Closing speech at Fundamental Rights Platform meeting 2014

Closing speech at 2014 meeting of the Fundamental Rights Platform by the Director of the Fundamental Rights Agency.

Ladies and Gentlemen, dear friends,

Thanks to all of you. You have all worked extremely hard over these last 1 1/2 days. It was amazing to see how you turned the content of our discussions into substantial outcomes. This really is the strength of the Fundamental Rights Platform.

I am very glad that we kicked off yesterday with Max Schrems, the young Austrian law student who took on Facebook over concerns of data protection and the right to privacy. He really set the tone and focused on some of the topics that are on everybody’s agenda, such as surveillance and the right to privacy. He said something I really liked, and I quote: “I think it was a shock for Facebook to see that someone was checking up on them.”

I’m quite sure that he is right. But it is right that private corporations, just as the public sector, are held to account. So how do we engage the private sector more actively in a human rights dialogue? Some of you might say that we have talked about corporate social responsibility and human rights for the last 20 years. But now we have to walk the talk. No more strategy papers and nice words and human rights prizes and awards. Now we want to see some of these sectors really taking human rights seriously, working it in to their corporate strategies and action. It was was a powerful message to all of us to see how we can actually bring that forward in our work. In our input to the Justice and Home Affairs strategy, we made a point of this, to see how it can be reflected in the new strategic guidelines.

Secondly, there was the issue of persistence. And it’s true, of course – we need to remain persistent and ambitious as well. We should constantly be trying to move the agenda and say “this is what we want” and then pursue it.

We also heard a number of times that we haven’t reached our goal if we want to have human rights as the other side of the security coin in the area of Justice and Home Affairs. This is no time for complacency. There is still a long way to go before we get the human rights aspect into JHA policies and thereby create the legitimacy for them that is needed. And again civil society has a crucial role to play in creating that legitimacy.

Ladies and gentlemen, friends,

You got a flavour of all the topics we’ve discussed at this morning’s exhibition, as you do if you look to the wall on your right. All of you who have participated here will also receive a ‘short report’ later today that brings together the numerous discussions we have had. The full conference report will be finalised in early May and we will submit it to the Council as agreed; you of course will also all receive a copy.

I would like to go into some of the areas we’ve discussed in a little more detail and to highlight some of the areas that I found to be very powerful during the meeting.

  1. The first of these, which has become a trademark for these discussions, is the level of frankness and constructive, forward-looking atmosphere that prevailed from the first panels to the working groups, to the ‘Floor is yours’ as well as during the coffee breaks.
  2. Co-creation was also a thread that ran through many of our discussions. The FRP itself is a co-creation that we have built up over seven years to get to where we are today. A further element in this co-creation is the FRA toolkit on joined-up governance that was presented today and received a lot of positive feedback. We will continue reflecting on how we can jointly take this tool further, adding promising practices and ideas for strengthening the implementation of human rights in Member States.
  3. Another word we heard a great deal about was implementation. The representatives from the Council and the Commission said yesterday that the coming years will be about how we take the substance of the laws and the Conventions we have, as well as from the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and turn them into reality. So there will not be so much new legislation, but rather we need to see whether the existing legislation actually works and has an impact. 

    The issue of implementation was discussed with regard to topics ranging from Roma issues through hate crime to access to justice. And a lot of ideas came up. In particular with an issue like the Roma, the question is how to get the Roma themselves directly involved. Promising practices in FRA reports show that people have to be engaged themselves in finding the solutions: however much you try, it is very difficult to find solutions for others, and indeed it rarely works. This is the same for Roma and all other groups who are in a situation in which they need to be empowered to take part in and not be excluded or marginalised in our societies. Coming back to the joined-up governance toolkit, we need a lot of good examples and ideas in there to show how this is being done. Development assistance over the last 30 years has also given us a lot of experience in empowering marginalised groups. In Europe, we need to take the experiences home that we have offered to other regions in the world.

    Hate crime is another word that came up a lot here. One idea was that“we need to create a culture of citizenship.” What are the components of the culture of citizenship? How do we develop this? When we talk about hate crime, civil society is also key. In continental Europe, we are not very advanced on hate crime. We are still in the early days. In a recent visit to the Ministry of Justice in Washington D.C., one of the elements they consistently pointed out was that you could not move anywhere on hate crime if civil society is not actively involved. And I think they are absolutely right.

  4. Another issue I’d like to mention here is that of funding for civil society organisations, which also came up a number of times during our meeting. How do we ensure the existence of a vibrant civil society in Europe? Civil society has had to take some hard knocks during the financial crisis. So we need to be creative and look at the structures set up by the European Union to support civil society in the form of small grants. Can we rethink this and transfer some of the examples we have from EU development policy and use it within the EU?
  5. Another element I’d like to raise is the close cooperation between different human rights players. We need to draw closer together to look for synergies and complementarities rather than each sitting apart in our own corners. How can we enhance that cooperation? When we asked you what you would like to discuss here the number one issue that received the most votes was the topic on ‘how to enhance cooperation’.

We need to move on. We have mentioned many times that this is the seventh FRP. Not necessarily the last, but maybe the last in this format. If you look at the map, every year in Munich we have a very big conference on security. To the south, every year in Davos we have a big conference on the economy. But we’re missing one thing in that triangle: fundamental rights, human rights, democracy. Where can we discuss the key challenges to human rights in a concerted manner? Nowhere.

But maybe from next year that gap will be filled. It is still early days, but we are thinking of merging the Fundamental Rights Platform and the Fundamental Rights Conference, the two big flagship events of the Fundamental Rights Agency. Not merging them as such: but do we need to have six months between these two events? Why can’t it be two days or even two hours? And then bring together that critical mass of people and devote a week in June next year for solid fundamental rights discussions, the future of democracy, and the protection of the rule of law in Europe and see how many people can we bring in to have an engaged, forward-looking discussion. Let’s also get the corporate sector in the room, and many other key actors. I cannot think of any better time than now when we have so much pressure on core values in the Union right now. So we would be more than pleased to get your feedback and hear how you would like to feed into this event. We see it as providing the two pillars, the FRP and the FRC, and then we hope others will come in with ideas for subjects and groups to bring in.

It just remains for me to thank over 50 FRA staff members and about 20 very engaged trainees. Also a warm thanks to our events organisers, and in particular to the ladies typing up our conversations, to our graphic harvester, the interpreters, the hall managers and all the others. And last but not least I would like to thank Friso and his team, and in particular Waltraud, Letizia and Ingrid.

For now, it just remains for me to wish you a safe journey home and a nice weekend. This meeting has once again proven to me that civil society is a key actor of change and we will continue to support you as much as we can. So persistence, ambition as well as patience in this big co-creation which can hopefully lead to some innovative practices of pushing us all forward to a higher level of human rights protection.

Thank you very much!

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