FRA Management Board Chair speaks on the Agency's forthcoming work for 2015 to the European Parliament's LIBE Committee

Maija Sakslin, Chairperson of the FRA Management Board, presented FRA's Annual Work programme to the LIBE Committee, Brussels, 5 March 2015.

Good morning. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to inform you about the work the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights is focusing on this year, and thank you for all your support as my term as Chair of the Management Board comes to an end. Morten Kjaerum will shortly be talking about FRA’s achievements and the involvement of the Agency in finding solutions to the fundamental rights challenges we are currently facing in the EU.

First, however, I would like to tell you about some of the Agency’s key projects. I will discuss them as they are set out in FRA’s Annual Work Programme for 2015, which is divided into the three areas of freedoms, equality and justice.

So first on freedoms. In the area of migration, one of our flagship publications this year is on severe forms of labour exploitation in the EU, which incorporates a number of fundamental rights issues including social rights, victims’ rights and freedom of movement. The findings from the more than 600 interviews we conducted suggest a pattern of widespread modern-day slavery in many areas of the economy, particularly in sectors such as agriculture, construction, domestic work and cleaning. The report, which will be published in early June, sheds light on a number of Directives that need revision or transposition, such as the Victims’ Directive. We would welcome your support in giving the maximum possible visibility to the concerns highlighted in this report.    

Another important FRA project underway this year examines the fundamental rights implications of collecting, storing and using biometric data for immigration, asylum visa processing and border control purposes, thus bridging the topics of migration and data protection. The project, which is still in its early stages, spotlights the proposed role of biometric data by the EU’s Schengen Information System, the Visa Information System, and Eurodac. The results of the project will be of particular relevance for eu-LISA and Frontex, and could also feed into the ongoing negotiations on the smart borders package.

A closely related topic is FRA’s project national intelligence services and surveillance in the EU: fundamental rights safeguards and remedies. We are carrying out this research at the LIBE Committee’s request, following the EP resolution last March on the NSA’s surveillance programme. The project analyses the way in which the national institutions responsible for upholding fundamental rights safeguards ensure democratic oversight over intelligence authorities, and facilitate remedies against fundamental rights abuses.

I will now move on to the next thematic area, equality. This comprises racism, xenophobia and related intolerance, as well as discrimination issues, Roma integration, and the rights of the child.

FRA established its multi-annual Roma programme in 2012 after the European Commission requested the Agency to increase its research activities on Roma issues. Within this programme, we recently launched the Local Engagement for Roma Inclusion (LERI) project, which aims to help Roma communities increase their participation in designing, implementing and monitoring integration policies at local level. We will be communicating the results of the pilot stage of this project in the coming weeks.

Moving on, in 2015 FRA will be publishing an update of its legal analysis of the situation of LGBT people in the EU. This year, the Agency is also due to publish the results of the second stage of its LGBT survey. The first stage surveyed 93,000 LGBT people throughout the EU about their experiences, finding that bullying at school through to homophobic violence are widespread. In the second phase of the project, we interviewed public authorities and service providers to identify whether and how practices and policies at national level contribute towards creating an equal playing field for LGBT people.

This year will also see the publication of reports and other publications linked to the rights of the child. Many of these could provide useful evidence during your work on developing a post-EU Agenda on the right of the child, in line with the European Parliament’s resolution on the 25th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The largest of these reports will be the result of research on children and justice. FRA interviewed judges, court officials, lawyers and other practitioners involved in judicial procedures, and thereafter children themselves, in order to examine their experiences of participation in criminal and civil judicial procedures. Through this research, it is possible to assess whether and how the Council of Europe Guidelines on child friendly justice are applied in EU Member States. The findings could also be helpful for Member States in the run-up to the transposition deadline for the Victims’ Directive in November this year, as well as for the negotiations on the proposed Directive on children in criminal proceedings.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Before I end my remarks today, I would just like to mention the issue of FRA’s Founding Regulation. There are several aspects of EU policy the Agency is currently not fully mandated to work on, for example former third pillar issues that cover police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters. In addition, the Agency is currently not permitted to deliver opinions about proposed EU legislation without a request from one of the EU institutions. The external evaluation of the Agency, which Morten will speak about in more detail, said in this regard that the legislator would profit from such opinions formulated by FRA on its own initiative – the Management Board, and I personally agree. 

And one final point: while FRA’s work is situated within the broader context of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, the thematic areas it works on are only partly or indirectly of relevance to social rights. FRA’s Management Board is of the opinion that in order to really safeguard fundamental rights in the EU, FRA’s five-year work programme, or multi-annual framework, should reflect social issues of major relevance to our societies like inclusion or poverty far more prominently. This would also help towards realising the Charter’s full potential.

It may therefore be worth considering advocating changes to FRA’s Founding Regulation in the coming years. In this way, the Agency could increase its ability – in line with its motto – to “help make fundamental rights a reality for everyone in the European Union.”

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for your attention.