Towards an even stronger Europe of values

FRA Director meets Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner
FRA Director meets Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner
The FRA Director Michael O’Flaherty engaged in a series of productive high-level meetings in Strasbourg from 2 to 3 February where he reaffirmed FRA’s continued commitment to protecting and promoting human rights: “We must never forget that whatever action we take on migration or any other issue, human rights must be at the forefront. Our commitment to human rights is sacred, and it is non-negotiable.”

During the Dutch Presidency seminar on ‘EU fundamental values, immigration and integration: a shared responsibility’, he addressed over 100 high-level representatives from EU Member States and bodies, the Council of Europe, civil society organisations and academia.

Addressing the topic of migration, he spoke of his recent experiences from visiting hotspots. What he saw and what he heard reinforced his view of how hotspots can be part of a fundamental-rights compliant solution, but only if Member States work closely with each other and receive support. FRA and its sister agencies, such as Frontex and EASO, can offer such support.

He also outlined some of the challenges facing the EU today as a result of the increasing numbers of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants entering the EU. These challenges range from dealing with the practicalities of processing large numbers of new arrivals every day to their integration once they arrive in host countries. Drawing from recent FRA research he gave a telling example: In about half of EU Member States, FRA has found evidence of school segregation of pupils with an immigrant background, mostly in Western Europe. To tackle such challenges he called on EU Member States, bodies, and the Council of Europe to band together to offer their support and experience as no one government, organisation, or even country can deal with them alone.

While in Strasbourg he also paid his first official visit to the Council of Europe and its various bodies to introduce himself and outline his vision for the Agency’s future. It was an opportunity to hear about the close ties FRA and the CoE has had over the years on issues such as the Roma, while exploring ideas for future collaboration. Here disability was seen as an area where FRA and the CoE could enhance their cooperation.

Migration and human rights protection at UN, CoE and EU level were also recurrent themes over the two days’ discussions with the different CoE bodies. FRA and the CoE also discussed in-depth how best the CoE could become more closely involved in FRA’s flagship event, the Fundamental Rights Forum that will take place in June 2016 in Vienna.

During the visit, the FRA Director met the CoE Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland, the Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks, the President of the European Court of Human Rights Guido Raimondi, the Secretary General of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities Andreas Kiefer, as well as various directors general and directors of the CoE. He also met the 28 Heads of EU Permanent Representations to the CoE and the Head of the EU Delegation to the CoE.

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