Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am glad to have the opportunity to be here with you today and update you on the work of the Fundamental Rights Agency and our ongoing and very positive cooperation with the Council of Europe.
Morten Kjaerum will talk about specific aspects of our cooperation a little later. But for now I would like to focus on the more institutional aspects of our collaboration with the CoE as the Agency’s closest ally outside the EU.
To begin with,
relations between FRA and the CoE are governed by an agreement that was reviewed earlier this year. This agreement was signed shortly after FRA’s inception in order to ensure the two organisations complement one other and do not duplicate each other’s work. And I am pleased to say that it was positively evaluated by the Council of Europe and the European Commission, with both concluding the agreement works well.
In fact, FRA’s expertise and provision of reliable and comparable data to the EU Institutions and Member States perfectly complements the Council of Europe’s work and long-standing experience in developing and monitoring human rights standards.
On institutional level, the synergy between our two organisations is achieved through the participation of an independent member, chosen by the Council of Europe, in FRA’s management and executive boards. And I would like here to express my gratitude to Maud de Boer-Buquicchio for her outstanding contributions to our meetings. Her support for FRA, her expertise and her profound institutional experience are all highly appreciated by her colleagues from the Member States.
Now, to put our work in context:
FRA’s new multi-annual framework, the second since the Agency’s establishment in 2007, was adopted this March. Particularly in connection with the economic crisis and its aftermath, the substance of the multi-annual framework was very important to us. Because in the current climate, it is vital for FRA to have a clear vision of the areas and themes it will be working on over the next five years. The framework comprises topics including access to justice, information society – with particular focus on respect for private life and the protection of personal data – Roma integration, and a variety of areas related to migration, discrimination, racism and xenophobia.
As you will know, many of these areas will require close collaboration with the CoE. Especially the last topics I just mentioned will benefit from cooperation between FRA and the CoE’s Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI). As well as its great expertise, the CoE has a long tradition in monitoring human rights standards, and there is hardly any institution in Europe with a comparable knowledge of the reality of human rights as it is experienced on the ground. That is why Mrs. Boer-Buquicchio’s contributions to our management board are so highly appreciated, and we are looking forward to our meeting in December, which Mr Giakoumopoulos will also be attending.
Following the adoption of the new multi-annual framework, we amended FRA’s annual work programme for 2014. One of the most exciting aspects of our forthcoming research will be the launch of a second large-scale survey of ethnic minorities in the EU. With this, the Agency will be repeating such a survey for the first time, allowing us to identify trends over a longer period. This knowledge, I’m sure you’ll agree, is vital in order to end discrimination and other human rights violations suffered by groups from a minority ethnic or religious background.
I would finally like to mention the external evaluation of the Agency, which took place last year in line with FRA’s founding regulation. At other occasions, you have been updated on the key findings of this evaluation, which concluded that FRA cooperates well with the CoE. You can see an overview of the cooperation between FRA and the CoE in the document distributed at the beginning of our meeting today.
In May 2013, you were informed that we, the Management Board of the Agency, addressed a letter to the European Commission on the conclusions we draw from the evaluation. In this letter we opened a debate on adjustments of our founding regulation. Today, we can update you on the very positive response we received from the Council of the European Union. To give you just one example, the Council looks favourably at the idea of mandating the Agency to prepare own initiave opinions in the legislative process and is, in general, willing and interested to continue the discussion in the related bodies of the EU.
However, the assessment also found that FRA has room to improve its relevance and visibility at the Member State level, a point that we have taken very seriously and are working on intensively with our partners at the national level. I would of course welcome your own ideas and comments on this issue.
Mr Chairman, Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The excellent cooperation between the CoE and FRA has been confirmed both by external assessment, and – perhaps still more importantly – by our own experience. And this cooperation is vital to combat the ongoing, and in some places worsening, fundamental rights violations around the EU and beyond. We are all, however, aware that much work remains to be done, and we are therefore very much looking forward to continuing our collaboration.
Thank you for your attention.