Can Europe Make It?

The land of hypocrisy - weekly comments roundup


A look at this week's best reader comments on our Can Europe make it? debate.

Alex Sakalis
5 August 2013

Is the European Court of Human Rights undemocratic? Marco Duranti's article drew a strong response in our comments section. I would like to highlight Duranti's reply as it is always nice to see authors returning to answer points made in the comments:

I would like to thank readers for their excellent comments, which capture some of the tensions at the heart of the book I am writing on the origins of European human rights law.


I would also like to point out that I am aware that there are many other forms of democracy other than majoritarian democracy. I am not arguing that we should have a pure majority rule system: pluralism is essential. But perhaps the pendulum has swung too far in one direction.


I believe that states have a sacrosanct duty to respect individual civil, political and property rights as well as minority rights. On the question of social rights and social justice, I have great admiration for the United Nations human rights project - the Universal Declaration (UDHR) in particular – and believe that European human rights law might benefit from codifying more of the content of the UDHR. There is a valid argument that social rights are not justiciable to the same extent as other kinds of rights. What I would like to point out is that the reasons for the absence of these rights from the ECHR (and First Protocol) were as much political as technical.


Finally, I would like to add that I am not suggesting that we abandon the European project – only that we need to rethink the moral, juridical and spiritual bases of this project, as well as our understandings of national citizenship. This will require cooperation and dialogue between groups across the political spectrum, from socialists to conservatives.


None of these are of course settled issues - it is important to have a spirited debate on the future of human rights law and European integration. Many thanks again to the readers for spurring me to add this necessary addendum.

Also, there has been some legal house-keeping in the EU. Gerry Tucker writes:

Thank you for your analysis. So, as it is "nothing more than spell out a measure of internal EU legal necessity, rather than a proactive political strategy" should one not hold too much hope for the road ahead?

to which Valentina Azarov responds:

Thank you, Gerry. Precisely because it is a measure based on the EU's legal necessity, we no longer need to rely on the uncertain and hopeful character of political measures (including 'gestures' of respect or promotion of international law). We can rest assured that the EU can be assisted in making its way through the corrective measures it needs to ensure its ability to 'fully and effectively' implement EU law, which includes respect for international law in the exercise of the EU's powers.


Neither Israel's protests or political pressure from other stakeholders could run roughshod over such principled assertions in the form of legislative corrections and guidelines. In other words, there's much to look forward to - and, again, not only in hope but with some certainty - in terms of the steps that the EU will be taking in the coming years in line with its needs that are expected to lead to Israel having to alter its institutional practices.

While Charles Shamas offers up this:

All things considered, the greatest thing within realistic political reach that we Palestinians can hope for is to get what we are owed under international law. I don't see our political friends and advocates getting the EU to deliver anything half as good as what the combination of EU law and international law can deliver.


Results do matter. Getting results based on legal necessity can be far more politically transformative than trying to convince enough Europeans to prefer the comfort and good feeling of seeing justice done in Palestine over the types of comfort and good feeling they currently seek. Perhaps you are different, well informed and thus properly outraged at the EU's political mediocrity on the question of Palestine. Perhaps you are also aware of, and outraged at, the EU's powerlessness to gain Israel's submission to the EU's will, or to override American power, even if the EU wanted to, and dared to, try.


I see the EU's political ineffectiveness as the unfortunate default state of affairs. Maybe our political friends in Europe should give more attention to figuring out and calling in what we are actually and, under EU law, indisputably owed on grounds of legal necessity. That would cause me to hold out much more "hope for the road ahead".


Unfortunately, neither we nor our friends command enough hard power to simply demand and take what is properly ours according to international law and ordinary decency. It is therefore even more unfortunate when we and our friends feel no enthusiasm for the fact that we can at least begin taking what is ours by dint of "internal legal necessity". I am grateful that we can go to law to break the grip of bad prevailing politics. I would not fail to welcome developments driven by "internal legal necessity: that give me more of what is rightfully and fairly mine simply because this leaves my hopes for an ethical and politically heroic Europe unsatisfied. Don't stop hoping and struggling. But such a Europe never existed and probably never will.


To sum up: 

If you give me an uncertain road ahead that relies on European political discretion and another road ahead that delivers what these guidelines and other ones can and will deliver on grounds of legal necessity, I would welcome the discovery of the second road ahead. In my view, it offers a lot more hope.

And now Italy - the bel paese or the bel casino depending on your viewpoint. In the former category, Kaveh Pourvand's fascinating article on the unique economy of Emilia-Romagna and what we can learn from it. It's always nice when our commenters add little tidbits of information to expand our appreciation of the article, as Viktor did:

You forgot the most important fact about Emilia Romangna region: it was governed during at least 40 years after the Second World War by the Italian Communist Party !

Representing the latter category, Leonardo Goi's article on the seemingly perpetual torrent of abuse leveled at Italian minster Cecile Kyenge drew some notable comments. Mole Cricket writes:

Sadly I feel only a limited, educated (and perhaps therefore privileged) minority of Italians care about female quotas, homophobia, integration: the rest of us are too busy struggling every day to make ends meet. Everyone is more concerned by rising taxes than by an individual's freedom to fulfill her/his aspirations regardless of gender, sexual orientation or skin colour. It is understandable. How can one successfully raise awareness amongst people who are frightened and in need?

while Cyril Wheat writes:

The people of Italy may be frightened and in need but this and any level of racist misogyny is disgusting. This is also a shabby and nasty ploy to appeal to the basest instincts of a beleaguered population and apologies in the Senate are not enough to excuse these pigs. Italy deserves better than this.

Grazia Lucignano offers some hope:

As an Italian I agree with what Cecile Kyenge told the press, Calderoli should not worry about her but about the image he is portraying of Italy. It is sad to have such racism present in our country but it is a very real issue that we have to deal with. Whether we like it or not, Italy has many immigrants from diverse backgrounds and nationalities and it is time for us to come up with a successful strategy to integrate them as well as accept them in our society. The acts of the Lega Nord and other racist culprits make me ashamed, but they also make me realize that change has to come from all of us. Those who have the privilege of being educated and knowledgeable have a responsibility to educate others and to kill the disease that is racism. We must not allow our economic needs to destroy our civil society.

while Tammy Rinaldi offers a more cynical response:

Having lived in Italy I can tell you this, never was I so disappointed and disgusted to see that they are 100 years behind Western societies when it comes to their views on women. If you are a woman in Italy, you're viewed either as a breeder or a whore. The young women all think the highest aspiration is to be a Veline girl or marry a Footballer. And they will do ANYTHING to achieve either lofty goal. The job de jour seems to be go-go dancer slash model slash actress slash whatever. I've seen strippers dancing on tabletops outside the window of a family restaurant for "entertainment". Like who the hell wants to see some nasty skank press her crotch up on the window while you and your kids are trying to eat? As if that wasnt low-brow enough, one of them pulled a 3 year old up on the table so she too could shake her butt. And the crowd just cheered like this was commendable and 'normale'. Not a care nor thought shown to what kind of message that sends this child and all the daughters of Italy.

From my own experiences of Italy, I would have to agree with both the bel paese and the bel casino. It is, as any Italian will tell you, a very hypocritical society. When I was last in Italy, Cicciolina was still in the news and political debate programs were enlivened by female hosts who removed an item of clothing everytime the discussion became too dull.

Being younger and more hormonal, I was amazed at the country's progressively liberal attitude towards sex - except now I realise there's nothing progressive about a society where women on TV seem to be there only because they have cartoonish bodies or know which media controller to cavort with. I can't even watch the same Fellini films without feeling a tinge of discomfort. The status quo shouldn't stand, and yet it is difficult to imagine the bel paese without the bel casino. Maybe the land of hypocrisy forces one to become a hypocrite.

As Tancredi says in The Leopard: "If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change."

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