Checking the EU-wide erosion of fundamental rights in 2015

Last year was not a good year for fundamental rights, asserted Michael O’Flaherty, FRA’s Director, when presenting the key findings of the Agency’s Fundamental Rights Report 2016 in Paris at the Sciences Po University on 19 September. He spoke of the erosion of rights evidenced in the report and outlined possible ways forward.

The FRA Director spoke of how the refugee crisis is in fact a crisis of fundamental rights. He mentioned the plight of refugees stuck in centres where conditions are worsening, the growing number of alleged pushbacks, restrictions to family reunification, and the criminalisation of everyday citizens who are providing humanitarian assistance. He warned: “If we fail on this issue, Europe will have failed – on an issue that is so close to the EU’s founding values.”

When it comes to children, he underlined how the current crisis is taking a heavy toll on children: on average, two children have drowned every day since September 2015. Added to which, those who do make it are at risk of violence, sexual abuse and exploitation along the migration route.

The Director also spoke of the rise of hate crime in many places and called on all Member States to do more to stamp out all forms of hate crime and hate speech. He then moved on to the ongoing plight that many Roma face in their daily lives when it comes to jobs, schooling, healthcare and housing.

The last area he covered was data protection. He spoke of the perennial challenge of balancing national security and fundamental rights. It is an area that FRA is currently looking into. In his view, rights should only be limited on the basis of three core principles: legality, necessity, and proportionality.

To tackle such issues, the Director spoke of the needs to ensure all new legislation complies with all relevant fundamental rights standards. Here the EU’s the Charter of Fundamental Rights should play a key role. Similarly, existing laws should be evaluated and reviewed to mitigate possible fundamental rights violations in their implementation. In addition, he mentioned raising rights awareness so that everyone knows rights are for everyone, for the majority population as well as for the marginalised. People must be empowered to claim their rights and seek redress when their rights are violated.

In concluding he acknowledged: “we face many challenges, but we should not forget the many achievements. Europe’s citizens enjoy a degree of justice, freedom and security that is unknown in many places. We must not take these achievements for granted.

The presentation took place at a conference organised by Commission Nationale Consultative des Droits de l’Homme and Institut Français des Droits et Libertés. Representatives from civil society organisations, academia and national authorities attended the event.