As part of the regular talks under Article 17 of the Treaty on the functioning of the EU, EHF President Michael Bauer and Vice-President Lone Ree Milkær exchanged views with the German Presidency of the Council on Thursday 30 October. The latter was represented by Ambassador Susanne Baumann, Head of the International Organisations Department at the Federal Foreign Office. Due to Corona, the discussion took place as a video conference.
Ambassador Baumann stressed that guaranteeing freedom of speech and opinion is of great importance for the Council Presidency, as well as for the German Government in general. She worked closely together with a number of NGOs. The EHF representatives drew the German diplomat’s attention to the threats to freedom of belief and speech posed by “blasphemy paragraphs”, especially in some states of the Muslim world, but also within the EU, such as Greece. The EHF appealed to the German Council Presidency to also focus on the issue of non-religious asylum seekers within the framework of the Freedom of Religion and Belief policy. Open atheism, as well as the commitment to liberal social policies and the rights of the LGBTI, are often a reason for persecution, but are not always adequately considered in asylum procedures as grounds for asylum.
The situation in Poland and Hungary was discussed in detail. EHF President Michael Bauer expressed the deep concern of the EHF about an openly human rights violating policy in Poland, citing as examples recent statements by government representatives regarding the right to abortion and discriminatory attitudes towards LGBTI, as well as the use of excessive police violence in demonstrations for LGBTI rights. The situation of civil rights and freedom of expression and press freedom in Hungary was also raised. The EHF made it clear that it expects, in the framework of the Article 7 process, that significant financial sanctions from the EU budget should also be applied in case of violations of the EU’s fundamental values. “It is unacceptable that EU money simply continues to flow, even if European fundamental values are simultaneously trampled underfoot,” Bauer said. The German Council Presidency would be judged on the statements made by members of german government in the run-up to the presidency of the Council, in which such a mechanism was announced.