On Monday (11 February), many MEPs at the European Parliament criticised the amount and severity of injuries suffered during the demonstrations by the French ‘yellow vest’ movement. The fisheries Commissioner, who was sent on to represent the Commission, did not answer any questions. EURACTIV France reports.
While legislation limiting the freedom of demonstration is being discussed in France, on Monday (11 February), the European Parliament debated the right to peaceful protest, at the request of Confederal Group of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL).
Frans Timmermans – First Vice-President of the European Commission and also a candidate to become president of the European Commission for the Socialists – carefully avoided the subject, leaving the hemicycle just before the beginning of the debate.
Instead, it was the Commissioner for Fisheries, Karmenu Vella, who represented the EU executive. He said that the European Commission “closely follows any relevant developments that could affect” the right to protest.
Article 12 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, signed by EU member states, stipulates the freedom of assembly and of association.
The many demonstrations by the “yellow vest” movement, some of which have degenerated into violence, have prompted the French government to propose legislation for a so-called “anti-vandal law.” This has sparked a heated debate in France.
Its opponents criticise it as legislation that curbs freedoms and gives the French executive the right to ban demonstrations. Until now, only the judicial authority has had the power to do so.
Opponents particularly criticise the disproportionate use of violence by law enforcement. Since the beginning of autumn, there have been hundreds of injured demonstrators in France, almost 200 of whom with head injuries. Several demonstrators have lost an eye or a hand as a result of shots fired by flash-ball guns.
French MPs on all sides, whether socialist, far-left or far-right have criticised the use of excessive force by French law enforcement. The European People’s Party (EPP) proved the exception, which merely making fun of French head of state, Emmanuel Macron, calling him “Jupiter returned to earth.”
“Freedom to protest is a right guaranteed by our democracy but it presupposes respect. Respect for the authority of the state and respect for the [French] Republic,” said Renaud Muselier. The head of the EPP delegation at the European Parliament said that he was pleased to have collected €1.5 million when pooling for law enforcement.
European Commission extremely discreet on the matter
Several MEPs, including Yannick Jadot and Marek Jurek, a Polish member of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR), have accused the European Commission of adopting a different attitude to the use of violence against demonstrations when it occurs in countries such as Poland, Hungary and France.
“The EU authorities believe that the use of force by liberal governments is justified, whereas it’s double standards for conservative governments,” Jurek said. “This way of considering the use of force is wrong,” he added.
“It’s only in France, Poland and Greece that there’s unlimited use of these weapons,” also criticised Jadot, the candidate leading the list of the French Greens at the European elections. He added that the Commission would respond had this type of violence been observed in Poland and Hungary.
“In Greece, there have been completely unjustified uses of violence,” added Greek MEP Georgios Epitideios, referring to the repression of demonstrations against austerity or the North Macedonia name-change.
In response, the Commissioner for fisheries responded concisely, to say the least, limiting himself to reading a short text.
“The European Union, through the fundamental rights agency and the agency for law enforcement training, supports the exchange of best practice and includes handbooks on respecting fundamental rights in police activities,” he read, without answering MEPs’ questions.
This included socialist MEP Christine Revault d’Allonnes’ request for an evaluation of the GODIAC project.
Coordinated in Sweden, the project, which stands for “Good practice for dialogue and communication as strategic principles for policing political manifestations in Europe,” aims to determine the most effective and least violent practices for maintaining order during demonstrations.