The violent death of George Floyd on May 25th at the hands of a police officer, the umpteenth lethal victim of racist police violence, has triggered massive protests all over the US. In several European cities too, hundreds of people took to the streets to march in protest against racism and police violence.
The marchers do not only protest racism and police violence in the US, but also at home, in Europe. Many Europeans have reason to protest indignity at home. Any action that gives a person the feeling of being lesser is a crime against humanity, and institutionalised racism, excessive police violence against people from minorities, protests and riots, are not alien to Europe. In Europe too, people have died as a result of racism and police violence. In Europe too we have seen protests and riots. So if we speak out against racist police violence in the US, let’s not forget to put our own house in order.
However, the response of the US government require an official political answer by the European Union. The excessively violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrations, arrests of journalists and even targeted violence against journalists, are a blatant violation of freedom of assembly and freedom of the press. The inflammatory tweets of President Trump, who has often flirted with white supremacists, are fanning hatred and violence rather than restoring calm. The suggestion that riots are staged and the decision to label ‘Antifa’ a terrorist organisation, are just distractions and part of a vicious blame game.
But it goes beyond moral indignation. There are legal implications. Europe and the US collaborate very closely in areas where the rule of law and human rights matter. For example in law enforcement and the fight against terrorism. Sharing of personal data, of law enforcement information and intelligence, or US authorities even getting direct access to data bases in Europe without judicial intervention, require strong legal safeguards and a robust rule of law. Cooperation agreements can only work if both sides apply the same rule of law standards. The attitude of the White House puts this in doubt
Since he took office, Trump has made a record number of appointments of federal judges. Not just the two appointments to the Supreme Court that made the headlines (Gorsuch and Kavanaugh), but close to 200 other judges in circuit courts, district courts and the US Court of International Trade. Much like Viktor Orbán in Hungary, or the Law and Justice Party in Poland, Trump uses the judiciary for his ultra-conservative political agenda. Those judges will be in office long after Trump has left the White House.
Transatlantic relations cannot be business as usual. Europe and America have a special relationship. But friends must be honest to each other. Unsurprisingly Russia, China and Iran have already publicly condemned the handling of the situation by the American government, but that criticism from authoritarian regimes can hardly be taken seriously. The US regularly speaks out on European affairs and states its opinion on Europe, and certainly President Trump – to put it mildly – never minced his words when it came to Europe. Over the decades, the US have also contributed to ending authoritarian rule and dictatorship, and to strengthening democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights in Europe.
As the closest friend and ally of the United States, it is particularly important that Europe speaks out against violations of the rule of law. Commission President Von Der Leyen stated this Commission will be ‘geopolitical’. That means the Commission has to speak out and remind the US that common values and mutual trust are the foundation of our transatlantic cooperation.