Politicians and their parties do not have a uniform approach towards fundamental rights. The degree to which they feel the need to engage in fundamental rights work can vary widely depending on the administrative and political setup. However, a strong recommendation coming out of the research for this toolkit is that staff in public administrations should proactively engage political decision makers.
There is a need to involve local decision makers. However, it is very difficult to convince policy makers that the work undertaken by the Social Cohesion Plan [a plan adopted at the level of the Walloon Region] is useful and makes a difference. If there is no support from local decision makers it is very difficult to make the project work.
Source: Cross-level focus group, 2011, Wallonia Region, Belgium
To be meaningful to individuals, fundamental rights must be implemented locally. Fundamental rights need the support of local counsellors and elected officials.
Ownership should be experienced at all government levels. Local leaders in the council or other authorities should recognise fundamental rights as part of their political responsibility.
Putting fundamental rights on the political agenda and experiencing ownership need to be translated into activity. Having local officials engage actively on fundamental rights is essential to create a strong momentum within the community.
On 22 May 2012, the Municipal Council of the City of Örebro, in Sweden, instituted a “human rights working group” under a committee on business and growth. The aim was to ensure consistent and integrated working methods related to fundamental rights across a number of entities. The working group is made up of elected politicians. Its main task is to promote the city as a place where the equal value of all humans are respected, through knowledge sharing and various activities.
Source: Item number Ks 71/2012, §26
Endorsements from national or international organisations can act as a powerful incentive for elected representatives at the local level. In Sweden, the active endorsement from the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR) made local politicians recognise the legitimacy and need for fundamental rights initiatives on gender equality.
National level support
Local politicians and counsellors are more likely to support and actively engage in fundamental rights if a strong link to national policies can be demonstrated. Public officials in Spain described the powerful effect of having representatives from national ministries visit their fundamental rights projects. Locally-elected representatives wanted to be associated with the visit and give the initiatives their political support.
Information and regular communications are essential for keeping attention focused at the political level on fundamental rights. Herefordshire council in the United Kingdom produces a regular newsletter targeted at councillors and directors. This is designed to ensure that fundamental rights stay on the political agenda, and that local leaders know what is happening and can support new initiatives.