Hearing on European Institutions and human rights in Europe

Speech by FRA Director Morten Kjaerum at the Committee on legal Affairs and Human Rights, PACE, Paris, 3 March 2014.

Dear Committee Members,

Thank you for the invitation to present the work of FRA and the cooperation with the Council of Europe. 

This year promises to be one of enhanced engagement between FRA and the Council of Europe. A few weeks ago we jointly convened a meeting on National Human Rights Institutions and Equality Bodies in Brussels. Today I am here, tomorrow we have a visit in Vienna by your committee on equality and non-discrimination, the FRA chairperson will deliver a speech to the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities on 25 March, I will be present at the Steering Committee for Human Rights in June and will make my annual speech to the Committee of Ministers’ rapporteur Group on External relations in the second half of the year. Cooperation is very vibrant, very active much alive and expanding!

In short, I would say we have come a very long way over the last five years.

As you are all aware our organisations share a common objective and we currently face common challenges with regard to the promotion and protection of human rights, the rule of law and respect for the values which underpin our organisations.  Parliaments in particular play a key role in meeting these challenges and I am therefore glad to be able to speak with you today and your colleagues tomorrow. We often meet as well with national parliaments.

2014 marks a period of transition for the European Union. The Union shall have a new parliament, a new commission and a new set of strategic guidelines for the justice and home affairs areas.  In particular the latter offers a strong opportunity to strengthen the overall protection of fundamental rights in the EU.

So how does FRA view its role in the European human rights architecture?

Let me start by illustrating the work of FRA and its relation to the Council of Europe with a concrete example. In two days’ time the FRA will launch the results of its biggest ever survey on violence against women across the EU. The FRA interviewed more than 42,000 women on their experiences with gender-based violence. The key findings are quite shocking for example, 33% of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 15.  Five percent have been raped. And 67% did not report the most serious incident of partner violence to the police or any other organisation.

With only three ratifications of the Istanbul convention by EU Member States, FRA will be reiterating the importance of signing and ratifying the Convention as part of the process of tackling violence against women.

The results will also provide valuable information which the Council of Europe can use as part of its campaign to increase awareness of the nature and extent of the violence and urge ratification of the Convention.

Another concrete example is hate crime. Last year we worked closely with the Council of Europe on hate crime. ECRI’s General Policy Recommendations related to racism and antisemitism framed the key issues for FRA. 

Key findings in our unique surveys on antisemitism or LGBT provided a very worrying evidence base for this work.

At our Fundamental Rights Conference 2013 on Hate Crime we were pleased to have the Director General for Democracy from the Council of Europe as a key speaker and members of staff from the Council of Europe Directorates General and European Court of Human Rights as chairs and panellists and many national parliamentarian participants. The conclusions of our Hate Crime Conference are now being used by both the EU institutions and the Council of Europe to shape ways forward.

These examples illustrate why FRA was set up, by the EU Member States, to be a specialist EU agency to provide evidence and expert advice on fundamental rights to the EU Institutions and its Member States.

Apart from the surveys we do legal analyses, legal opinions and a variety of fieldwork research.

What is the status of the cooperation between the FRA and the Council of Europe?

“You can hardly find two organisations working more closely than we are”. These are not my words but those of a Council of Europe staff member interviewed in the context of an external evaluation of the Agency last year.

Our relations are based on the 2008 Agreement between the European Community and the Council of Europe on cooperation between the FRA and the Council of Europe.

The Agreement was evaluated in June last year. Both parties concluded that the relations between the Union and the Council of Europe ensure synergies and avoid overlap. The Agreement was therefore extended without changes.

These results are achieved by a dynamic interaction by the two institutions. Let me mention the Council of Europe independent representative on FRA executive board and FRA management board. FRA actively engages with the Council of Europe on both the FRA annual work programme – the programme which guides our actions - and the FRA annual report.

As I indicated in my opening remarks, I travel to the Council of Europe several times per year to discuss with the Committee of Ministers our work and report on our cooperation and I meet with the Secretary General, the Commissioner for Human Rights and other key Council of Europe staff.

FRA staff is regularly in contact with Council of Europe colleagues to exchange information but also to implements joint projects.

Our most successful joint projects are the handbooks on case law for legal practitioners which bring together case law from the Strasbourg and Luxembourg courts.

Together with the European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe, we published:

  • Handbook on European Non-discrimination Law in 2011
  • Handbook on European Asylum, Borders and Immigration last year.
  • Handbook on European Data Protection Law, in January this year
  • Handbook on Child Rights is already in the pipeline.

With these Handbooks we provide easy access to legal developments in Europe in key areas to legal professionals, practitioners as well as civil society organisations and support mechanisms. These accessible guides are widely translated.  

The handbooks are real best-sellers. For example, the Polish school of magistrates requested 1000 copies of the non-discrimination handbook in Polish for their students. In addition, 1500 copies of the Romanian version of the data protection handbook were already ordered.

And as I said, this year the EU plans to adopt strategic guidelines in the justice and home affairs areas.  As the new strategic guidelines are adopted, I believe it will increase the opportunities to cooperate closely with the Council of Europe.

And therefore I am very pleased that during my last visit we agreed to establish a liaison officer between the Parliamentary Assembly and the FRA. It is now in place and will only strengthen the collaboration.

In conclusion one could ask: Does our cooperation make a difference? The answer is yes:

  • on hate crime we have jointly moved the issues forward;
  • we have strengthened the collaboration between the National Human Rights Institutions, Equality Bodies and Ombuds;
  • on LGBT issues we have moved forward; and
  • we have produced successful joint Handbooks.

Thank you.