Freedom of Speech in the European Union – the Implications of the Lisbon Treaty and the European Arrest Warrant
“FREEDOM OF SPEECH IN THE EUROPEAN UNION – THE IMPLICATIONS OF THE LISBON TREATY AND THE EUROPEAN ARREST WARRANT”
BY EDGAR K. SELZER
VIENNA, MAY 2008
Foremost it has to be affirmed that freedom of speech must be regarded as one of the most precious calues of our times, both because it is undoubtedly an indispensable underpinning for every really democratic society and also because it appears to be seriously endangered in many aspects, especially again and again due to some negative, but to a certain extent unavoidable consequences of actually necessary developments in fighting against repercussions of intolerant ideologies or effects of ubiquitous crimes.
Civil society has therefore, in order to fully ensure its own unhindered success, the imperative and sovereing duty to be ever so more vigilant, vertainly only in the form of peaceful dissent, lest some overzealous measures would not seriously infringe on provacy and civil liberties in any kind of extreme manner, inflicting thus perhaps more harm than good as a result: the end does not always justify the whole of possible means!
In fact, however, freedom of speech considered generally as the right of being able to speak freely without any censorship is as a rule guaranteed first by national and then also by international law, the latter supporting and protecting it by numerous human rights treaties and conventions (as the term “freedom of expression” covers more ground, it is sometimes preferred). At the same time, it has to be admitted that the rights of freedom of speech constitutes not an absolute one, a principle that is also recognized without objection and ail in all truly liberal democracies, so it can be legally restricted within fixed limits, albeit only in exceptional cases.
As to the European Union itself, it goes withut saying that all the fundamental rights have been fully guaranteed in every one of the member states on the national level since the 19th century. Furthermore, all of the member states have dahered to the “European Convention of Human Rights” of 1950 as well as other relevant international pacts.
Thus freedom of speech (or expression) as a basic concept of an enherent human right to voice one’s opinion publicly without fear of censorship or punishment is already established in the EU.
On the other hand, the already adopted “Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union”, as recently amended in December 2007, referring to freedom of opinion and information and mentioning also the freedom of the media and their plurality, has at the moment only the status of “Solemn proclamation”, i.e. not being legally bunding. Hoever, once the Lisbon Treaty shall enter into force, the Charter will become primary law of the European Union and obligatory for being observed bei EU institutions (organs) and the member states.
Finally, it has to be noted that a very sweeping exception to the freedom of speech (or expression) is embodied in the so-called “European Arrest Warrant” of 2004, namely that in its list of 32 categories (or areas) of punishable crimes like for example terrorism, trafficking of human beings, murder and rape, which are also included. Apart from many particularities of this new legal instrument, no definitions of the crimes in the aforesaid list are given. (By the way, the list also contains the related concept of “computer crime”.)
In sum, one is well advised to be careful in speaking out publicly or in using the internet.