Political priorities

Fundamental rights are a legal obligation and should be defended across the political spectrum. Yet, their active implementation depends on political will.

Example

In the focus group discussions conducted for this toolkit, public officials highlighted three issues that had a significant impact on fundamental rights initiatives.

Elections:
For example, in Belgium and Spain there had been significant changes to fundamental rights activities following elections. The programmes of previous local governments were changed or abandoned as new policy priorities were introduced.

Budgets:
In times of economic austerity, budget cuts have repercussions on fundamental rights, particularly social, economic and cultural rights. Politicians may cut funding for fundamental rights, unless they are presented with good reasons and hard evidence not to.

Mixed messages:
Political priorities and policies can produce mixed messages in relation to fundamental rights. For example, getting tough on crime or adopting new security measures can protect one right (most importantly the right to life) but impinge on other fundamental rights.

Source: Focus group discussions, 2011, Belgium, Spain, Sweden, The Netherlands, UK

Learning Point

The example highlights the role of staff in public administration in securing continued political commitment to fundamental rights when political priorities change. They should:

Highlight legal compliance
It is the responsibility of public officials to inform politicians and elected representatives about the legal framework for fundamental rights. Obviously, domestic and local policies must be in accordance with the law.

Inform
It is the responsibility of public officials to ensure that politicians and elected representatives have access to accurate information and data when developing policies. There are tools to help public officials to examine public budgets from a fundamental rights perspective.

Train
Elected representatives may welcome targeted training on fundamental rights.

Foster consensus
Political representation can help set broad-based long-term goals. Public officials can provide technical support to elected representatives to facilitate political consensus on key fundamental rights issues.