Closing speech by FRA Director ad interim at the FRA Meeting with National Stakeholders 'Connecting to strengthen Fundamental Rights'.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Firstly, I would like to thank you for the interesting and important discussions we have had over the last two days.
However, in the years since the economic crisis, we have seen an increase in poverty in the EU, bringing uncertainty to many people’s lives and potentially leading to a greater number of human rights violations. We have also seen how extremist parties have succeeded in boosting their popularity by scapegoating groups such as migrants, of particular relevance at present. To counter these dangers, we need new forms of cooperation between the organisations and institutions set up to safeguard fundamental rights.
Yesterday evening, despite our long day of discussions, the majority of participants stayed to watch a number of moving testimonies from young refugees who have fled to Austria from Afghanistan. Who are neither victims nor security threats, but young people who have risked their lives for a new future in societies to which they can – and I’m sure will – make a positive contribution. As Fatima, the young girl who was here yesterday, said in her film: “I have a place here amongst these people and this is where I want to realise my dreams.”
Ladies and gentlemen,
What we often call Europe’s ‘fundamental rights landscape’ is made up of an intricate web of mechanisms aimed at promoting and protecting fundamental rights. Participants at this meeting range from local awareness raising or complaints offices, through national courts, equality bodies, NHRIs, ombudsperson institutions, and the various institutions of the EU and the Council of Europe. This is a strong and stable framework. And all the bodies and organisations we represent are vital elements of that structure.
The point was made yesterday that it wasn’t only important to come here and get to know fundamental rights stakeholders from other countries, but also from one’s own country. This is a very good point that I think illustrates well the necessity of this meeting and the opportunities it has brought. I hope that you will remain in contact with your new acquaintances once you are back in your capitals, as cooperation between ministries, parliaments, NHRBs and civil society at the national level is vital for us to make a difference to the fundamental rights situation on the ground.
We heard from Sirpa Rautio yesterday that it is increasingly important for FRA to work with stakeholders at the national level in order to get very specific, country-relevant findings across and tailor our proposals for action to the national context. I couldn’t agree more.
Against this background, I would like to mention just two examples of good practices shared with us yesterday that demonstrated particularly well how important it is for stakeholders to work together both across borders and across levels of governance. As with this meeting, FRA has sometimes been helpful in bringing stakeholders together who would not otherwise meet to form form synergies that may otherwise not have been possible. I’ll give you just two examples:
I’m sure you will have noticed as I did that the involvement of NGOs was mentioned as a success factor in this last activity. This shows that with their well-founded knowledge of the situation vulnerable groups find themselves in, civil society organisations can be a real help in forming effective policy to combat fundamental rights violations.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We have come a long way over the last two days. I hope this meeting has not only been interesting but has also equipped you with the knowledge to set up new forms of cooperation in your own national context. We at FRA will be at your disposal to support you develop these new modes of cooperation in your own national context.
You identified many opportunities for potential forms of collaboration. To give you just two examples:
It was mentioned during the discussions today, the European Commission has said it intends to review the Dublin Regulation, which has not proved effective in the current situation. Participants here discussed a number of measures that could be taken, including cooperation between the European NHRB umbrella organisations, Equinet and ENNRHI, as well as NGOs, to feed into the Commission’s review, and a timely paper drafted by FRA together with EASO and other agencies, which could also inform the Commission’ drafting of revision.
I will now move away from borders to the area of integration of migrants and their descendants in EU society. We heard today that a mapping of good practices would be extremely helpful to some national governments that are casting around for more effective methods of inclusion. For all those who agree with this opinion, I’m happy to be able to tell you that FRA is currently carrying out a project that is doing just that. We hope to present some of the indicators we are developing on the inclusion and democratic participation of migrants in EU society early next year. And just next month, FRA will be holding a workshop with representatives of EU institutions, national governments and civil society to develop a toolkit on how to communicate respect and tolerance, for use at EU, national and regional level.
In the context of migrant integration, we also heard of a promising practice from Portugal that could be transferable in at least some of its elements to other EU countries. The Portuguese government has set up one-stop-shops in three cities that provide various public services for new migrants. What may be unique is that other migrants mediate between the newcomers and the authorities, which helps not only to overcome linguistic barriers but also cultural differences.
One common element of the discussion of future opportunities for cooperation was that 28 Member States are not always needed at each meeting on every subject, whether the gathering be of NGOs, NHRBs, or national governments. Sometimes, we can get more done if we decide to meet in smaller groups where all countries at the table are involved or affected by the topic under discussion.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In order to ensure these opportunities for cooperation become reality, we have our work cut out. From FRA’s side, we will help to join the dots during our regular cooperation with all of you, which will of course continue.
More specifically, we will compile all the key aspects of our discussions and valuable ideas are recorded in a conference report, which we will shortly send you as an aide-memoire of the conclusions we have reached. In addition, this will enable colleagues from other organisations not present here today to learn from our experiences and possibly join in with follow-up activities.
Finally, I’d like to thank Frauke Seidensticker for opening this meeting yesterday, as well as our incoming Director Michael O’Flaherty for his presence and thoughtful insights. Most of all, I would like to thank you for your time and your ideas. Together, we can continue to strengthen the EU’s fundamental rights framework and bring fundamental rights closer to everyone living in the EU. My heartfelt thanks also to the hosting team for developing the concept and making our meeting possible.
I will close with a quote that some of you may know from Henry Ford, who said: “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” Thank you.