The European Union holds a strong and principled position against the death penalty; its abolition is a key objective for the Union’s human rights policy. Abolition is, of course, also a pre-condition for entry into the Union.
Indeed, the EU is the leading institutional actor and largest donor to the fight against the death penalty. This commitment is outlined clearly in the EU Guidelines on the death penalty, the first ever human rights guidelines adopted by Council, in 1998. The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission Catherine Ashton has also indicated that abolishing capital punishment worldwide is a ‘personal priority’.
The death penalty is cruel and inhuman, and has not been shown in any way to act as a deterrent to crime. The European Union regards abolition as essential for the protection of human dignity, as well as for the progressive development of human rights.
If necessary, the EU advocates a moratorium as a first step towards abolition. The adoption of a resolution on this issue by the UN General Assembly in 2007 was a major breakthrough, while growing support for subsequent resolutions adopted in 2008 and 2010 has served to illustrate the worldwide trend in this direction.
Where the capital punishment is still used, the EU calls for it to be progressively restricted and insists that it be carried out according to international minimum standards.
The EU intervenes both on individual cases and at a general policy level when a country's policy on the death penalty is in flux. In 2009 alone, the EU issued statements on over 30 individual cases and carried out more than 30 other actions in favour of individuals at risk of execution.
EU funding also allows non-governmental organisations to campaign for the abolition of the death penalty. Projects may range from the monitoring of the use of the death penalty to assistance to prisoners, support for constitutional reform, training, advocacy and awareness-raising campaigns.