Fundamental rights: an integral part of security policies, says FRA Director

FRA Director Morten Kjaerum at the Open and Safe Europe conference, 30 Jan 2014
FRA Director Morten Kjaerum at the Open and Safe Europe conference, 30 Jan 2014
Fundamental rights are deeply embedded in the EU’s institutional framework and its founding values. So much so, that "European debate and policy is now beyond the point where we have to argue that fundamental rights are an integral part of any security policy," said FRA's Director, Morten Kjærum.

He was speaking about the key security challenges in the coming 10-15 years at a high-level European Commission-led conference in Brussels that looked at the future of justice and home affairs in the EU.

He spoke of how fundamental rights help to ensure individuals are protected when framing security policies. Security policies need to be seen to serve the citizen; otherwise they risk losing democratic legitimacy and support, as the recent Snowden revelations have shown. Considering fundamental rights also ensures that security policies are legally sustainable, and not subject to challenges from the European Court of Human Rights, the Court of Justice of the European Union and national courts.

The FRA Director then pointed to two challenges: rebuilding trust in democratic institutions and their capacity to protect privacy rights; and a measured response to extremism as a threat to social cohesion.

Trust in democratic institutions has fallen in recent years. This trust needs to be regained. This could be achieved through transparent, independent, and therefore credible, mechanisms to protect citizens’ rights and grant them access to remedies, such as stronger data protection authorities. Stronger parliamentary scrutiny at national and European level on all aspects of internal security as well as fundamental rights impact assessments could also help. The private sector also has a role to play. It must respect fundamental rights, especially in terms of their use of personal data, and information and communication technologies.

Radicalisation, the fall-out from the economic crisis, failed integration policies and the current mainstreaming of elements of extremist ideology in public discourse have all contributed to a rise in extremism. FRA research over the years also points to the “pervasive nature of racially-motivated and other bias-motivated hate crimes, paired with shockingly low levels of reporting of such crimes by victims.” All of which underlines the urgent need for prioritising an effective response in any future internal security strategy, so as to safeguard Europe’s diversity and cohesion. The recent Justice and Home Affairs Council conclusions on combating hate crime in the EU were acknowledged to be an important step forward in this regard.

In conclusion, the FRA Director suggested that an internal EU fundamental rights strategy coupled with stronger mandates and resources for national and European fundamental rights bodies would greatly help address such challenges.

These views were given during a workshop on ‘Internal security strategy in action’ on 30 January, part of a two-day high-level stakeholders’ conference entitled ‘An Open and Safe Europe – what next?’, organised by the European Commission. The conference formed part of the ongoing debate among EU institutions and Member States on the future policies in the area of freedom, security and justice, as the current framework, the Stockholm programme, draws to a close.