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Despite recent constitutional arrangements, human rights remain an ambiguous and complex subject in the European Union. Human rights issues may have become increasingly relevant to the life of the EU over the past thirty years but there has been an institutional reluctance to mould a unified human rights policy worthy of the name. Nevertheless, the EU's practices have not been constructed randomly: they have evolved within discrete policy realms along coherent narrative lines. From the arguably mythical basis that the EU was founded upon a general principle of respect for human rights; policies and practices have developed along two distinct paths.
Internally, within the EU, human rights are contingent. Scrutiny is erratic and even casual, and enforcement is left to the courts and independent agencies. Externally, in the EU's interactions with non-members, however, the story is very different: human rights are broad in concept. Collective notions of rights are accepted and promoted. Scrutiny can be intrusive and effective, and systems of enforcement, increasingly severe in scope and strength, have been applied.
This bifurcation has direct implications for the EU's constitutional structure and its future human rights activities. It suggests that, through human rights language, conditions for conflict rather than integration have arisen, and that a system of double standards has been instituted. Williams therefore argues that the EU's claims to a credible human rights policy are suspect.
This book examines the nature and scope of the bifurcation and explains its origins and development. In doing so it questions orthodox interpretations and provides a radical new reading of the EU's human rights law and practice. At its heart, the book claims that without a fundamental reappraisal of the basis upon which the EU responds to human rights, it will remain plagued by this ironical condition.