Polish Senate discusses with FRA fundamental rights challenges and achievements in the EU

On 21 July, FRA presented the agency and its 2014 Annual Report of fundamental rights challenges and achievements to the Polish Senate in Warsaw. Speaking at the joint session of three parliamentary committees, the European Affairs Committee, Family, Social Policy and Senior Citizens’ Affairs Committee as well as Committee on Human Rights, Rule of Law and Petitions, the interim FRA Director, Constantinos Manolopoulos, focused on the issues of migration, victims’ rights and child rights.

He acknowledged how migration was, and remains, a topic at the top of the EU agenda as more and more people are risking their lives to come to the EU, seeking safety from persecution and war, or simply in search of a better life. He reminded senators and the other invited guests attending that of course, the fundamental rights challenges do not end with the arrival of migrants to the EU. He mentioned how labour exploitation of migrant workers is commonplace and that migrants often face discrimination, xenophobia and hate crime. However, he also recognised that many Member States have policies and measures to tackle the problems migrants face, but pointed to issues in implementation and monitoring the impact on the ground. Therefore he called for “a proactive approach to promote inclusion can help not only to reduce racial, ethnic and religious discrimination, but also to dispel tension and strengthen security throughout the EU.

He then spoke about victims’ rights and how “well-resourced, well-aimed victim support is vital to ensure that victims of crime have real access to justice and ensure their rights are respected. ” Here he pointedly referred to two good practices from Poland, such as the fund that perpetrators pay into to compensate victims and the Polish Senate’s initiative to reduce bureaucratic obstacles. He called on all Member States to adopt further measures to establish comprehensive victim support services and ensure they are easily accessible.

The third area covered was the rights of children, another group particularly at risk of social exclusion, who have felt the brunt of the effects of the economic crisis. “Many families with children have difficulties paying their mortgage, heating costs, school material and even food, ” he noted pointing to the latest data showing an average of 28% of children in the EU who are at risk of poverty or social exclusion. However, again he mentioned areas where progress is happening. For example, the legal protection of child victims of violence or sexual abuse, or of children without parental care, was significantly strengthened in 2014, and relevant policies have been developed. But once more challenges remain as these measures are often not comprehensive enough and are under-resourced, making their implementation difficult. Here he made reference to a Polish judge’s comments drawn from FRA research that said “We have excellent provisions and regulations, possibly the best in Europe, but their implementation is minimal – both by the justice system and by other institutions and services”, but also underlining that it is a challenge in practically all Member States.

In concluding he thanked the senate for the invitation to address them and urged them to continue to make use of FRA and its expertise citing the important role national parliaments play in safeguarding fundamental rights: “That is why I consider this meeting and our further cooperation so important.

He then passed the floor to the Polish member of the FRA Management Board, Mirosław Wróblewski, to provide an overview of the application of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in Poland. Joanna Goodey, Head of the Freedoms and Justice Department later gave a presentation on FRA’s report on severe forms of labour exploitation.

The visit to Poland was also a useful opportunity to meet with other important Polish stakeholders. Before the committees’ hearing, the FRA delegation met Fundamental Rights Platform members and other local NGOs to present the Agency’s plans for future research, publications and events. It also discussed with Artur Nowak-Far, Undersecretary of State for Legal Treaty and Consular Affairs, possible ways of cooperating and informing representatives of relevant Polish ministries on the most important challenges for fundamental rights in Europe as perceived by the Agency, during a meeting organised by the Polish national liaison officer. In addition, the delegation met Irena Lipowicz, the Human Rights Defender (Polish ombudsperson), to better understand how the Ombuds office work is structured as well as to discuss methodological challenges in researching fundamental rights related issues in practice.