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Ladies and gentlemen, it is a great pleasure to welcome so many of you here to
the 4th meeting of the Fundamental Rights Platform.
This is a unique forum. Nowhere else are so many civil society organisations
able to meet and discuss the EU-dimension of fundamental rights. Over the past
two years the number of organisations participating in the Platform has more
than doubled from around 140 to 320.
And here today we have a variety of over 180 organisations: grass-roots NGOs,
European networks, trade unions, academic institutions to mention a few.
Voices from every Member State and on every theme. You are diverse in your
opinions. But you are bound together by a shared vision: to bring the Charter of
Fundamental Rights to life.
At the same time we have to acknowledge that the Charter itself has a specific
reach: it only applies in areas that lie within EU competence. As a consequence
this sets clear limits on the scope of the Agency’s role.
I am confident that the next two days can give us a lasting impetus towards this
aim for two reasons.
1). Firstly, we are now at a point where we can draw a line under the
procedural issues that took up much energy in the past. I am speaking here of
establishing the Platform, the Platform’s Code of Conduct and the Terms of
Reference, and I would like to thank all the organisations participating in the
Platform that contributed to this process. So we are now in a position to focus
our attention on fundamental rights protection.
2). Secondly, it is obvious that where the Agency works together with civil
society, things can get done. Allow me to draw your attention to five examples
of excellent cooperation:
One: often Platform organisations are involved in helping to shape our work so
that it is tailored to address the life experiences and needs of real people on the
ground. This has been the case, for instance, for our ongoing project in the area
of persons with disabilities.
Two: some Platform participants are involved in actually collecting the data
that forms the basis for the Agency’s analysis and opinions, as in our research
on the rights of irregular migrants.
Three: many Platform organisations make active use of evidence collected by
the Agency as part of their case to press for change, such as in the area of
homophobia and transphobia.
Four: the Agency supports some of the Platform members in their actions to
mainstream human rights across all policy fields, such as our participation and
follow up to the working day on exterme poverty and human rights organised
by ATD Quart Monde
Five: looking to the near future, we hope to be collaborating with several
Platform organisations in providing training both for police academies and
border guards on issues including hate crime, non-discrimination law and
asylum, visas and border control.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have plenty of reasons to be confident in what we
can achieve when we work together.
The Platform allows the Agency to address civil society. But this is just one
side of the triangle. It also has two other purposes: it is a forum where we can
hear from you, and it is a forum where you can share experiences from across
your range of activities and inspire each other.
This year’s meeting introduces two new elements.
Firstly, we literally give you the floor this afternoon in ‘The Floor is yours’. 33
organisations have taken up the opportunity to host 25 minute sessions on
issues of their choice. The Agency looks forward to receiving your reports of
these sessions so that we can feed these into our work in the future.
Secondly, we have arranged ‘Talking Tables’ for lunch today as well as a
networking lunch for tomorrow. ‘Talking Tables’ involves lunch with tables
based around different themes where the Agency’s project managers and team
members will be available to answer your questions and hear your suggestions.
We will also have a specific session today on cooperation between the Platform
and the Agency where we look forward to hearing from you on what civil
society expects from us.
I would like to underline here that I have asked all project managers, and as
many other staff as possible to contribute one or two days of their time and be
present here to make our dialogue as fruitful as possible. I am sure you will
agree, it is at this informal level of face to face contact with the Agency and
among yourselves, that we can build lasting and constructive long-term
I also wish to highlight the survey we launched last month allowing Platform
organisations to comment on the Work Programme for 2013. By consulting
you in advance you can shape our future work from within.
By enhancing the participation of Platform organisations our work will be
better tailored to meet the needs of those that you represent. And in turn this
will allow the Agency’s recommendations to policy makers to be shaped
around real life problems, and offer real life solutions.
Turning to providing an informative forum, today and tomorrow we have two
panels exploring the role of civil society organisations in access to justice and
the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
As you will agree, access to justice is vital for individual victims and for the
effectiveness of rights in general. This is one way in which rights are brought to
life; taken from paper and put into practice. Victims must be able to enforce
their rights and get redress either through the courts or some other form of
complaints mechanism. And to minimise the cost, the length of time and the
distress to the victim, access to justice has to be available locally.
There are many barriers that stand in the way of effective access to justice, such
as a lack of rights awareness, difficulties in getting legal aid and a lack of social
support for victims. Our ongoing work in this area underlines just how
important civil society organisations can be in overcoming these barriers.
As you will be aware, the EU recently became party to the UN Convention on
the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This is the very first time that the EU
has become party to a human rights treaty and it presents a new opportunity to
civil society at two levels. Firstly, Article 33 of the treaty gives a specific role
for civil society in monitoring implementation at the national level. Secondly,
civil society organisations also play an important role in the monitoring
procedures before the UN treaty bodies, namely through delivering shadow
reports alongside State reports.
The intention of these panels is to give you the chance to hear from us, and
some of the Platform organisations involved in these areas. We hope that this
will provide you with information and inspiration.
Ladies and gentlemen, it just remains for me to thank you in advance for your
valuable contributions. The personal connections that we build here now can be
nurtured into fruitful partnerships in the coming months and years. By
widening the channels carrying your input into our work, the Platform can
become part of the very DNA of the Agency, rather than an appendage.
The ball now lies in your court. I am confident that you will make the most of
this opportunity to hear from us, to let us hear from you, and to inspire each
other. Let us make these two days a decisive step in bringing fundamental
rights to life.