Good afternoon, and thank you for the invitation to present the Fundamental Rights Agency’s annual report. I would like to begin by expressing my appreciation on behalf of FRA’s Management Board for your ongoing efforts to mainstream fundamental rights across such a large spectrum of policy areas, and for your close cooperation with FRA. It was a pleasure to meet those of you who came to the Agency last week.
We seek to improve the annual report each year in order to increase its usability and ensure its relevance for the policy debate – or rather policy debates, as of course each Member State has its own priorities and challenges.
For those of you already familiar with the annual report, you will notice that it has been renamed ‘Fundamental Rights Report’ and that the year is no longer the period covered by the analysis contained in the report, but the year of publication.
With this emphasis on the fact that the data we are publishing in the report is often being analysed from a fundamental rights perspective and presented in comparative form for the first time, we want to make clear that the annual report is of the utmost relevance to policy makers today.
At the same time, we are also increasing the number and weight of the Opinions in the report, as well as publishing them as a stand-alone document in all EU languages. We hope this will make them more usable – and useful – to you and your colleagues both here in Brussels and in your home countries to take informed and well-targeted policy decisions.
The Opinions contained in the report complement the legal Opinions on planned or forthcoming legislation that we prepare at the request of the EU institutions.
As you know, many of these originate from your Committee. At your request, we recently delivered an Opinion concerning the Commission’s proposal on a common EU list of safe countries of origin that you have just debated so intensively. Another Opinion was on the use of fundamental rights indicators in the context of your legislative own-initiative report on the establishment of an EU mechanism on democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights. I hope very much that you will continue to call on FRA’s expertise in this way, as this helps to ensure that fundamental rights safeguards are systematically considered during the legislative procedure.
With asylum and migration dominating the EU’s policy agenda in 2015, it was particularly important to the Agency and to us in the Management Board to develop forceful but also feasible Opinions on the topic in this year’s Fundamental Rights Report. The Opinions cover such issues as the fundamental rights to life and dignity, the need to increase legal entry paths in order to combat smuggling and reduce deaths at sea, and the importance of migrant integration.
There is clearly a need for the Union to manage the refugee situation in full respect of fundamental rights. This area is therefore of paramount importance in FRA’s work, both in longer term projects and in the short term. But in order to make a lasting difference on the ground, the Agency needs far greater capacity.
FRA cannot be a peripheral actor in this area, but must be central to the discussions. Migration is the fastest developing policy area in the EU, and it is vital that fundamental rights play an integral role, from the design of new policy through to implementation. In the face of the largest movement of refugees since the Second World War, the EU cannot afford to fail on fundamental rights.
I will leave that thought with you and hand over now to FRA Director Michael O’Flaherty, who will take you through the key aspects of the report in more detail.
Thank you for your attention.