. Eva-Britt Svensson estimates that the hidden statistics are very high. Sexual harassment is, of course, a crime that should be reported to the police. But even if the MEP would be found guilty of charge, he or she wouldn´t be forced to leave their post at the European parliament. They are elected by the people and can´t be fired because of sexual assault. This doesn´t mean that MEPs are immune to laws, equally like any other citizen they are referred to court in case of committing a crime. The problem is that the European parliament doesn´t have zero toleration against sexual harassments.

In research of this article, five random MEP assistants were asked if they knew where to turn to in case of sexual harassment by their MEP. Not a single one of them knew what to do. They confirmed that there is no support system or contact for this kind of issue, but that they would very much like one. The Assistants association was recently formed, but in lack of time they have not yet come to discuss this issue. Meria Eräpulku, is an assistant for a Finnish MEP.

“There should be some kind of system to protect us. I´m sorry to say that I don´t know why there isn´t one yet. It is disappointing”, she says.

Eva-Britt Svensson is also disappointed and deeply concerned in this issue. She thinks that there will be a long time before this problem can be solved.

“I want to bring this issue of sexual assault up to discussion in the parliament. But it is not as easy as it sounds. There is a matter of attitudes. Gender equality is not at all prioritized here. In order to approach other MEPs on this subject I have to make my own opinions very clear to them and then I have to listen with an open mind and take all different opinions into further discussion. It takes a long time and some people would not even admit that this is an existing issue within the European parliament”, says Eva-Britt Svensson.

About 35 percent of the members of the European parliament are female. Eva-Britt Svensson describes the atmosphere in the European parliament as very male-dominated. Wherever you go within the Parliament, you will find men opening the door for their female colleagues. On the International Women´s Day, all women received flowers. Although this can be viewed as considerate behavior, Eva-Britt Svensson says that a lot of women find this offensive.

“By giving me flowers on the day to remind us all about women´s independence, is more like treating it as Mothers Day. This is not gender equality. This behavior is very old fashioned”, says Eva-Britt Svensson.

Edward Scicluna is a member of the parliament from Malta, which is the only EU membership country who doesn´t have any female representatives. He tells the story of how growing up in a culture where women are expected to work within the household affected his gender perception.

“My first trip abroad was for a summer job in London, where I had a female boss. I remember that I resented taking orders from her. But after some time I realized that I had to change. But from this experience I can understand some mens´ difficulties of viewing women as equal. It’s our environment, upbringing and culture that teach us what is normal. But as we enter into the international world, it is up to us to view it objectively in order to understand it”, says Edward Scicluna.

When there is no safety net to fall back on, what can be done? Sari Essayah, a Finnish member of the parliament, believes that the only help you can get is to reach out to the press.

“Publicity puts pressure. If the girl in question would have proof then he would be an easy target for the press. But in most cases you can´t actually prove that someone made a sexist remark in private. But I still believe in making the issue public. It is the best way to deal with this problem right now”, says Sari Essayah.

And as this issue is being put into print, the fight for gender equality is slowly progressing within the European parliament. Eva-Britt Svensson is reaching for attention from other MEPs, trying to bring the issue of sexual harassment at their working place up to discussion. Assistants are gradually forming their own army of support. As the European Union is working for female rights in its membership countries, the walls of the European parliament is still a territory marking toleration for undermined views of female subjects.

Louise Wernvik

Danish MEP crusades against unsafe products for children

Danish Member of European Parliament (MEP) pushes for action on products on the market that are unsafe for children, despite differing views in the European Parliament

By Emily Dickinson

Photo: Torben Huss, Scanpix
Danish MEP Christel Schaldemose proposed a report to revise directive on product safety within the EU.




The death of a one-year-child in the UK by the accidental strangulation with a curtain cord prompted a Danish MEP to call for a revision of the general product safety directive and market surveillance (GPSD) that included a specific clause for household items potentially dangerous for children.

Social Democrat Christel Schaldemose proposed a report that calls for a revision of the GPSD, that passed by a majority in the European Parliament in the March plenary session.

Although a success for Schaldemose and the Committee of Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO), the report did not include the specific child clause.

“There was no majority in the committee for a special clause in safety of products that are child-appealing,” she said.

Members of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and Alliance for Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) parties blocked Schaldemose’s child clause, mainly because of the difficulty in defining what exactly is a child-appealing product, explained Schaldemose.

What is considered child-appealing?

Lindsay Gilbert, ECR advisor for IMCO, said that there is no knowing what a child will find appealing, for example, they could potentially find a knife fascinating.

“We think at this stage a lot more emphasis should be on parental responsibility, rather than defining what appeals to a child because as you can see, we do not think that this is an easy task and we therefore did not consider it appropriate,” she said.

German MEP Jürgen Creutzmann, ALDE, agreed with the ECR position, stating that the problem with child appealing products is that it is “impossible to find a common definition.”

“You cannot make a regulation for every product which is on the market, that’s impossible,” he said. “When you have very little children, the parents have to look to see that there is no danger.”

The case for what’s “child-appealing”

Helen Amundsen, senior technical advisor at the Danish Consumer Council, said that the difficulty in defining a child-appealing product is exactly why the clause is needed.

“Where does the line go? We need the definition,” she said.

Schaldemose defines child-appealing as an item that has shape and colour that children would be attracted to, for example a toaster with a cartoon character on it.

A mother of three, Schaldemose said that this sort of marketing makes children interested in the product that is not meant for children.

“Children will find it interesting to toast bread,” she said.



Photo:DolceDanielle, Flickr
Toasters like this, that toast bread with pictures of Mickey Mouse on them, could make children think that toasters are toys.


Amundsen said she doesn’t see the necessity in adult products that are marketed for children.

“You don’t need a kitchen machine that has a Mickey Mouse on it,” said Amundsen. “It could make children think a toaster is safe.”

If they are not taken off the market completely, Amundsen suggested making sure these toasters, as well as other products like them, have safety features that would prevent children from harming themselves.

“If you make products more targeted for children, they have to be safer,” said Schaldemose.

The Danish Consumer Council, said Amundsen, supports the revision of the GPSD, and hopes it will include a child safety clause.

Despite the dispute within IMCO, the commissioner present in the debate, Maria Damanaki, expressed her support of the report, and gave hope to the possibility of a child clause.

“Child care needs special attention from us,” she said.

Schaldemose said, however, the child clause would likely face fierce opposition in parliament.

Not child-appealing, but still dangerous

Despite seven child deaths in the UK, blinds cannot necessarily be categorized as a child-appealing product, explained Schaldemose.

She suggested a database that will keep a record of accidents that happen with specific products that are not necessarily child-appealing but still cause harm or death, so that the design can be reconsidered if there is a trend.

If there had been a database that recorded the incidents with the blinds in the UK, more parents could have prevented their children’s death, said Schaldemose.

“Everyone knows a knife is dangerous, but not all know that blinds are,” she said. “I don’t suggest banning blinds in general.”

She insists, however, that a database would have put pressure to make these blinds safer, quicker.

Although Creutzman does not support the child clause, he agrees that a database can be used to deal with each individual problem product separately.

“It’s clear that you cannot bring on the market a product that is not safe,” he said.  “When you see a product can be a problem for a child, this problem should be solved individually.”

The Danish position

Jan Roed, head of the department of international coordination at the Danish Safety Technology Authority, believes that the revision of GPSD needs firm requirements regarding traceability and surveillance of products, he said.

Denmark is in the process alone with 12 other European countries, he said, of finalizing a report to monitor and identify parameters of what makes a product child appealing.   The result is a tool that systematically is able to score the parameters and indicate if a product is child appealing. It is the aim that all EU countries as well as some non-EU countries will use the tool if it is accepted by the Commission and in the Parliament, Roed explained.

He supports EU harmonization, as “The more equal rules we have, the easier it will be to convince importers we have a problem if a product is child-appealing,” he said.


Photo: Emily Dickinson
Making the same rules apply to all 27 countries will make things easier and more comprehensible, but opposing MEP views will make it a challenge.



Safety of blinds

Schaldemose said that in addition to harmonization of safety standards in the designs, if a product can cause harm to a child, at the very least, there needs to be a warning label.

“The consumer safety authorities should have been a bit quicker in requiring warnings to be put into onto blind packaging as well so that when blinds are installed, you give the users a warning to ensure they don’t put children’s cots within close reach of a blind, so they can actually reach up and get themselves caught and trapped in the cords,” said Chair IMCO and British MEP Malcolm Harbour (ECR).

There is now a design standard for blinds that has been adopted in the EU, explained Harbour.

“(The blinds) have to have a snap release so if you put any tension on the cord, it snaps apart.”

But there are many products on the market, child-appealing or not, that can cause children harm, and Schaldemose said she will propose the child clause to the Parliament again, despite it being rejected by the consumer committee.

“I really will be able to say I made a difference and be able to say that I prevented children from dying,” she said. “And that’s important.”


Fact box:

  • Christel Schaldemose’s report on revision of the GPSD passed with 628 votes in parliament, 11 votes against and 7 who abstained from voting entirely.
  • The GPSD is part of a greater effort by the Parliament’s Internal Market Committee to make consumer rights more comprehensible and harmonized throughout the EU.


Asylum in Greece: A privilege for a few

By Søren Tang

140 people, 110 m2, one toilet and one bath. These are the conditions described by a new report from the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, for asylum seekers who enter Greece from Turkey. Human Rights Watch call the conditions inhumane.

A new report from the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights describes how the Greek asylum system is in no condition to handle the refugees crossing the Greek/Turkish boarder.

Since northern African countries have, in cooperation with the EU, stopped the flow of immigrants to countries like Spain and Italy, the preferred route into Europe has been through Turkey and then Greece. Results are that 90% of all immigrants hoping to gain access to Europe arrive in Greece.

Only 0.04% of asylum seekers in Greece are granted asylum, because of a system that has been completely overwhelmed by sheer numbers. Those not accepted risk being send back to countries where their life may be in danger.

The Dublin II Regulation

It could seem a consequence of a country in deep financial crisis. But in fact, it is a result of the rules implemented under the Dublin II regulation.

The Dublin II regulation describes the asylum rules within the EU. The problem is it constitutes that all asylum seekers must apply for asylum in the first European country they arrive in. For 9 out of 10, this would be Greece.

“No country could manage such a stream of immigrants”, said Danish MEP Jens Rohde from the Venstre party. “Try to imagine if it had been us. If we in Denmark had 30.000 refugees a year, our system would break down as well.

Court of Human Rights: Stop sending people back to Greece

In a recent case the European Courts of Human Rights ruled that Belgium was breaching the Human Rights Convention when they send back an asylum seeker to Greece, according to the Dublin II convention.

Frontex police officer on boarder patrol. Frontex is the joint boarder-control Agency within the EU
Frontex police officer on boarder patrol. Frontex is the joint boarder-control Agency within the EU

This ruling went against a general praxis in the EU, sending asylum seekers back to Greece. The reasons given by the court was that sending people back to a system not able to handle the pressure, as well as only providing inhuman living conditions in detention camps, was a breach of article 3 and 13 of the Human Rights Convention. This also follows the recommendations of the UN Refugee Agency, who has advised all EU member states not to send asylum seekers back to Greece.

Debate in the European parliament

One of the key issues in a recent debate in the European parliament was a creation of a common asylum system for the EU.

Timothy Kirkhope, (dep. chairman ECR), argued that although Greece undoubtedly needed help, such a system would never be a success,
“”It is clear that we are dealing with a system that is broken. What is clear is that the European courts and the European legislation are in conflict,” he said and continues, “We need to support Greece, instead of just making up legislation that in the end will be overturned by the European courts.”

This is a position backed by Jens Rohde, “We need to help Greece and issue resources and personnel to help Greece. But we have already done a lot.”

What Jens Rohde is referring to, is an answer from the Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmström, as to the total amount of aid given to Greece when dealing with immigrants. In the period 2007-2011, the commission has, through different foundations, donated 211,2 million EUR to help the Greek government deal with the asylum seekers.

“So the Greeks needs to stop whining as well. They are getting help, and we are not just leaving them alone to deal with the problems themselves,” said Jens Rohde.

Sharing the burden

Stavros Lambrinidis, vice-president of the parliament and Greek MEP (Social democrat) argued for reforms,

“Because of the unequal distribution of burdens, member states have been involved in a game of pingpong, throwing accusations at each other, with the poor refugees trapped in between” he said, advocating for a change of the Dublin convention.

He also explains that although Greece has made progress it is not nearly enough, because no country can handle the amount of asylum seekers that is coming to Greece alone.

“We need to ensure that we have genuine solidarity between our member states, and make sure that some member states don’t just wash their hands concerning this problem,” he said.

A point that Danish MEP Søren Søndergaard agrees with.

“The EU kept silent for a long time. This while people were thrown to the streets or even tortured. Greece cannot handle the situation, so we need to change the whole system,” Søren Søndergaard said.

Søren Søndergaard is strongly critical of the system that he feels has let the asylum seekers down. Therefore he proposes that the whole asylum system is changed, so that the asylum seekers are distributed among the countries within the EU.

Jens Rohde on the other hand, believes this will only cause more trouble.

“If we start distributing asylum seekers all over Europe, then real trouble will come. A lot of the applicants are here for economic reasons, so they need to be send back. That is a lot easier, if they are all in one place. Sending people all around Europe will only cause trouble,” he said.

NGOs highly critical

But something needs to be done, according to Benjamin Ward, Deputy Director in Human Rights Watch’s Europe.

“It (the Dublin II regulations) assumes that all EU member states provide equal access to asylum for refugees and maintains the same reception standards. But this assumption is false”

This is also shown in the number of countries within the EU, who have already suspended returns of asylum seekers to Greece. This list now includes Germany, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Belgium, Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.

The UN Refugee Agency has described the conditions as a “humanitarian crisis”. They have for a long time urged the Greek government to implement their planned asylum reforms. The Greek government has already made the legislation, but have postponed it several times, much to the disappointment of Human Rights Watch.

“Despite its formal commitments, the Greek government has utterly failed to meet its most basic responsibilities to protect refugees,” said Bill Frelick, Refugee Program director at Human Rights Watch.

Also, Amnesty International has kept focus on this area for a long time. No later than March 9, Amnesty wrote a letter to the Greek government, stressing the needs for better conditions for the asylum seekers.

While a solution is debated, asylum seekers in Greece are still stuffed into overcrowded detention facilities. Everybody can agree that something needs to be done. But as long as there is no agreement on what, asylum seekers will just have to hope, that they are among the 0.04% that is being granted asylum each year. Last year, that was 11 people.

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Fact Box:

In the period 2007-2011 the Greek government received 211,2 mil. EUR. from the EU in aid to help dealing with the flow of immigrants.

EU has set up a special boarder-control agency called Frontex to help countries like Greece dealing with illegal immigration.

Frontex helps control the Greek boarder to minimize the flow of illegal immigrants over the Greek/Turkish boarder. Frontex’s staff include police officers from all over Europe.

European Convention on Human Rights:

Article 3 prohibits torture, and “inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.

Article 13 provides for the right for an effective remedy before national authorities for violations of rights under the Convention.


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