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A miña visión da UE
This is the first of a regular series looking at civil liberties in the European Union. It will cover measures going through in Brussels and the impact of laws and practices on the ground, such as the policing of protests. This year major issues will be on the table: the possible adoption of the Lisbon treaty, changes to the rules of access to EU documents, a new five-year plan for justice and home affairs and in June there will be European parliamentary elections.
One of the earliest lessons I learnt while working on civil liberties in the European Union is that we ignore EU governance and debate at our peril. The UK is one of 27 governments that run the EU's most powerful body, the council of the European Union. It also has a voice on the justice and home affairs council which decides on EU policing, immigration and asylum, criminal law, databases and more. Therefore Britain is a leading player in formulating and deciding EU policies which later have to be transposed into our national law.
Let's look at a couple of examples. In December 2004 the EU adopted a regulation requiring the taking of biometrics like fingerprints for EU passports. The UK government actively backed this measure long before the concept had been the subject of parliamentary debate here on passports and ID cards. On 14 December 2005, under the Britain's presidency of the EU council, an EU directive on mandatory data retention was adopted; an idea the UK had been promoting since 2001. This meant that the legally dubious voluntary code brought in by home secretary, David Blunkett, for the collection of communications traffic data including all emails, faxes and mobile phone calls – including their location – could be legitimised and made mandatory for all communications service providers. Moreover, the origin of the recent extension of this law to include records of all internet usage comes from this very same EU directive.
Our concerns shouldn't just be limited to a nationalistic perspective as to what EU measures mean for us here in Britain. We have a responsibility for what is done in our name, we must consider how decisions in Brussels affect all the citizens of the European Union and outsiders as well especially migrants and refugees fleeing from poverty and persecution.
I am often asked where I stand in the spectrum of the Eurosceptics (anti-Europe and often nationalistic) and the Europhiles (many so enthusiatic that even informed critiques are seen as disloyalty to the 'project'). The answer is simple, I am neither: I am an internationalist and a European who believes in an open, tolerant, accountable and democratic Europe committed unswervingly to human rights and civil liberties. As opposed to one where, when the demands of security are balanced against freedoms and liberties, security wins almost every time.