Rule of law dialogue at General Affairs Council

Speech by FRA Director at Council's annual rule of law dialogue, focusing on migrants' integration and EU fundamental values on 24th May 2016. ** CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY **

Ministers, dear colleagues,

Many thanks for the invitation to speak to you here today. As was stressed at the first Rule of Law Dialogue in November last year, “The European Union is based on the rule of law.” This fundamental principle is under constant attack in the area of migration and integration. I will focus on this area taking a rights based approach. Let me make six short points.

Firstly, the utmost relevance of integration. Integration is not the icing on the cake, a pleasant extra that we can take or leave. On the contrary, integration could be the make or break of the European Union.

At the moment though, we are confronted by some young people born and raised in the EU whose greatest ambition appears not to be a family or a career, but the maximum damage they can cause to European society. This phenomenon requires decisive and timely criminal law responses.

This leads me to my second point: rights cannot be seen in isolation from obligations.

Already in the preamble to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, we read: “…the Union places the individual at the heart of its activities… Enjoyment of these rights entails responsibilities and duties with regard to other persons, to the human community and to future generations.” This provision closely echoes the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and confounds the myth that the international human rights framework is all rights and no duties.

Thirdly, let me move from the responsibilities of migrants to the obligations of states. Faced with radicalised young migrants we need to ask ourselves: how are we failing them, that they fail us to such a degree?

In order for integration to be successful, we need to empower each and every immigrant and refugee on the basis of their human rights entitlements. We need a value driven approach that clearly places human rights obligations at its very centre. These values and rights are not exclusively European in nature, which brings me to my next point.

So, fourthly, the relevance of universal values. We should not regard European values as distinct but rather based on universal values. People arriving from outside the EU it were therefore already formally subject to these values. It is of course vital that these are then implemented in practice, and receiving countries should provide for clear and efficient guidance in this regard. This could help for instance to explain how Article 3 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights obliging all States “to ensure the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all civil and political rights” can be realised on a day-to-day basis. This article of the Covenant in itself demonstrates how the international human rights regime offers a system of shared values that those arriving in the EU need to respect in their countries of origin just as they do in Europe.

Let me come to my fifth point, namely the question of how we are doing in Europe when it comes to the integration of migrants. Findings of a FRA project presently being finalised on migrant participation show that many national integration policies are ill-equipped to meet current challenges.

Take education. In some places, it seems that people are expected to know the local language, but they aren’t being offered lessons. Or they have to pay for them, with the same result – they don’t learn. There has been much talk recently of the ‘European values’ that migrants need to know and respect. But if we don’t communicate these values in their language, and we don’t enable them to learn ours, is this really something we can expect?

Then again, in about half of Member States we found evidence that residential separation is leading to the de facto segregation of school pupils with an immigrant background. But for children and young people to really have equal chances on the job market, it’s vital they are given the necessary support from an early age. The exclusion of children from quality education and the resulting lack of equal opportunities results in marginalisation that can affect migrants generation after generation – and does.

Let me now conclude with some ways to move forward. I believe that the very existence of the Rule of law Dialogue is extremely promising, as it signals that Member States recognise the need to learn from each other in order to make the protection of fundamental rights and the rule of law a reality throughout the EU. This is particularly true in the context of migrant integration.

Creating incentives for integration means reaching out to migrant and minority communities. And there are good practices around the EU that up to now have unfortunately not been collected systematically. To give you just one example:

In Spain, the ‘Barcelona welcomes you in summer’ programme is aimed at helping young migrants learn the language and at the same time become acquainted with their new neighbourhoods and the culture and history of the city. An assessment of the programme after two years showed that those who had taken part had lower school drop-out rates, participated in more extracurricular activities and were more likely to have friends from outside their own ethnic or religious group.

Ladies and gentlemen,

At the moment, we have 28 approaches to integration. But we have a common purpose, and this calls for common action. The Fundamental Rights Agency stands ready to assist Member States in developing an approach to help us all succeed.

Thank you.