Germany ‘Alarmed’ at U.K. Over European Rights Convention

German Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Roth said he’s “alarmed” by Britain’s challenge to European human-rights laws, and suggested Prime Minister David Cameron was pandering to the U.K. Independence Party on policy.

Roth, who is responsible for European Union affairs, said Chancellor Angela Merkel “made herself clear” about refusing to countenance British attempts to roll back the EU’s freedom-of-movement principle. Separate U.K. objections to the European Convention on Human Rights “don’t fit with how I see Great Britain,” he said.

“We’re saying, let’s talk about concrete proposals and substance” in Europe, Roth said in an interview in his office at the Foreign Ministry in Berlin yesterday. “We’ve also made clear where our red lines are.”

Cameron is under mounting pressure from Britain’s traditional allies in Europe as he clashes with them over policy from the choice of European Commission president to immigration and budget payments. At the same time, members of Cameron’s Conservative Party are pressing him to take a tougher stance on the EU to counter the challenge from UKIP, which campaigns for a British exit from the bloc.

U.K. Justice Secretary Chris Grayling last month said that Britain could withdraw from the European human-rights convention unless changes proposed by the U.K. were accepted.

“We can’t allow the opponents of Europe’s direction to set the speed and tone of European policy,” said Roth, a member of Merkel’s Social Democratic Party coalition partner.

Deepening Concern

Roth’s comments signal a deepening concern in Berlin at the U.K.’s hardening stance on Europe in the face of polls that suggest rising support for UKIP six months from a general election. Cameron has pledged to hold an in-or-out referendum on Britain’s EU membership by 2017 if wins re-election May 7.

Revoking Britain’s membership of the European human rights convention “would be to tread over an unacceptable red line,” said Norbert Spinrath, like Roth a SPD lawmaker, in e-mailed interview comments today.

Germany hasn’t always seen eye-to-eye with rulings of the European Court of Human Rights that enforces the convention, “but that can’t be a reason to revoke Britain’s commitment to one of the most important ideals that unites Europe: an indivisible, common commitment to human rights,” said Spinrath, who is his party’s Europe spokesman in parliament.

Revoking Membership

Cameron this year publicly floated the idea of revoking Britain’s membership of the charter citing his opposition to granting the franchise to convicted prisoners incarcerated in British jails. Cameron said he favored recourse to a British Bill of Rights presided over by parliament and British courts.

“There is a risk in this that a Lex Britannia -- a Bill of Rights outside the Charter -- will encourage other states to follow suit for national political purposes,” said Spinrath.

Britain was one of the first members of the 47-member Council of Europe, set up in 1949 amid the ruins of the continent’s war to foster unity, said Spinrath. The council’s human rights court was partly inspired by British legal traditions, he said. “In this troubled world we need a strong, supportive Britain, in the council, in the EU.”

For Britain to turn “its back on the EU would neither be in the interests of the EU nor, I am convinced, would it above all be in the interests of Great Britain itself,” said Roth. “We’re all for a constructive British policy on Europe.”

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