On 1 December, the FRA Director, Morten Kjaerum, exchanged views with the members of the Employment and Social Affairs Committee (EMPL) of the European Parliament. The discussions revolved around the projects and activities of FRA, and sought to contribute to the fundamental rights dimension of the work carried out by the EMPL Committee.
In his speech, he highlighted the importance of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, adopted five years before, and of subsequent legal and policy developments that have strengthened the institutional framework safeguarding fundamental rights. His speech concentrated largely on three vulnerable groups: people with disabilities, Roma and children.
The Director underlined the significance of the EU ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2010. “The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is a milestone,” said Mr Kjaerum, as it is also the first time the EU has ratified an international convention. This has implications for EU law, and EU institutions – including FRA – will need to adjust accordingly in order to comply with the Convention’s provisions.
As regards the plight of Roma, he presented some findings from FRA’s survey on Roma and non-Roma households. For example, illiteracy among the Roma community is significantly higher than among non-Roma households: 15% of Roma men and 25% of Roma women cannot read and write, in contrast to 1% of the general population living nearby; Unemployment rates are three times higher than in the rest of the population. He consequently asked Member States to continue delivering on Roma integration strategies as they are important drivers for change.
Finally, Mr Kjaerum spoke about children, with the warning that “we have to make sure in Europe that we are not losing an entire generation,” as 30% of children are now at risk of poverty or social exclusion due to the effects of the economic crisis.
He concluded his address by asking MEPs to support the adoption of the Horizontal Anti-Discrimination Directive as it will have a major impact on those discriminated across all European societies and by pointing to the need to assess the impact on fundamental rights of any new EU laws and policies that address the crisis.