EU: "Unaccountable Europe" by Tony Bunyan


Special issue of Index on Censorship: "Big Brother Goes Global"

Index 3/05: As more an more key decisions are taken at high profile summits, public influence and democratic control is slipping away from the domestic arena to a host of uncountable and often obscure internatinal bodies. Index on Censorship asks if the age of Big Brother has finally arrived on a scale unimagined except in our wildest dreams and nightmares.

"Unaccountable Europe"
by Tony Bunyan (Statewatch editor)

It is argued that it is necessary to give up some civil liberties in the "war on terrorism" providing the restrictions on liberties are temporary and ended once the threat has ceased.

There is much that is wrong with this argument not the least being that the "war on terrorism" is permanent, not temporary. The "war on terrorism" has replaced the "Cold War" as the legitimating ideology for globalisation - the economic and the political go hand-in-hand.

Moreover the "war on terrorism" is far more pervasive and dangerous than the Cold War ever was. In the time of the Cold War there were a number of competing ideologies - Western-style capitalism and "liberal democracy", Soviet-style communism, Chinese-style communism and a host of third world socialisms. Today there is the "war on terrorism", western-style free market capitalism and "freedom and democracy" - and it is becoming hegemonic.

It is also argued by those who inhabit the EU institutions (and national governments) that "our way of life has not changed". "Whose way of life", I ask. White Europeans? Certainly the lives of refugees seeking asylum in Europe has changed - more are dying trying to get in, more are being refused asylum, more are being held in detention centres and more and more are being "voluntarily" removed and forcibly removed if they do not consent. Migrant communities, especially Muslim ones, have been targeted for surveillance, stop and search and raids on their homes. Black and third world people too, second, third, fourth generation are the target of racism and stop and search by the police.

It is actually argued that the swathe of measures put through (or planned) since 11 September 2001 has properly balanced security and civil liberties - and what is frightening is that governments, ministers, officials and many MPs actually believe this is true.

This is frightening not just because they cannot see how the lives of refugees and migrant communities have been "changed" but also because they are putting in place measures which will place the whole population of Europe under surveillance.

The surveillance of movement

First, there is to be the surveillance of movement. Already one of the four basic "freedoms" of the EU is gone - the freedom to move from country to country without being checked, all have to produce passports or ID cards to board planes (even in most cases for internal travel as well). In April 2004 the EU agreed that "passenger name record" (PNR) checks should be introduced on all flights in and out of the EU - all visitors and EU residents are to be "vetted" before boarding. It is not all clear against which "watch-lists" people will be "checked", will it be the EU's list of "terrorist" organisations and individuals or a wider list of "suspected" terrorists or perhaps lists of those wanted or suspected for terrorism, organised crime and for any criminal offence.

It is a matter of time before an "Advanced Passenger Information System" (APIS) is introduced which will put all passengers into one of three categories: Green, you can board. Yellow, you will be subjected to extra checks of baggage and person and/or questioned or place under surveillance on arrival. Red, placed under arrest on arrival at the airport or at the check-in desk. Of course there are flaws in this system, tests have shown that between 5-15% of passengers can be classified as "yellow" depending on whether a narrow (terrorist suspects) list is used or<

 

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