Presentation of FRA Annual Report 2014 by Director ad Interim

Presentation by Constantinos Manolopoulos, FRA Director ad Interim, at the European Parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, 25 June 2015.

Honourable members,

I would also like to thank you for the invitation to present the Agency’s 2014 annual report on the EU’s challenges and achievements in fundamental rights to you today. As the Management Board Chair just mentioned, the report has been streamlined this year to offer more targeted detail and greater analysis.

As well as the new chapter on the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the other chapters discuss the remaining areas of FRA’s Multi-Annual Framework, which sets out the fundamental rights fields on which the Agency works over a five-year period. These are: equality and non-discrimination, racism, xenophobia and related intolerance, Roma inclusion, asylum, visas, migration, borders and integration, information society and data protection, rights of the child, and access to justice including the rights of victims of crime.

In addition, you will also find a chapter on the use of the Charter. I will not go into the details of the entire report. Instead, I would like to concentrate on three topics that we have published major reports on and which we believe were of particular significance in 2014 and indeed in 2015: migration, victims’ rights, and the rights of the child. You had a very fruitful discussion on migration this morning. So let me begin with this.

  1. Migration was and remains a topic at the top of the EU agenda. The predicament in the Mediterranean worsened in 2014, with more than 3,000 people dying at sea in 2014 as they attempted to reach safety in Europe. This year, the number might be even higher, with the International Organization for Migration estimating more than 1,800 deaths between January and May alone. This tragic loss of life must be ended, and for this reason, FRA very much welcomes this Committee’s conviction of the necessity for a holistic approach to migration policy in the EU. FRA has also recently published a paper advocating an increase in the number of legal avenues available to reach the EU. In it, we argue that this path would not only save lives, but also help to fight smuggling in human beings.
    • There has been a deterioration at the borders of some Member States in respect for the principle of non-refoulement, which stipulates that nobody should be returned to a country where their life or freedom is at risk.
       
    • Moreover, despite the fact that it is now five years since the transposition deadline for the Return Directive, one third of Member States still don’t have an operational monitoring system to check fundamental rights compliance in forced return procedures for those whose asylum applications have been rejected. Other countries have a monitoring mechanism in place, but it is implemented by agencies belonging to the branch of government responsible for return, compromising their independence.

    The challenges that migrants face do not end with their arrival in the EU. Migrants, whether documented or not, often face discrimination, xenophobia and hate crime. Many Member States have policies and measures in place to combat this, but implementation often lags behind, and there is also little evidence that their impact on the ground is effectively monitored. There are, nevertheless, a number of promising practices around the EU in this context.

    For example, in 2014 12 Member States implemented training programmes and capacity building for civil servants who deal directly with migrants. And indeed, we see an increasing number of countries recognising the fact that integration does not just involve the migrants who have just arrived, or even their children and children’s children, but also the majority population. This awareness alone does much to boost the success chances of national integration strategies.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me now mention the issue of

  1. victims of crime. Ahead of the transposition deadline for the Victims’ Directive later this year, our research shows that many Member States need to take further legislative and policy steps to ensure appropriate protection. More specifically, the obligation to provide victims with information on their rights and sufficient funding for support services is proving to be challenging in a number of countries. We are not only talking here of legal assistance, but also of the psychological and emotional support that need to be made available to victims before, during and after criminal proceedings. In the five months until EU Member States must have transposed the EU Victims’ Directive into national law, there is still a lot to be done. There are, however, examples of positive steps. For example,
    • in at least 10 Member States, money is raised for victim support services by means of a fund paid into by people on conviction of a criminal offence. Finland, for example, has introduced a charge of up to 80 Euros for people convicted of a crime, with the money going towards funding victim support services. The fund is expected to generate some 4.5 million Euros each year.  

    FRA calls on Member States to adopt further measures that would establish comprehensive victim support services and ensure that victims are able to access them. It is important, for example, to provide clear information, ensure effective referral, and train police officers and legal practitioners on how to establish trust and confidence with victims and support them throughout proceedings. For without this trust, victims will not come forward to report their experiences; and without reporting, it is impossible to prosecute perpetrators or develop targeted policy to help those in need.

Finally, I move on to the protection of

  1. Rights of the child: A third of children across the EU are at risk of poverty and social exclusion. And this proportion is far higher in some countries. Many families with children have difficulties paying their mortgage, heating costs, school material and even food. This is unacceptable and points to an urgent need to take steps to reduce child poverty in policy cycles such as the European semester.

    On a positive note, the legal protection of child victims of violence or sexual abuse, or of children without parental care, was significantly strengthened in 2014, and relevant policies were developed. However, these measures are often under-resourced, making their implementation difficult. Recognising just how serious the challenges in the area of child rights, FRA undertook major research on the subject of children in judicial proceedings, based on interviews with hundreds of judges, policy officers, psychologists, court officials, and others.

Ladies and gentlemen, I would not like to finish without acknowledging the fact that the EU has built a unique area of freedom, security and justice for our citizens. We have come a long way and our framework is solid – but we still have a long way to go. And that is why your Committee and our cooperation with you is so important.

Thank you for your attention.