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Thank you for the invitation to exchange views with you. I am pleased and honoured to see how this has, by now, become a regular feature in our annual calendars. As Chairperson Maija Sakslin already mentioned, I will focus on how the Council of Europe and the EU Fundamental Rights Agency actually cooperate.
Since the Fundamental Rights Agency was created, now more than 5 years ago, the agency has produced an ever-increasing wealth of information and data. This allows us to provide high level analysis as well as tailored assistance and expertise to EU institutions and its Member States and to the Council of Europe. This also helps to ensure that rights are respected when the EU takes action and when Member States implement EU law.
Let me give you a few recent examples of the type of information we collect: we compare and analyse official data – for instance on how people access justice, or on the rights of children or of persons with disabilities. But, as you are aware, a lot of relevant fundamental rights data is not currently being collected. Take, for example, hate crime: only eight EU Member States record crime motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation, and just four collect or publish data on anti-Roma crime.
Because of these gaps between official data on the one hand, and the actual situation on the ground on the other, the agency is also producing data via large-scale, EU-wide surveys. Earlier this year were released the data on the situation of Roma in 11 EU Member States reaching out to 85.000 Roma household members. Three new surveys were just completed: on violence against women, on Jewish people’s experiences and perceptions of antisemitism, and on discrimination against and victimisation of lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual people.
On the latter, over 93,000 respondents EU-wide filled in our LGBT survey. The results will be published in May 2013. The FRA and the Council of Europe are in regular contact in order to see how we could expand the survey to non-EU Member States, and see how our results could help the work of the Council of Europe.
Similarly, the results of our Violence against Women survey, which interviewed over 40,000 women across the EU, could be useful when you look at the implementation of the Istanbul convention. This morning, we discussed avenues of concrete cooperation with Ms Ruotanen and her colleagues.
These are two very concrete examples of what our cooperation can mean in practice – namely, the targeted exchange of information and data which underpins the implementation of standards elaborated by the Council of Europe.
In relation with this, we are increasingly connected in many areas of our day-to-day work. There is not a single project manager at the agency who does not have frequent and regular contact with their counterparts at the Council of Europe. This type of cooperation ranges from informal emails and phone calls, to formal joint projects.
There are numerous examples of our mutual cooperation – as you can see from the overview we have circulated today.
As just one of the concrete examples, I would like to mention the joint Handbook on Asylum, Immigration and Border control, which we will present next spring together with the Court. And we have already started working on another joint handbook, on data protection law. I am confident that both of these will be equally successful as the first handbook on non-discrimination law that FRA produced together with the European Court of Human Rights. This Handbook is now available in all official EU languages and I just received an order of 1000 copies from a member state that wanted to distribute it to all the key actors in the judicial sector.
Beyond these very concrete forms of cooperation, our relationship is also formally recognised in FRA’s Founding Regulation, and by the cooperation agreement between the European Community and the Council of Europe.
In practice this means that the Council of Europe is mandated to contribute to FRA’s annual report on fundamental rights challenges and achievements in the EU. Our latest annual report, which we brought along for you today, has its focus chapter on the so-called “fundamental rights landscape” in Europe. Here again the synergies - or the division of labour - between all the different institutional fundamental rights actors, such as the Council of Europe and FRA, is very well illustrated.
On a more general note, this annual report, and basically all of the agency’s research and recommendations are built, not only on the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights, but also on the standards elaborated and adopted in the Council of Europe. These include the European Convention on Human Rights and the Court’s case law, but also other treaties and the Committee of Ministers’ resolutions, recommendations and guidelines. In this way, the agency, also contributes to bring Council of Europe recommendations into the EU - as illustrated for example by our work on violence against women and also on Child Friendly Justice.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Europe today is not what it was 5 years ago. The economic crisis is having, and will continue to have, profound effects on our societies. Often the most vulnerable suffer the most, when administrations need to find ways to reduce costs. But we must remain vigilant. We must ensure that financial savings do not lead to high social costs that cut deep into the rights of the most vulnerable in our societies. And we must also guard against targeting minorities for scapegoating.
In this context, I would like to mention our annual “EU Fundamental Rights Conference”. We decided to focus this year on the issue of “access to justice in times of austerity”. I am very pleased that not only the European Commission and Parliament will be represented on the highest levels, but we are honoured to receive Nils Muižnieks there as one of our keynote speakers, as well as Ms Laffranque from the European Court of Human Rights, and Mr Jean from CEPEJ. The conference will bring together around 300 key experts on access to justice. It will take place at the European Parliament in early December.
In summing up, it is clear that our two organisations cooperate more and more closely which is also documented in our external evaluation. Our complementarity is founded on a division of labour, not merely in geographical scope and target audiences, but most of all in roles and in expertise.
And this cooperation is not an end in itself. Rather, by deepening the complementarity and cooperation between our two institutions, we will be able to jointly move the human rights agenda forward and lift the level of protection for people living in Europe.