Thank you Chair,
The importance of internal and external coherence on fundamental rights has been addressed several times over the past years. It has been covered in European Parliament hearings, Council meetings, including COHOM and FREMP, as well as discussions with civil society.
And the outcome? All seem to agree that the EU could do more to guarantee higher levels of coherence between its external policies and how it promotes fundamental rights within the EU.
A strategic EU framework for fundamental rights internally would be a good starting point. Much like the EU’s strategic framework and action plan on human rights, which has been guiding the EU’s external action since 2012. This would result in greater coherence, and more focused and targeted policies leading to a higher level of rights protection all round.
Let me give you three examples where coherence between internal and external policies is an issue:
- Violence against women;
- The rights of LGBTI people;
- And migration management.
First to Violence against Women
The EU has adopted guidelines and funds projects for its external action on violence against women and girls, and for combating all forms of discrimination against them.
Internally, however, the comprehensive and strategic approach is missing. Instead specific issues, such as female genital mutilation and forced marriage, have been tackled more extensively.
It is vital that in its internal actions and policies the EU addresses violence against women comprehensively, given the scale of the problem as revealed by FRA’s recent large-scale survey on violence against women within the EU. As part this, ratification of the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention by the EU and all of its Member States would be an important step forward.
Secondly, the rights of LGBTI people
As in the previous example, ‘Guidelines to promote and protect the enjoyment of all human rights by LGBTI persons’ exist for EU external policy. These guidelines call for recognition and protection of LGBTI people worldwide, the reform of anti-discrimination laws, as well as measures against violence, and the support and protection for human rights defenders.
However, such overarching guidelines within the EU are missing. They are needed, as they would provide an impetus for EU Institutions and Member States to tackle the challenges LGBTI people face across different areas, from education, housing, healthcare to freedom of movement within the EU.
Furthermore, under EU law, sexual orientation is only protected by anti-discrimination legislation in the field of employment. The negotiations on a horizontal directive which would broaden the scope and raise protection for LGBTI rights to the level called for externally – have so far stalled.
To encourage a more strategic approach towards the rights of LGBTI people, the Italian Presidency, in cooperation with FRA, is hosting a high-level event on this topic here in the Council on 28 October.
Here, our internal policy objectives, such as fighting irregular migration, or organised crime, are increasingly driven by external action measures.
For example, in implementing an integrated border management approach, the EU and its Member States have increasingly been looking at possibilities for cooperating with the border management authorities of third countries. Exchange of intelligence with countries of origin or transit, the posting of liaison officers, the provision of training, capacity building and, in some cases, the implementation of joint patrols form part of such cooperation.
However, it is crucial that strong fundamental rights safeguards are integrated into such operational work. For example, plans guiding joint operations or patrols with third countries must be drafted in such a way as to mitigate the risk of fundamental rights violations. Operational guidelines should have clear provisions on the use of force and the prohibition of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and other aspects of fundamental rights.
To advance dialogue on a comprehensive approach to migration FRA has dedicated this year’s Fundamental Rights Conference to the issue of “Migration to the EU and fundamental rights”, hosted in cooperation with the IT Presidency on 10-11 November in Rome.
So, what is needed?
Continual dialogue between COHOM and FREMP is an important element, helping to ensure coherence between internal and external policies.
An EU policy cycle on fundamental rights, involving all different actors – from EU institutions to national governments and parliaments, national human rights bodies to civil society would also help. Here, let me particularly emphasise the valuable contribution civil society organisations provide in making fundamental rights a reality on the ground. The increasing openness to include them into the debate by both COHOM and FREMP is especially welcome as their experiences and observations are essential.
Yet, in my day to day work as FRA Director, I witness that civil society is under increasing pressure in some EU Member States. While protecting human rights defenders abroad, it is crucial we also maintain a vibrant community of human rights defenders at home.
So in conclusion, I want to underline that FRA is ready to assist on all these issues in order to take the next steps in creating a higher degree of external/ internal coherence.