Fundamental Rights Report 2017 - FRA Opinions

Diverse efforts at both EU and national levels sought to bolster fundamental rights protection in 2016, while some measures threatened to undermine such protection. FRA’s Fundamental Rights Report 2017 reviews major developments in the field, identifying both achievements and remaining areas of concern. This publication presents FRA’s opinions on the main developments in the thematic areas covered, and a synopsis of the evidence supporting these opinions. In so doing, it provides a compact but informative overview of the main fundamental rights challenges confronting the EU and its Member States.

Focus - Between promise and delivery: 10 years of fundamental rights in the EU

The 10th anniversary of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) offers an opportunity to reflect on some of the dynamics underpinning the major fundamental rights developments in the EU since 2007.

FRA 10 year anniversary logo

This focus section reflects on the progress the EU has made over the last 10 years in establishing fundamental rights as the cornerstone of its identity. It explores the tangible impact of the fundamental rights framework by drawing on evidence and legal expertise provided by FRA over the first decade of its existence.

In this chapter:

  • A time of progress and crisis?
  • An EU fundamental rights culture emerges
  • Fundamental rights under pressure: experiences in four key areas

Focus - Between promise and delivery: 10 years of fundamental rights in the EU

(pdf, 857KB)

1. EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and its use by Member States

The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union complements national human rights documents and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Its potential is not yet fully exploited, with references thereto in national courts, parliaments and governments limited in number and often superficial. However, there are examples of the Charter adding value and profiting from its standing as part of Union law, especially in court decisions. Meanwhile, EU Member States continue to lack policies aimed at promoting the Charter – though awareness of the need to train legal professionals on Charter-related issues appears to be growing.

EU Fundamental Rights Charter booklet

In this chapter:

  • National high courts’ use of the Charter: a mixed picture
  • National legislative processes and parliamentary debates: Charter of limited relevance
  • National policy measures and training: initiatives lacking

Chapter 1. EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and its use by Member States

(pdf, 902KB) 

FRA opinions

  • FRA opinion 1.1

    The EU and its Member States should encourage greater information exchange on experiences and approaches between judges and administrations within the Member States but also across national borders. In encouraging this information echange, Member States should make best use of existing funding opportunities, such as those under the Justice programme.

  • FRA opinion 1.2

    National courts, as well as governments and/or parliaments, could consider a more consistent ‘Article 51 (field of application) screening’ to assess at an early stage whether a judicial case or legislative file raises questions under the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. The development of standardised handbooks on practical steps to check the Charter’s applicability – so far the case only in very few Member States – could provide legal practitioners with a tool to assess the Charter’s relevance in a particular case or legislative proposal.

  • FRA opinion 1.3

    EU Member States should ensure that relevant legislative files and policies are checked for Charter compliance and increase efforts to ensure that Charter obligations are mainstreamed whenever states act within the scope of EU law. This could include dedicated policymaking to promote awareness of the Charter rights and targeted training modules in the relevant curricula for national judges and other legal practitioners. As FRA has stressed in previous years, it is advisable for the Member States to embed training on the Charter in the wider human rights framework, including the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

2. Equality and non-discrimination

EU Member States did not reach an agreement on the proposed Equal Treatment Directive by the end of 2016. Several Member States, however, continued to extend protection against discrimination to different grounds and areas of life. Various domestic court decisions upheld the rights of persons with disabilities, and diverse efforts at international, European and national level sought to advance LGBTI equality. Meanwhile, measures and proposals to ban certain garments sparked debates on freedom of religion and belief, amid fears caused by the threat of terrorism. The year ended with a growing acknowledgement that addressing discrimination based on a single ground fails to capture the different ways in which people in the EU experience discrimination in their daily lives.

The many faces of equality

In this chapter:

  • Proposed Equal Treatment Directive still not adopted in 2016
  • Member States broaden scope of non-discrimination laws
  • Bans on select clothing risk curtailing freedom of religion or belief
  • Domestic courts uphold rights of persons with disabilities
  • Taking steps to advance LGBTI equality
  • Fostering equal treatment by tackling multiple discrimination

Chapter 2. Equality and non-discrimination

(pdf, 563KB)

FRA opinions

  • FRA opinion 2.1

    The EU legislator should consider all avenues to ensure that the proposed Equal Treatment Directive is adopted swiftly to guarantee equal protection against discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation across key areas of life. 

  • FRA opinion 2.2

    EU Member States should consider adding grounds of protection against discrimination to broaden the scope of national anti-discrimination legislation.

  • FRA opinion 2.3

    EU Member States should pay utmost attention to the need to safeguard fundamental rights and freedoms when considering any bans on symbols or garments associated with religion. Any legislative or administrative proposal to this end should not disproportionally limit the freedom to exercise one’s religion. When considering such bans, fundamental rights considerations and the need for proportionality should be embedded from the outset.

  • FRA opinion 2.4

    The EU and its Member States should acknowledge multiple and intersectional discrimination when developing and implementing legal and policy instruments to combat discrimination, foster equal treatment and promote inclusion.




3. Racism, xenophobia and related intolerance

Racist and xenophobic reactions towards refugees, asylum seekers and migrants persisted across the European Union in 2016. Muslims experienced growing hostility and intolerance, while discrimination and anti-Gypsyism continued to affect many Roma. The European Commission set up a High Level Group on combating racism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance to support national efforts in this area, as well as to counter hate crime and hate speech. EU Member States targeted hate crime in diverse ways, reviewing classifications of bias motivations, conducting awareness-raising campaigns and providing specialised training to law enforcement officers and prosecutors. Meanwhile, the European Commission continued to monitor implementation of the Racial Equality Directive. Recurring challenges include various impediments to equality bodies’ effectiveness and independence, discriminatory ethnic profiling and a lack of national action plans to fight racism.

Two ropes black and white knotted together

In this chapter:

  • Refugees, asylum seekers and migrants remain targets of racism and xenophobia
  • EU steps up efforts to counter hate speech and hate crime
  • Tackling discrimination effectively in line with the Racial Equality Directive
  • Member State action plans to fight racism still lacking

Chapter 3. Racism, xenophobia and related intolerance

(pdf, 667KB)

FRA opinions

  • FRA opinion 3.1

    EU Member States should ensure that any case of alleged hate crime or hate speech – including those specifically targeting asylum seekers, refugees and migrants – is effectively investigated, prosecuted and tried. This needs to be done in accordance with applicable national provisions and, where relevant, in compliance with the provisions of the EU Framework Decision on Racism and Xenophobia, European and international human rights obligations, as well as ECtHR case law on hate crime and hate speech. Member States could also collect more detailed data on incidents that specifically target refugees, asylum seekers and migrants.

  • FRA opinion 3.2

    EU Member States should adopt specific national action plans to fight racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. In this regard, Member States could follow the exhaustive and practical guidance offered by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on how to develop such specific plans. In line with this guidance, the action plans should set goals and actions, assign responsible state bodies, set target dates, include performance indicators, and provide for monitoring and evaluation mechanisms.

  • FRA opinion 3.3

    EU Member States should make efforts to systematically record, collect and publish annually comparable data on ethnic discrimination and hate crime to enable them to develop effective, evidence-based legal and policy responses to these phenomena. These data should include different bias motivations as well as other characteristics, such as incidents’ locations and anonymised information on victims and perpetrators. Any data should be collected in accordance with national legal frameworks and EU data protection legislation.

  • FRA opinion 3.4

    EU Member States should allocate to equality bodies the human, technical and financial resources, premises and infrastructure necessary to allow them to fulfil their functions and deploy their powers within their legal mandate effectively and independently.

  • FRA opinion 3.5

    EU Member States should end discriminatory forms of ethnic profiling. This could be achieved through providing systematic training on anti-discrimination law to law enforcement officers, as well as by enabling them to better understand unconscious bias and challenge stereotypes and prejudice. Such trainings could also raise awareness on the consequences of discrimination and on how to increase trust in the police among the public. In addition, EU Member States could consider recording the use of stop-and-search powers, and in particular recording the ethnicity of those subjected to stops, in accordance with national legal frameworks and EU data protection legislation. 



4. Roma integration

Despite the ambitious goals set by national Roma integration strategies and the significant contribution of EU funds, little progress was visible in 2016. Over the past year, evidence on the situation of Roma in employment, education, housing and health shows that progress has been slow in respect to implementation of the EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies. Discrimination and anti-Gypsyism persist, and de facto segregation in housing and education continue to affect many Roma. The proposed European Pillar of Social Rights could give new impetus to Roma integration efforts, if it includes explicit reference to the right to non-discrimination guaranteed by Article 21 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Roma girl in her village

In this chapter:

  • Another challenging year for Roma integration
  • Improving efforts for Roma inclusion

Chapter 4. Roma integration

(pdf, 686KB)

FRA opinions

  • FRA opinion 4.1

    EU Member States should review their national Roma integration strategies (or set of integrated policy measures) to ensure that Roma themselves are empowered to actively engage in the process of Roma inclusion. Member States should explicitly identify and implement specific measures to promote the active and meaningful participation and engagement of Roma, especially at local level.

  • FRA opinion 4.2

    EU Member States should ensure effective enforcement of the Racial Equality Directive and the Framework Decision on Racism and Xenophobia to tackle persisting discrimination against Roma and anti-Gypsyism. They should adopt explicit policy measures to address anti-Gypsyism in their national Roma integration strategies or set of integrated policy measures.

  • FRA opinion 4.3

    The EU should consider including Roma integration in the context of the proposed European Pillar of Social Rights. The pillar should envisage specific provisions addressing the risk of structural discrimination, by, for example, reinforcing the provisions for equal treatment in the workplace and ensuring marginalised populations can effectively exercise their rights.

  • FRA opinion 4.4

    EU Member States should – in accordance with national legal frameworks, EU data protection legislation and with the active and meaningful engagement of Roma communities – collect anonymised data disaggregated by ethnic identity, allowing the assessment of the National Roma Integration Strategies and policies on Roma inclusion. Eurostat could include relevant questions in large-scale surveys, such as the Labour Force Survey and the EU Statistics on Income and Living Conditions, thereby following the recommendation of the European Court of Auditors. In addition, Member States should develop or use existing monitoring tools of national Roma integration strategies to assess the impact of Roma integration measures.



5. Asylum, visas, migration, borders and integration

More than 5,000 people died when crossing the sea to reach Europe in 2016, even though irregular arrivals by sea dropped by over 60 % from 2015, totalling some 350,000 in 2016. Wide-ranging changes to the European asylum system were proposed while efforts to improve the efficiency of return policies intensified. Legal avenues to reach safety in Europe remained illusory for most migrants, since new restrictions to family reunification in some EU Member States offset the small progress achieved in humanitarian admissions. Information technology systems were reinforced to better combat irregular migration and respond to threats of serious crimes. Meanwhile, integrating the significant number of people granted international protection proved challenging, including in the educational context. 

Refugees walking along an old railway line, just after crossing from Serbia into Hungary.©UNHCR/M.Henley


In this chapter:

  • Displacement trends trigger major changes in asylum policies
  • Information systems bring new risks and opportunities
  • Alternatives to detention remain underutilised
  • Legal avenues to safety in the EU remain illusory
  • Integration measures for recently arrived refugees and migrants in education

Chapter 5. Asylum, visas, migration, borders and integration

(pdf, 838KB)

FRA opinions

  • FRA opinion 5.1

    The EU and its Member States should ensure that information systems for migration management are designed so that officers who handle the data contained therein can only access data in accordance with their work profiles. Officers should only have access to data relevant for the specific tasks they are carrying out at a given moment in time, and be fully aware of which databases they are consulting. Since interoperability means that more data – including biometric data – are more easily accessible, Member States should develop quality standards and administrative procedures to secure the accuracy of the data and limit the risks of unauthorised sharing of data with third parties or countries. Moreover, they should introduce specific safeguards to guarantee that interoperability does not lead to adverse effects on the rights of vulnerable persons, such as applicants for international protection or children, or to discriminatory profiling.

  • FRA opinion 5.2

    EU Member States should require the responsible authorities to examine in each individual case whether a legitimate objective can be achieved through less coercive measures before issuing a detention order. If this is not the case, the authorities should provide reasons in fact and in law.

  • FRA opinion 5.3

    EU Member States should consider using a combination of refugee-related schemes and more refugee-friendly, regular mobility schemes to promote legal pathways to the EU. In this context, they should refrain from adopting legislation that would result in hindering, preventing or significantly delaying family reunification of persons granted international protection.

    The EU could consider regulating family reunification of subsidiary protection status holders to address the different approaches taken by Member States.  

  • FRA opinion 5.4

    EU Member States should ensure that migrant and refugee children are effectively supported through linguistic, social and psychological support based on individual assessments of their needs. This would prepare them to attend school and integrate successfully in education and local communities. Policies and measures should be in place to avoid separated schooling and segregation and to promote access of migrant and refugee children to regular classes and the mainstream education system.

  • FRA opinion 5.5

    EU Member States should address adequately discriminatory or violent reactions against the schooling of migrant and refugee children, both through law enforcement and by promoting mutual understanding and social cohesion. They should apply positive measures for fighting prejudices and help eradicate unfounded concerns. Furthermore, the Member States’ authorities should enforce laws and rules against discrimination and hate-motivated crimes on any ground – including ethnic origin, race and religion – that are in force in all EU Member States.

  • FRA opinion 5.6

    EU Member States should share good practices and experiences in integration through education, promoting the participation of children’s parents and families in school life, and making the right to education a reality for all children.


10. EU Member States and international obligations

The standards, procedures and institutions that ensure human and fundamental rights in the EU cover local, national and international organisations including the EU itself, the Council of Europe and the United Nations (UN).

The list below describes key developments during 2016 in relation to a number of core international obligations that the EU and its Member States have taken on. Each heading links to a page where full data can be found.

  • What commitments have EU Member States made to Council of Europe human rights law instruments? (Acceptance of selected Council of Europe conventions)

    During 2016, four EU Member States – Bulgaria, Denmark, France and Sweden – ratified Protocol No. 15 to the European Convention on Human Rights, which reduces the time-limit for applications and stresses the subsidiarity principle and the margin of appreciation. With this, 17 EU Member States have ratified the protocol. An additional eight have signed it, including Croatia in 2016.

    Greece in 2016 became the 20th EU Member State to become party to the European Social Charter (revised). The remaining eight are all party to the original Charter.

    In 2016, Bulgaria ratified the Additional Protocol to the European Charter of Local Self-Government – concerning “the right to participate in the affairs of a local authority” – becoming the ninth EU Member State party to the instrument.

    The Czech Republic signed the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings in 2016. The other 27 EU Member States are already parties to the convention.
    Three additional EU Member States – Czech Republic, Estonia and Slovakia – ratified the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (CSEC) in 2016, bringing to 26 the number of EU Member States who are parties.

    Estonia in 2016 ratified the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents – the fifth EU Member State to do so.
    Following Belgium and Romania’s ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention) during the year, 14 EU Member States are now parties. With the Czech Republic’s signature in 2016, all remaining 14 have signed the convention. The EU itself also took steps to become party to the convention in 2016, signing on 13 June 2017.

  • What commitments have EU Member States made under the specific Council of Europe instruments on social rights? (Acceptance of European Social Charter provisions)

    Greece ratified the (revised) European Social Charter in 2016. In addition, three other EU Member States – Latvia, Malta and Slovakia – accepted new provisions under the revised European Social Charter, expanding the list of rights by which they are bound.

  • What assessment has the Council of Europe expert body on social rights made in terms of EU Member States’ compliance with its obligations? (Conformity of national laws and practices with European Social Charter provisions)

    A procedural change has reduced the reporting obligation to every other year for states that have accepted the collective complaints procedure on the European Social Charter. Additional limitations on the obligation to report also apply. In 2016, the European Committee on Social Rights (ECSR) required state parties to submit information on their laws and practices giving effect to provisions in the thematic area “employment, training and equal opportunities”. Conclusions were issued in relation to 23 EU Member States.

    The ECSR deemed five EU Member States to be in conformity with 85 % or more of the examined provisions of the Social Charter: Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, and Lithuania. Four Member States were deemed to be in conformity with fewer than 70 % of examined provisions: Bulgaria, Malta, Romania, and Slovakia.

    Percentage figures are based on those provisions within the year’s scope of assessment to which states agreed to be subject to.

    View full dataset in data explorer.

  • How many complaints from individuals in EU Member States are brought before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) that qualify for a judicial assessment? (Applications allocated to a judicial formation (ECtHR) per 10,000 inhabitants)

    Like the previous year, 2016 saw a sharp increase in applications from Hungary allocated to a judicial formation from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). For the second year in a row, it is the EU Member State with the highest proportion of applications per 10,000 inhabitants. Statistics released in the ECtHR Annual Report 2016 show that Hungary’s figure stands at 5.67 per 10,000 inhabitants. Romania, meanwhile, has also seen a sharp increase in applications, from 2.32 in 2015 to 4.14 in 2016. Both Ireland and the United Kingdom had 0.06 applications per 10,000 inhabitants, the lowest proportion in 2016. Denmark and Germany follow closely thereafter, with 0.08 applications allocated to a judicial formation of the ECtHR per 10,000 inhabitants.

    The figures for most EU Member States have remained relatively stable, but the increase for a few has led to the EU average rising from 0.75 in 2014 to 1.75 in 2016.

  • How many cases are awaiting decision by the European Court of Human Rights per EU Member State? (Number of cases pending before ECtHR judicial formations)

    After decreasing for a couple of years, the number of cases involving EU Member States that are pending before judicial formations at the ECtHR increased this year. At the end of 2016, 30,986 such cases were pending – compared to 24,417 in 2015. The largest numbers of pending cases relate to Hungary, Romania and Italy, ranging from 6,000 to almost 9,000 cases, respectively. At the other end of the spectrum are Ireland, Luxembourg and Denmark, with between 13 and 25 cases pending, respectively.

  • In how many and what types of cases does the European Court of Human Rights find violations in EU Member States? (Number of ECtHR judgments finding a violation)

    In 2016, out of the 488 judgments on the 28 EU Member States, the court found rights violations in 360 (74 %) of the cases. This is a slight decrease compared to 2015, when 77 % of judgments found at least one violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

    The length of proceedings – the most commonly judged violation in 2015 – remains significant. However, the court found more violations relating to inhuman and degrading treatment as well as to the right to a fair trial.

  • How good are EU Member States at implementing judgments by the European Court of Human Rights? (Number of ‘leading’ [indicating structural problems] pending cases with average execution time of more than five years)

    Bulgaria and Croatia in 2016 had the highest rates of judgments that take longer than five years to implement; in Bulgaria that number decreased, while in Croatia it increased. The overall trend in EU Member States has been an increase in the number of such cases. Meanwhile, in Greece, Italy and Romania, the number of leading cases not yet implemented decreased in 2016.

  • What commitments have EU Member States made to United Nations human rights law instruments? (Acceptance of selected UN conventions)

    France, Italy and Luxembourg ratified the Third Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – allowing for individual complaints – in 2016. This means 12 EU Member States are now parties. An additional 7 have so far signed it.

    With their ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2016, Finland and the Netherlands became the 26th and 27th EU Member States to become parties. Ireland remains a signatory only, though ratification is said to be imminent.

    Finland ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as the 22nd EU Member State to become party. Three additional states have signed the instrument.

  • What commitments to international human rights law have EU Member States made in relation to rights of persons with disabilities? (United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities)

    All EU Member States except Ireland had by the end of 2016 ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). In 2016, Finland ratified the Optional Protocol to the CRPD, becoming the 22nd EU Member State to do so.

  • National presentations

    Past presentations

    Spain, 21/11/2017
    Presenting the Fundamental Rights Report 2017 in Spain

    Netherlands, 28/09/2017
    Presenting the Fundamental Rights Report 2017 in the Netherlands

    Romania, 16/10/2017
    Presenting the Fundamental Rights Report 2017 in Romania

    Austria, 20/10/2017
    Presenting the Fundamental Rights Report 2017 in Austria

    Latvia, 23/10/2017
    Presenting the Fundamental Rights Report 2017 in Latvia

    Belgium, 13/07/2017
    Presenting FRA’s Fundamental Rights Report 2017 at EU Council

    Italy, 11/07/2017
    Promoting fundamental rights in Italy

    Belgium, 28/06/2017
    Presenting FRA Fundamental Rights Report 2017 at high-level symposium


    Fundamental Rights Report 2017

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