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I am honoured to present the Agency’s Annual Report to you today. European cooperation on justice and home affairs is key to ensure fundamental rights for everyone in the EU.
Fundamental rights matters to our citizens - that we see time and again in Eurobarometer surveys.
Our report shows how some of these values have come under strain during the current crisis. Trust between people, trust between communities, and trust in our democratic institutions has suffered.
Respecting, protecting and fulfilling fundamental rights is one way of regaining trust at national, as well as at EU level. The adoption of the forthcoming Strategic Guidelines creates a unique opportunity to reaffirm and strengthen our commitment to fundamental rights, in particular underscoring that security and fundamental rights are two sides of the same coin.
Our report includes concrete suggestions on how to strengthen fundamental rights protection in the EU in justice and home affairs areas.
In 2013 three fundamental rights areas stood out in particular: data protection, victims’ rights and migration.
Firstly, access to data in the area of data protection
The Snowden revelations of mass surveillance highlighted that the protection of personal data is under threat. They also revealed the weakness of national oversight structures.
FRA’s research highlighted the impact of the use of new technology on the rights of citizens. Online activities, direct marketing, or video surveillance, for example, caused most data protection violations. This raises questions to what extent public and private organisations that we trust are actually protecting our right to privacy and personal data sufficiently.
To respond to these concerns it is important to raise public awareness on privacy rights and on the existence of complaint mechanisms. Further more we need to strengthen the independence and increase resources of data protection authorities.
A second key area of concern is the protection of victims
The need for stronger action to protect victims’ rights was evidenced by the findings of three EU-wide surveys of the Agency: first one, on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people; the second, on violence against women; and the third one, on antisemitism. They all reveal that victims do not report offences to the authorities. Let me just give you the most recent example:
Only 15% of women who are victims of violence report to the police. We saw a similar pattern in our LGBT and previous ethnic minority surveys. And when we ask victims why you do not report, the answer is always – we do not think anything would happen.
The FRA surveys also underlined the prevalence of hate crime. And let us not forget, hate crime breeds fear. Nearly a third of Jews surveyed had considered emigrating because they did not feel safe as a Jew. The recent tragic event in Brussels will certainly heighten this fear.
We believe that victims should be more aware of the existing support services. We should enhance penalties for hate crime, facilitate reporting, and improve hate crime data collection. I would like to thank the Lithuanian and Greek Presidencies, as well as the incoming Italian Presidency, for having initiated some important discussions on how to tackle hate crime effectively.
Thirdly, the area of migration needs further fundamental rights safeguards
366 migrants died in the Lampedusa tragedy in October 2013. Just last month we again witnessed yet another tragedy. Far too many people are dying as they escape persecution or simply seek a better life.
The Task Force Mediterranean was a swift and important response which set out a line of action to address many of the issues that we face. We must keep that momentum and implement the Task Force’s proposals. Italy’s Mare Nostrum is an important such initiative. But we need more solidarity and closer cooperation within the EU to improve the safeguards for people who need protection. And we have to ensure that EU legislation like the Return Directive is implemented in a strictly fundamental rights-proof manner.
EU Strategic Framework
Now to my final point.
The evidence in our report indicates that protecting fundamental rights is still work in progress – whether in the area of security or justice.
Our report proposes various tools that could make fundamental rights protection in the EU more effective. This includes strengthening the fundamental rights considerations when drafting or amending legislation. The Court of Justice’s recent judgment on the data retention directive, that you discussed a few minutes ago, very much illustrates this point.
It also suggests that the EU institutions and Member States could consider establishing an EU fundamental rights policy cycle, leading up to an internal EU strategic framework for fundamental rights.
This policy cycle could include an annual assessment of rights in the EU, which could be informed by existing reports from EU institutions, Member States as well as the Fundamental Rights Agency’s own Annual Report. This would create opportunities for jointly evaluating the progress of fundamental rights and for identifying promising practices and future priorities.
Internally, respect for fundamental rights and the rule of law are crucial for making the EU’s commitment to fundamental rights within the EU more visible and tangible to our citizens. Forming an internal EU strategic framework for fundamental rights that mirrors the existing external framework would also consolidate the EU as a beacon of human rights worldwide.
We have come a long way and the foundations are very much in place. We need to ensure that respect and protection of rights keeps pace with the EU’s evolution. And this is where FRA can assist you, by providing timely, robust, comparable data and analysis.