The EU’s human rights policy is largely declaratory. The presence of member states at the Nobel Prize ceremony was a rare example of consensus.
The EU wants to see China implement human rights and the rule of law. The EU’s stated objectives include the ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the abolition of administrative detention and the death penalty, and the release of individual human rights defenders in China.
In 2010, the EU proved it can stand together – but only when it is pushed together, as it was when China responded in a heavy-handed way to the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo. Not only all member states but also Serbia – a country with EU ambitions – showed up at the ceremony in Oslo. In most other cases, however, there were divisions. For example, some member states such as Cyprus, Malta, Romania and Bulgaria undermined EU messages by accepting China’s argument that human rights included economic development. Others such as the UK, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands were vocal about human rights in their bilateral dialogues with China, and continued to implement human rights projects inside China. Most member states outsource individual cases to the EU human rights dialogue, but even this dialogue was cancelled by China in the second half of 2010 – without any coordinated European response.
There was little progress on the ground in China. In fact, there was increased repression of human rights activists after the Nobel Peace Prize nomination and control of the internet is also intensifying. There were some signals of a reduction in the scope of the death penalty, but final approval is still pending. In any case, Europe seems to have little desire and few ideas on how to influence China. The EU has only a minor impact through small projects on issues such as judicial reform, village elections and the development of investigative journalism. On human rights issues, Europe’s policy is largely declaratory.