Welcome speech at FRA Symposium: Is Europe doing enough to protect fundamental rights?

A comprehensive human rights policy has to have evidence from the ground. We need solid data, and we need regular reporting on fundamental rights developments across all 28 EU member states. And it is precisely this data collection and comparison that form the basis of the Fundamental Rights Report we are presenting here today, and which will form the backdrop to our discussions.

President, Ministers, dear colleagues, dear children,

Good morning, and thank you for coming today to discuss the present and future of fundamental rights protection in the EU. I would like to express our particular appreciation to Her Excellency President Coleiro Preca, to Kaia Iva, Minister of Social Protection of the Republic of Estonia, and to Tiina Astola, Director-General for Justice and Consumers at the European Commission, for accepting our invitation. Let me also thank the Council of the European Union for hosting this event and thereby demonstrating the strong commitment of the EU and its member states to fundamental rights.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In these troubled times, it is important that we gather at events like today’s to send a signal that human rights form the essence of the European endeavour.

A comprehensive human rights policy has to have evidence from the ground. We need solid data, and we need regular reporting on fundamental rights developments across all 28 EU member states. And it is precisely this data collection and comparison that form the basis of the Fundamental Rights Report we are presenting here today, and which will form the backdrop to our discussions. I will leave Fundamental Rights Agency Director Michael O’Flaherty to talk more about the content, but I would like to go into a little more detail on the report itself.

I have been following FRA’s flagship publication for five years now, and shaping it together with my colleagues from the Agency’s Management Board. Over that time, I have seen it become far more policy relevant as it has begun to directly address the needs of policy makers. Promising practices are identified throughout the report, allowing countries to learn from what others do well. Recommendations for action are laid out at the end of each thematic chapter, and are translated into all the official languages of the EU, allowing broader use of the report’s main findings across all 28 member states. We also make every effort to present the report in a number of member states each year, in order to raise awareness of findings at national level.

The report provides readers with a timeline for each policy area that details the milestones in the EU as well as the Council of Europe and UN systems. It covers areas including migration, equality and non-discrimination, racism and xenophobia, Roma integration, data protection, and, of course, the rights of the child, which will be a major focus of our discussions today.

I am pleased to see the extent to which the report has therefore become a real point of reference. It feeds into the European Parliament’s annual report on the situation of fundamental rights in the EU. The findings of the report are used in the European Commission’s annual report on the application of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. And they are reflected in the Council’s conclusions on the application of the Charter.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues,

FRA is still a young agency. In the 10 years since its establishment, it has developed and diversified both its research and the communication of its findings. After building up a solid reputation by carrying out a number of large scale surveys, whether on Roma, violence against women or LGTBI people, it has been requested increasingly by the EU institutions to examine legislative proposals for their fundamental rights compatibility. There are also the practical handbooks developed in close cooperation with the European Court of Human Rights. More recently, FRA has begun providing practical, on-the-spot guidance to support practitioners in the field, above all at the hotspots in Greece and Italy.

This will be my last presentation as Chair of the Fundamental Rights Agency’s Management Board, as my term ends in just a few weeks. During the time I have held this post, I can honestly say I have become more optimistic about the future of human rights in the EU. I have seen more uncompromising commitment, more diligence, and more creativity in the realisation of human rights in the EU than I ever expected, from the Commission to the Council, and from the European Parliament to member states.

FRA has made a huge effort to become more present at the national level, and it has paid off. Today, beyond the EU and international institutions, we have a diverse network of partners ranging from National Human Rights Institutions and Equality Bodies, through national governments and parliaments, to civil society organisations. Embedded in this network, we can achieve incomparably greater impact. And in this way we can help create the safe, secure, prosperous, sustainable and social Europe of the Rome declaration.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

The future is in the hands of our children. They will mould the future of human rights in our societies. I am therefore delighted that we will have the opportunity to see and listen to their views later today.

First, though, I would like to give a warm welcome to Her Excellency President Coleiro Preca and thank her once more for taking the time to speak to us today.

Your Excellency, the floor is yours.