Speech by Maija Sakslin at the bilateral meeting Council of Europe - FRA

Speech by the Chairperson of the Management Board European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights to Committee of Ministers' Rapporteur Group on External Relations (GR-EXT)

Maija Sakslin's speech at the bilateral meeting Council of Europe - FRA

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Mr Chairman,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for this opportunity to meet and update you on the work of the Fundamental Rights Agency and our ongoing cooperation with the Council of Europe. We very much appreciate your continued interest.

I would like to focus today on giving you an insight into recent developments at the Agency that are particularly relevant to you. In hopefully, I would like to inform you

  • about the status of the FRA Multi-Annual Framework that is currently being revised,
  • about the Agency’s new strategic objectives, and
  • about its recent external evaluation.

Director Kjaerum will go into more detail in his presentation on our cooperation, particularly regarding specific projects, one year on. Allow me just one remark: The fundamental rights tradition within the EU is based to a great extent on the European Convention of Human Rights, and on its interpretation in the European Court of Human Rights. In this sense we share the same roots. But beyond sharing the same tradition and roots, we also share the same goals. Our good cooperation is 2 therefore not only necessary from a practical perspective, but is also a founding principle in our work.

I can confirm that the Council of Europe is the Agency´s closest institutional ally outside the EU.

1. So, coming to the Multi-Annual Framework: this is a programme that outlines the core areas on which FRA works over a five-year period. This document is proposed by the European Commission after consultation with the FRA Management Board, and adopted by the Council of the EU after consulting the European Parliament. The current framework expires at the end of 2012.

The European Parliament expects to vote on the Framework by the end of this year, so it could be signed by the Council in January 2013.

On substance, FRA is set to continue working on the key areas it has been covering since its inception. This means Agency’s work over the coming five years will focus on issues such as:

  • discrimination
  • access to justice,
  • asylum and migration,
  • child rights,
  • data protection

to name only some of them. In addition, ‘Roma integration’ was added and we see this as an acknowledgment of the good work that the FRA has done so far in this field. FRA is part of the EU Roma task force, and runs an extensive ‘Roma programme’, which contributes to monitoring and assisting EU-wide efforts to improve Roma integration.

2. Secondly, the new strategic objectives for the Agency.

It is widely acknowledged that the global economic crisis poses a serious challenge to the protection of fundamental rights across the EU. The challenges are known to you: a possible rise in xenophobia or racism, and an increase in extreme poverty. It is also widely recognised that the rights of vulnerable and already disadvantaged groups, are particularly at risk from the crisis, including children. In addition, the resources and capacity of redress mechanisms and human rights organisations are also affected.

Against this backdrop, FRA’s strategic objectives will be vital in setting priorities for the work of the Agency. The issues it needs to focus on depend on one hand on the policy context - What are the key fundamental rights challenges in Europe? - and on the other what are our key partners, such as the Council of Europe, working on? How can we best complement each other, where do we see synergies?

In May 2012, the FRA initiated a planning process aimed at defining a strategic plan for the next five years. The new strategy it will provide a benchmark against which progress can be monitored and measured. The Strategy will help the Agency to keep improving effectiveness and impact of its work. The Management Board has already identified some issues to be addressed. It will identify the long-term goals and priorities as well as core thematic objectives. We expect to adopt this plan at our meeting in May 2013.

As an inherent partner the Council of Europe has actively been involved in these discussions via its member in our Management Board and Executive Board. On this occasion, I would like to thank Mr. De Vel for playing such a positive role in ensuring excellent coordination, cooperation and complementarity. At the same time, I would most warmly like to welcome Maud de Boer-Buquicchio. We are looking forward to continuing the excellent cooperation we’ve had so far.

Finally the third point I would like to make: an external evaluation of the Agency took place this year, as foreseen in the Founding Regulation of the Agency. In total, well over 300 key stakeholders were interviewed, either online, by phone, or face-to-face.

The final evaluation document will be presented to FRA’s Management Board next month. Allow me highlight three of the key messages we have received from the external evaluators:

1. Firstly, the evaluation overall affirms the fact that FRA is fulfilling its mandate effectively, by providing relevant data, information and analysis, by building effective cooperation networks, and by communicating key fundamental rights issues.

2. Secondly, respondents overwhelmingly said that FRA’s work had helped increase the general knowledge of fundamental rights issues among decision-makers and stakeholders in the European Union.

3. The external evaluation confirmed that FRA works in close cooperation with the Council of Europe, and no duplication of work has been identifyed On the contrary, the two organisations are seen as creating strong possibilities for complementing each other’s work.

In this context, I would like to all thank those colleagues at the Council of Europe who took part in the survey. Of course, we will be happy to share the report with you in the springadies,

Mr Chairman, Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen.

The new Multiannual Framework and the Strategic Objectives will guide us over the coming five years. The external evaluation confirms that so far we are well on course. We all know that much work remains to be done and for that very reason, we are looking forward to continuing our work with you and the entire Council of Europe.

Thank you for your attention, and I look forward to our discussion.

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