Wednesday, July 1, 2015

17 Members of the European Parliament raise questions about human rights situation at the EPO

As I reported last week, the human rights conflict at the European Patent Office continues and certain national governments acknowledge that there is an issue (or, more precisely, a host of issues). Political pressure on the EPO leadership, including the Administrative Council (which has so far done a better job at being part of the problem than at being part of the solution), is coming from more and more sides.

For example, 82 members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) have signed a written declaration expressing concern over a "rollback of fundamental rights at the European Patent Office." Its signatories include leaders of parliamentary groups and members from all five major political groups in the PACE.

The Council of Europe is not an EU institution. It's a separate diplomatic organization whose members also include major non-EU member states such as Russia. Its focus is on human rights issues. That fact makes a declaration by many of its members relevant. Also, all those signatories are also members of their national parliaments.

But unlike the PACE, the European Parliament--which is an EU institution--has real decision-making power as a European-level co-legislator. While the EPO is formally not an EU institution, the EU has decided to put it in charge of granting the future European "Unitary Patent" and it has furthermore allowed essentially the same group of national government officials who run the EPO to control the future Unified Patent Court. The EU can't turn a blind eye to what's going on at the EPO. If the EU truly were as principled a watchdog of human rights and the rule of law as it claims when dealing with countries like Russia and China, it would rule out working with the EPO and would instead set up an EU patent office. However, despite the great work it does in certain areas, there are contexts in which the EU uses double standards.

17 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs)--2 from the libertarian Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe and 15 from the Confederal Group of the European United Left - Nordic Green Left (a far-left but still democratic group)--have recently submitted official questions to the European Commission concerning the human rights situation at the EPO. The Commission has an obligation to respond, though its answers are typically evasive on any delicate issue. Here, the Commission could respond by denying responsibility for the EPO situation, since it only has observer status and no voting rights on the Administrative Council, but the truth is that the EPO will soon be by far and away the biggest service provider to the EU.

I just wanted to publish those two parliamentary questions here (also to make it easier to find them on Google) without further comment.

Question for written answer E-009256/2015
to the Commission

Rule 130

Fernando Maura Barandiarán (ALDE) and Javier Nart (ALDE)

Subject: Situation concerning the fundamental rights of EPO employees

The administrative council of the European Patent Office (EPO) introduced a new quality and efficiency strategy in 2010, aimed at improving quality and lowering costs. Most of the measures put in place under this new strategy do not appear to respect the fundamental rights of employees under the European Union Charter. The case was taken to the Dutch courts, which ruled that the EPO was violating the right of collective bargaining, the right to strike and the right to freedom of expression and information. Staff at the EPO have also spoken out on a number of occasions against the repressive, authoritarian system of management that has been introduced there, which is being used as a way to drastically restrict their rights.

Is the Commission aware of the situation concerning the rights of those employed by this international organisation, which has its headquarters within EU territory?

Has it undertaken, or is it considering undertaking, any kind of investigation into whether the EPO has violated Articles 11, 12 and 28 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights?

Question for written answer E-008382/2015
to the Commission

Rule 130

Kostadinka Kuneva (GUE/NGL), Lynn Boylan (GUE/NGL), Martina Anderson (GUE/NGL), Pablo Iglesias (GUE/NGL), Lola Sánchez Caldentey (GUE/NGL), Stelios Kouloglou (GUE/NGL), Paloma López Bermejo (GUE/NGL), Barbara Spinelli (GUE/NGL), Fabio De Masi (GUE/NGL), Tania González Peñas (GUE/NGL), Helmut Scholz (GUE/NGL), Neoklis Sylikiotis (GUE/NGL), Kostas Chrysogonos (GUE/NGL), Matt Carthy (GUE/NGL) and Miloslav Ransdorf (GUE/NGL)

Subject: Violation of labour and trade union rights in the European Patent Organisation (EPO)

The Dutch appeal court recently ruled (case number 200.141.812 / 01 / 17-2-2015) that the European Patent Organisation (EPO) violated workers' labour rights deriving from the EU Treaties and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. Consequently the Dutch court, exceptionally, has not accepted the immunity EPO enjoys as an international organisation, since this immunity cannot allow for human rights violations. Nevertheless EPO declared it would ignore the ruling pleading execution immunity.

  • Does the Commission agree with this ruling, according to which, as regards guaranteeing fundamental rights, the EU Treaties and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights prevail over bilateral and multilateral agreements, including those providing immunity to organisations such as the EPO?

  • If so, what does it intend to do to prevent the abuse of immunity rights and defend the EU citizens' and employees' rights and the community acquis in organisations such as EPO which while exercising judicial functions is at the same time breaching the European legal order rules?

  • How does the Commission scrutinise that the positions EU Member States' representatives take in the administration of EPO are compatible with the rights enshrined in the EU Treaties and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights – taking into account that the EU Member States constitute the majority in the organisation?

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