Whereas in the early 1990s, in the context of the collapse of the Communist dictatorships, the hypothesis of an end of history (Francis Fukuyama) and of the triumph of democracy and human rights staged something of a comeback, the past decade has tempered that optimism to a considerable extent. A wind of identitarian sentiment, populism and hostility to migrants is blowing through the West, both in Europe and the USA. And if fundamental rights and freedoms remain emblematic of democratic values where those two continents are concerned, it is interesting to note that in Europe, for example, the defence of these values sometimes has to go beyond the realms of mere assertion to retain a degree of effectiveness.
Jean-François Drevet stresses this point in this column, showing how the European Union sees the question of human rights with regard to its own members, to candidates for European integration and to the countries associated with its neighbourhood policy. As he stresses, though the EU has available to it instruments theoretically well-adapted to achieving respect for human rights and freedoms, in practice it can be seen to be making trade-offs that might compromise its credibility in this area.