In his remarks, which were based on the findings of FRA’s annual report on achievements and challenges in fundamental rights over the past year, the Director outlined a proposal for the EU to establish a new internal strategic framework for fundamental rights. This would pool the knowledge of EU and national-level institutions to ensure that the experiences of everyone living in the EU are taken into account in the formulation of fundamental rights policy.
“We have already come a long way, and the foundations are in place. But we need to ensure that respect and protection of rights keeps pace with the EU’s evolution,” he said. “And indeed, the work of the Fundamental Rights Agency shows that implementation of existing standards is a major challenge.”
The Director also stressed three very different areas of fundamental rights that are currently of concern across the EU: data protection, hate crime and migration.
On data protection, the Director pointed out that following Edward Snowden’s revelations last year of mass surveillance and other misgivings about oversight mechanisms in the area of general data protection, the powers and resources of national data protection authorities urgently need to be strengthened and their independence guaranteed.
On hate crime, he spoke of the fact that such offences don’t only affect their direct victims, but have a damaging impact on entire communities and indeed on the democracies in which the crimes are perpetrated.
On migration, the Director underlined a key recommendation by FRA that it is important to increase the number of legal avenues through which people in need of protection can reach the EU. FRA will be holding its flagship Fundamental Rights Conference this year on the subject of migration and the importance of a fundamental rights-based approach to EU migration policy.
During the lively debate that followed presentations from Françoise Le Bail, Director-General for Justice at the European Commission, FRA’s Director, and Philippe Boillat, Director General of Human Rights and the Rule of Law at the Council of Europe, LIBE members put questions on a wide range of topics related to fundamental rights. One major area of concern was the perceived rise in hate crime and hate speech around the EU, with regard both to religious and ethnic minorities but also to people with disabilities. Another aspect discussed was the impact of the economic crisis on fundamental rights, with migration and the issue of human trafficking a third key area.
In reply to a comment from one MEP that the EU was no longer a beacon on human rights issues, FRA’s Director countered: “I believe that Europe is still a beacon. It is a beacon in the way that there is no other region in the world with such a high level of transparency … We are actually trying to address the issues, and this is where Europe is still in the lead.”