Sarah questions Commissioner Malmstrom on EU counter-terrorism policies and CIA rendition

May 18, 2010 3:00 PM

Question from Sarah Ludford: EU counter-terrorism policies and CIA rendition

A number of recent developments have shed more light on Member State involvement in the US rendition programme. A 2010 UN Joint Study has revealed that EU Member States colluded with and participated in activities relating to the CIA rendition programme and secret prisons(2) .

Given these numerous abuses of power over the past eight years by Member States, and in the light of the Commission's proposed communication on a stocktaking of counter-terrorism policies, can the Commission provide details of specific measures it plans to take to ensure that EU counter-terrorism policies prevent such abuses in the future?

Cecilia Malmström, Member of the Commission. − Thank you to Sarah Ludford for this question. As you know, I have an interest in this and we have also cooperated in the past on this. It is needless to say that freedom and security go hand in hand, and respect for fundamental rights and the rule of law is at the heart of the European Union's approach to countering terrorism. Measures to fight terrorism must always be undertaken within the framework of full respect for fundamental rights, and the EU must be exemplary in this respect.

This is not only a legal requirement but also a key condition to ensuring credibility and legitimacy as well as for promoting mutual confidence between the national authorities, and confidence among the public at large. The Commission will therefore continue to follow an approach on counter-terrorism which seeks to combine operational and legal effectiveness and feasibility with a clear commitment to the respect of fundamental rights.

Practices referred to as renditions and secret detentions are a violation of human rights. The Commission has always stressed this, and it is up to the Member States concerned to commence or to continue in-depth, independent and impartial investigations to establish the truth. This is a positive obligation, deriving from the European Convention of Human Rights, in order to establish responsibilities and to enable victims to obtain compensation. We have, from the Commission side, encouraged Poland and Romania to carry out investigations into allegations of the existence of secret detention facilities, and we welcome the launch of criminal investigations in Poland in March 2008.

The Commission has also written to the Lithuanian authorities welcoming their proactive attitude in initiating investigations. As far as the debate on rendition flights and its implications for EU aviation policy are concerned, the Commission draws some lessons in the context of the communication of civil and business aviation from January 2008. Furthermore, the Single European Sky, which entered into force last January, provides additional measures for monitoring the actual movement of aircraft, and we will continue to follow this carefully - within our powers, of course.

In 2008 the Commission provided panoramic factual information in its public staff document on terrorism and fundamental rights. This is a synthesis of the replies from the Member States to the questionnaire on criminal law, administrative law, procedural law and fundamental rights in the fight against terrorism. All Member States have replied to this questionnaire, and we are right now, in addition, preparing from the Commission side a stock-taking exercise of the main EU measures and policy initiatives taken in the field of counter-terrorism until the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty.

Counter-terrorism policy conducted at national level by Member States or the participation on the CIA rendition programme will not specifically be assessed in this context, but it is very clear what the Commission thinks about this, and we will continue to follow developments in Member States, including legal challenges brought against counter-terrorism measures in national courts, and to draw lessons from sustainable policy-making at EU level.

Sarah Ludford, author. − Commissioner Malmström, I think never has the phrase 'poacher turned gamekeeper' been more appropriate, and I always welcomed working with you on these issues.

I think what you said is somewhat encouraging in that it signals some strengthening in the oversight and mechanisms that the Commission will have for the future, but the fact is that there is the past. Member States participated in illegal CIA rendition, torture and disappearance, and there was a lack of oversight and accountability. There was a lot of rhetoric about human rights, just as there is now, but a huge gap between rhetoric and reality. We still do not have a full calling to account.

Are there things that the Commission, as guardian of the Treaties, can think of that could still be done not only to try and make sure that Member States respect their obligations in the future, but how we can still get investigations - including, I very much hope, a proper public inquiry now under the new UK Government - to make sure that we know fully what happened in the past and what went wrong?

Cecilia Malmström, Member of the Commission. − I think the work done by the European Parliament on this aspect has been extremely important in shining a light on the rendition programme and showing what has been happening. This has created momentum, but also strong public opinion to find out the truth. As I said, the Commission has been urging and encouraging full, in-depth investigations in the countries affected and will continue to follow up and ensure these are really being carried out. The Single European Sky proposal is there to help us to further monitor this.

We will keep an eye on this and will continue to push for clarity. Besides that, there is not much concrete that the European Commission can do, but we are happy to work with the European Parliament in order to continue to push for clarity and to make sure that this is not something that would be part of the European policy against terrorism.