The first day of the FRC was devoted to discussing the importance of access to justice for all. In his opening speech, European Parliament President Martin Schulz said “Fundamental rights and economic success are two sides of the same coin. We need to monitor fundamental rights as we monitor budget deficits.”
Cypriot Justice Minister Loucas Louca emphasised that fundamental rights are particularly important in times of crisis: “Despite serious fiscal constraints, we must honour our obligation to our residents, especially the most vulnerable.”
FRA Director Morten Kjaerum : “Although access to justice is available in theory, the reality looks very different. In times of austerity more focus on access to justice is needed, not less. How can we use the current circumstances to deal constructively with the situation, which could perhaps even give rise to new, innovative ways forward?”"
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay spoke of the importance of international standards in order to safeguard the rights of especially vulnerable groups: “Mounting social tension in several countries shows the dangers which can be associated with curtailing economic, social and cultural rights. Authorities should mitigate the social impacts of the austerity measures on the most vulnerable segments of the population.”
Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar, Chair of the European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE): “By being at this conference, we are reaffirming our commitment that fundamental rights are here to stay.”
Paula Teixeira da Cruz, Minister of Justice, Portugal : "Member States face challenges to build a society that is equal and fair - the crisis cannot be an alibi nor an excuse".
Commission Vice-President Viviane Reding emphasised that access to justice is a principle at the heart of the European project. In this context she stressed that the FRA is helping to strengthen fundamental rights in the EU by helping to fill a data gap. She stressed how important it was that the Agency could continue its work, and regretted that so far the Council had not agreed on a new multi-annual framework for the FRA.
Two panel debates concluded the day, one on ‘Justice in recession? Current trends and challenges for access to justice’, and the other on ‘Access to justice in austerity: new opportunities for reform?’