Workshop on the Rule of Law, Populism and Militant Democracy in Europe 

Jernej Letnar Černič and Matej Avbelj organised between 12 and 13 April 2018 at the International Institute for the Sociology of Law in Oñati, the Basque Country, Spain, a workshop on the Rule of Law, Populism and Militant Democracy in Europe. Workshop, first dissected the current state of the rule of law, populism and militant democracy in Europe and, second, demonstrated how the liberally democratic states, based on the rule of law, should respond to the contemporary threats to themselves without denying their own very values.

Workshop 12_13 April 2018 (13)

Oñati workshop on the Rule of Law, Populism and Militant Democracy in Europe (12-13 April 2018)

Oñati workshop on the Rule of Law, Populism and Militant Democracy in Europe will take place between 12-13 April 2018 at the International Institute for the Sociology of Law in Oñati, the Basque Country, Spain.

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For some time now the European societies have been marked by extreme movements from all ideological poles who directly assault the values of democracy and the rule of law. Liberal democracies are therefore faced with challenges of how to respond to the rise of radical movements from different parts of the philosophical poles. Are European states justified to prohibit the exercise of freedom of assembly and of association, expression and religion, all with the aim of protecting the democratic and liberal order, or would be such measures disproportionate and excessive? Some argue that measures of militant democracy, as they have been known, themselves undermine the rule of law and democracy as they directly interfere with the values of pluralism, human dignity, freedom and equality. On the other hand, others argue that it is indispensable to counter the populist movements with constitutional individual actions arising from civilizational heritage of European liberal democracies. The concept of rule of law includes how a society proceeds and functions on the basis and through law. Genuine respect for rule of law is one of the key prerequisites for the functioning of a free and democratic society, as it enables and secures the exchange of different opinions, attitudes and views. Its normative protections are reflected in the provision on civil-political and socio-economic rights. The European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms only specifically refers to the rule of law in the preamble, where it notes that ‘as the governments of European countries which are like-minded and have a common heritage of political traditions, ideals, freedom and the rule of law, to take the first steps for the collective enforcement of certain of the rights stated in the Universal Declaration’.

The topic first of all addresses hard conceptual issues. The central concepts of the workshop: the rule of law, populism and militant democracy tend to figure as essentially contested concepts. To avoid speaking past each other the workshop will strive toward an incompletely theorized agreement about the shared meaning of these concept. Having passed this theoretical conceptual threshold, the concepts will applied and studied in several case-studies in national and supranational contexts. So far the questions of the rule of law, illiberal movements etc. have been addressed predominantly, if not exclusively, within the context of the nation state, either unitary or federal. The EU is neither. As a specific constitutional structure of a post-statist union it posses specific epistemic, explanatory and normative challenges of addressing and responding to the conflicts between the rule of law, populism and militant democracy.

The specific challenges, different as has typically been the case, should be addressed just through the judicial lens, but also through the lens of a legislative branch, administrative authorities, and least but not last, the civil society. The prevailing formalist approach to the rule of law should be complemented by the sociological approach that has interestingly been lacking in the legal writings about the rule of law and democracy.

Against this background, the proposed workshop will first dissect the current state of the rule of law, populism and militant democracy in Europe and, second, demonstrate how the liberally democratic states, based on the rule of law, should respond to the contemporary threats to themselves without denying their own very values.

Strasbourg condemns Spain for the lack of effective investigations into alleged ill-treatment of individuals during incommunicado detention

DSC00907Third Section of the European Court of Human Rights has recently rendered its judgment in the case of Etxebarria Caballero v Spain (74016/12, 7 October 2014, see also similar case of Ataun Rojo v. Spain (no. 3344/13) concerning the lack of effective investigations into alleged ill-treatment during incommunicado detention. The applicant, a terrorist suspect,  was in March 2011 incommunicado detained in Bilbao for 5 days without having access to a lawyer and without being able to inform relatives about her location. She also stated that she was subjected to ill-treatment (abuse, threats and humiliation) during her incommunicado detention. The Court found that the Spanish authorities procedurally violated Article 3 ECHR as they did not provide thorough and effective investigation into the allegations of the applicant. More specifically, the Court noted that :

48. La Cour insiste par ailleurs sur l’importance d’adopter les mesures recommandées par le CPT pour améliorer la qualité de l’examen médicolégal des personnes soumises à la détention au secret (paragraphe 28 et suivants ci-dessus et Otamendi, précité, § 41). Elle estime que la situation de vulnérabilité particulière des personnes détenues au secret commande que soient imposées par le code de procédure pénale des mesures de surveillance juridictionnelle appropriées et que celles-ci soient rigoureusement appliquées, afin que les abus soient évités et que l’intégrité physique des détenus soit protégée (paragraphe 30 ci-dessus). La Cour souscrit aux recommandations du CPT, reprises par le Commissaire aux droits de l’homme du Conseil de l’Europe dans son rapport du 9 octobre 2013 (paragraphe 32 ci-dessus), ainsi qu’aux observations du tiers intervenant (paragraphe 42 ci-dessus) concernant aussi bien les garanties à assurer en pareil cas que le principe même, en Espagne, de la possibilité de garder une personne au secret.
49. En conclusion, eu égard à l’absence d’enquête approfondie et effective au sujet des allégations défendables de la requérante (Martinez Sala et autres c. Espagne, no 58438/00, § 156-160, 2 novembre 2004), selon lesquelles elle avait subi des mauvais traitements au cours de sa garde à vue, la Cour estime qu’il y a eu violation de l’article 3 de la Convention dans son volet procédural.

However, the Court was not able to find a substantive violation of Article 3 due to the lack of evidence that the abuse of the applicant during her incommunicado detention reached a minimum level of severity. However, it recognized difficulties in producing evidence of such alleged conduct by the state authorities during incommunicado detention. More specifically, it noted that :

57. La Cour est consciente des difficultés qu’un détenu peut rencontrer pour produire des preuves des mauvais traitements subis pendant qu’il était en détention au secret et notamment lorsqu’il s’agit d’allégations d’actes de mauvais traitements ne laissant pas de traces, comme ceux dénoncés par la requérante dans sa requête. Cependant, en raison de l’absence d’éléments probatoires suffisants résultant notamment de l’insuffisance de l’enquête menée, la Cour ne s’estime pas en mesure d’affirmer avec le degré de certitude voulu par sa propre jurisprudence que la requérante a été soumise, lors de son arrestation et de sa détention, aux mauvais traitements allégués.

This case illustrates the dilemma encountered by states in reconciling two conflicting values in contemporary democratic societies. This is whether the prevention of terrorism and the protection of national security may undermine the protection of fundamental human rights, and whether the protection of fundamental human rights may impede the suppression of terrorism and the protection of national security. This case derives from the specific situation in the Basque country and in Spain. As it is historically known, the Basque customs and language were totally oppressed during the totalitarian fascist regime, which partly influenced the emergence of an embryonic armed guerrilla resistance, still continuing today under the auspices of the military terrorist group ETA, which the European Union now includes on its list of persons, groups and entities supporting terrorism. After Franco passed away in 1975, the Basque country was granted broad autonomy, with its own parliament, autonomous government and the delegation of powers in the most important areas, with the exceptions of the areas of foreign policy, defence and justice.

The former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Martin Scheinin, noted in his 2008 report on Spain that “the violence perpetrated by ETA has taken more than 820 lives since 1968” (para. 47).  However, the Spanish government has adopted counter-terrorism policies to combat radical pro-independence groups. Unfortunately, as this case and other cases and reports illustrate, the Spanish authorities have not paid any significant attention to their obligations under the ECHR and have preferred to give priority to national security considerations. In other words, that national security was given the trump card over the protection of the freedoms of expression and association. Such conduct has led led to the long-term polarization of Basque society between pro-independence and contra-independence political parties and the polarization of Spanish society between the left and the right. The Court has in this cases and others urged Spanish authorities to in the future strike a better balance by assessing the real level of threat to the democratic order and the human rights protection during police detention. It remains to be seen if they will do so.

Ruiz Vieytez on the effectiveness of the European system of national minorities protection

20140505_182509Prof. dr. Eduardo J. Ruiz Vieytez of University of Deusto delivered yesterday at the Jean Monnet Academic Forum at the Graduate School of Government and European Studies in Kranj a speech that focused on the effectiveness of the European system of national minorities protection. In doing so he also discussed recent claims for greater autonomy and independence in the Basque country and Catalonia.