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Good morning ladies and gentlemen, colleagues and friends,

And welcome on behalf of the Management Board of the Fundamental Rights Agency to this unique meeting of key stakeholders of the Fundamental Rights Agency. I think that none of us can enter smoothly into the agenda before expressing enormous sadness and deep concern about the events of Friday evening in Paris. Sad for all those who lost friends and family members, shocked with the people in France, and concerned about the many implications of these events. We all see how intrinsically the defence of our lives is linked to the defence of human rights, fundamental rights, of values that are at the foundation of the European project.

In the last twelve months, Europe has been challenged by change, and European leaders need clarity and wisdom so that they don’t draw on a quick fix where appropriate, well targeted measures, true solutions are required.

In recognition of the ongoing humanitarian crisis that began at the EU’s borders but has now moved to its very centre, FRA has stepped up its work in the area of asylum and migration. Already at FRA’s 2014 Fundamental Rights Conference 'Fundamental Rights and Migration to the EU', we discussed the need for a more holistic approach to migration and asylum policy in the EU and emphasised that fundamental rights must be the foundation on which such policies are built, and not just one element among many.

And by ‘asylum and migration’, I do not only mean the borders and numbers that we have been debating so intensely in Europe. Because we have pressing questions facing us:

1) How can we ensure that those in need of international protection can find it in the EU and that those who are not entitled to such are returned in a fundamental rights-compliant way?

2) How can we ensure that these people, their children and their children’s children are integrated into EU society so as to increase social cohesion and avoid alienation and disintegration?

FRA has already amassed a considerable body of work that touch on both these issues, for example in its report 'Fundamental rights at Europe’s southern sea borders', or in the paper 'Legal entry channels to the EU for persons in need of international protection: a toolbox', in which FRA presents a number of ways of enabling more people in need to reach the EU without resorting to smugglers.

Turning to migrant integration and its implications for internal security, FRA’s work has shown clearly that if measures aiming to detect security dangers are regarded to be targeting an entire community, they can quickly become counterproductive.

For example,

  • FRA’s survey of 23,500 people with a minority background in the EU found that 40% of Muslim respondents previously stopped by the police believed this was specifically due to their immigrant or minority background. The Agency is now in the course of repeating this survey, which will allow us to identify trends over a longer period.
  • FRA is also finalising an important project on the inclusion and participation of migrants and their descendants in the EU. Preliminary findings indicate that not all EU Member States have measures in place to encourage the participation of migrants and their descendants in labour markets, in public life and in society.

Of course,

Migration and security have many facets. One of these is data protection. A few weeks ago, FRA published a paper on the fundamental rights implications of fingerprinting asylum seekers, containing a checklist for relevant authorities to ensure fundamental rights compliance when taking fingerprints for Eurodac, the EU’s fingerprinting database. And just yesterday, the results of a project carried out at the request of the European Parliament on the protection of fundamental rights in the context of large-scale surveillance were published. The findings show that stronger and more comprehensive oversight of intelligence services and their surveillance practices is needed.

So, ladies and gentlemen,

While we are facing these challenges, I do know that we are well equipped to find solutions, as we have a strong legal and political framework, and all of the bodies and organisations we represent in this room are vital components of the EU’s fundamental rights landscape. I therefore feel certain that our discussions today will indeed help to strengthen and protect fundamental rights throughout the EU.

Now, what is so important about the stakeholders representing the national level assembled here today? One of the key findings of the Agency’s first external evaluation in 2012 was the importance of enhancing still further our contribution to fundamental rights-related debates and indeed the entire policy process from development to implementation at the national level. We in the Management Board therefore made the question of impact at the national level one of FRA’s strategic priorities, and to this end we established a working group, cooperating with an internal task force working on impact set up by the Agency. This has proved an excellent forum for discussing how to best increase the visibility, impact and relevance of FRA’s work at Member State level.

To give you two slightly different examples of FRA’s increased engagement at national level:

  • Firstly, FRA has set up a network of national parliamentary focal points in each EU Member State, in order both to strengthen their ties with FRA and to ensure that parliamentarians are fully aware of FRA’s data and other findings when they decide on human rights-related issues. FRA staff have taken part in hearings in a number of national parliamentary committees, and FRA has been happy to welcome a number of delegations from national parliaments.
  • Secondly, we have increased our engagement with Member States when discussing the national situation in particular areas of fundamental rights. In the area of Children and Justice for example, FRA has provided advice on the transposition of the Convention on the Rights of the Child into national law.

We are also seeking new opportunities to present FRA’s Annual Report in Member States and link its key recommendations to different national contexts. I myself recently had the opportunity to present FRA’s findings on migration and surveillance in Berlin. This was in a panel debate hosted by the German Institute for Human Rights, when the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, presented the findings of his country visit to Germany.

Ladies and gentlemen, effective protection of fundamental rights in the EU is more necessary than ever. And this requires investment in a joined-up governance approach, where different mechanisms and institutions active in the area of fundamental rights cooperate more closely and efficiently. For us, today’s meeting is an excellent opportunity to better understand the needs, undertakings and perspective of the many ombudsmen, equality bodies, national human rights institutions, representatives of ministries and parliament, NGOs and academics in the room.

So to sum up: we want to work with you to develop strategies and to contribute to, or rather to create a European Union in which fundamental rights are a reality for any and all human beings who touch the soil of our countries.

I’ll hand over now to Friso Roscam Abbing and Maria Scordialos, who will be moderating the meeting and will introduce us to the agenda. I very much look forward to our discussions.