In her opening address, FRA Management Board Chairperson Maija Sasklin invited the growing number of FRP civil society participants to tell FRA their “vision on how Europe can make progress, in the area of freedom, security and justice.” She framed the importance of the civil society contribution during the FRP meeting given the different crisis that are unfolding across the EU and in its neighbouring countries. “These range from dealing with the after effects of the economic crisis to the rise of extremism. Such crises pose a serious challenge to fundamental rights at a time when indeed they are most needed. That’s why the work of civil society and meeting here today is so valuable.”
FRA Director Morten Kjaerum highlighted the importance of the Fundamental Rights Platform in helping to map the future for fundamental rights. He underlined the importance of this debate now at a time when there is a changing of the guard in Europe – the European Parliament elections, a new European Commission, new strategic priorities for justice and home affairs, and the EU’s accession to the European Convention on Human Rights. While he gave real life examples of the challenges Europe currently faces, he also acknowledged the many achievements in the area of fundamental rights, of which Europe is the envy of many other regions across the world. He made a number of suggestions of how fundamental rights could be better safeguarded. These included: ensuring that legislation respects, protects and promotes fundamental rights; increasing rights awareness; ensuring all actors work together when implementing fundamental rights and developing mutual legal trust.
In the spirit of the old African proverb “If you want to go fast, go alone - If you want to go far, go together”, he closed his speech by calling on civil society organisations at the FRP meeting to share with FRA over the two days their concerns, promising practices and suggestions how they can help move fundamental rights forward across the EU. FRA will compile these suggestions and take them to EU Council of heads of states and government to deliberate on in June.
Max Schrems, an Austrian PhD student and founder of the data protection NGO “Europe vs. Facebook, gave his personal perspective on what can civil society contribute by talking about his experiences. He also explained what he considered to be his recipe for success. This included: having a cause relevant to a lot of people; maintaining trust by never making claims they could not back up; being modest, asking for basic compliance with laws; being persistent and not giving up; having a good story of being considered David facing the Goliath of Facebook and working with media. As a result, to date he was proud to say he had made a difference having managed to achieve 10% of what they asked for from Facebook such as changes to data protection policies, turning off facial recognition worldwide and the deletion of data. “Not bad for a couple of students,” he concluded.
The speeches were followed by a lively panel debate between Kosmas Boskovits, Chair of the Greek Presidency of the Council of the EU Working Party on Fundamental Rights, Citizens Rights and Free Movement of Persons (FREMP); Salla Saastamoinen, Director for Equality at the European Commission; Natacha Kazatchkine, Senior Executive Officer, Amnesty International; and Rosemary Byrne, Associate Professor of International and Human Rights Law, Trinity College Dublin and Chairperson of the FRA Scientific Committee. The debate centred around the new strategic guidelines in the area of freedom, security and justice. It focused on the role that civil society could have in bringing about the guidelines and in implementing them in a way to get out the maximum for fundamental rights and for people. “Be persistent, be ambitious, be patient” was one of the messages from the discussion.
There then followed two rounds of working group sessions, on topics that meeting participants had previously agreed decided upon. Participants were invited to contribute their expert input focusing on the challenges, what works, what are the success factors, and on what would be important next steps to take.
Day 2 began with a report back from the first day of the conference. There will then be workshop sessions offered by civil society organisations in “The floor is yours”. This allowed for a vibrant exchange between the different organisations and FRA experts. A new advisory panel was also elected and presented by the outgoing Advisory Panel.
The FRA Director will close the meeting with a speech summing up the key findings and emerging themes from participants’ contributions.
The meeting outcomes will feed into a flash report that will be available on the event website and a longer meeting report which will be handed over to the Council in the run up to its meeting on the strategic guidelines in the area of freedom, security and justice.
More information is available on the FRP event pages on the website.