Fundamental Rights Forum opening statement

Sirpa Rautio
FRA Director Sirpa Rautio delivers the opening statement at the Agency's flagship event, the Fundamental Rights Forum 2024 in Vienna on 11 March.

Dear guests, colleagues, friends

I will start by thanking the two preceding speakers – President Van der Bellen for his patronage of the Fundamental Rights Forum 2024, and his kind and wise words, and Vienna’s Mayor and Governor Ludwig for his generosity and assistance in facilitating this occasion in his house, the beautiful Vienna City Hall and his close friendship with FRA over the years. These partners, along with Norway Grants, are critical to the success of the Forum.

I also wish to warmly welcome, and thank, Commission Vice President Jourová and the Council of Europe Secretary General Pejčinović Buric, for being with us today, and for your continued partnership and support as we work towards our shared goals of democracy, the rule of law and respect for fundamental and human rights.

As many of you know, I took up my mandate as Director of the Fundamental Rights Agency just ten days ago. I take up this new task with great pride and enthusiasm. But I am also very aware, that I do so at a time of great insecurities in our region and beyond.  We are facing a critical period for human rights, with concerns for the security and safety of our societies, with the lack of respect for the rule of law and fundamental rights in some countries, with growing inequalities, rising discrimination and shrinking democratic and civic space.  

2024 will also be a year with many elections across Europe, including in the European Parliament. We need to be prepared for the changes these elections will bring, as well.

It is for those very reasons that the Fundamental Rights Forum plays such a crucial role in how we plan our way forward.

I am incredibly proud in opening this event as Director of FRA. I would like to congratulate my new colleagues on the sheer scale of what they have achieved: 200 speakers from across the world, dozens of parallel and complementary conversations, almost one thousand minds meeting over these next two days.

The Forum team has designed innovative ways to showcase expertise and to challenge ideas, like the human rights lab and the human rights tables. At the Marketplace of Connections, through conversations, common ground for different perspectives will be searched.

The Forum is planned as a dynamic event inspired by the enthusiasm of everyone present here - the organisers, speakers and all the participants alike.

However, it is not just the scale of the event that is impressive. We will tackle topics familiar to many of us, such as the rule of law. We will also deal with newer concepts, like green transitions,  digitalisation and artificial intelligence.

But, whatever the topic, we will attempt to harness new and innovative ways to place human rights at the centre of all solutions.

The purpose of the Forum is to bring together voices that often spread the same message, but in different places and contexts or with different audiences. At the Forum, we can pool our expertise and experiences to reinforce human rights and to build a pathway towards a more secure and sustainable future.

We all in this room, I am sure, share a common goal – that is, the protection and promotion of human rights for all.

I will conclude by assuring you all – you will find no closed doors here. There is a seat for everyone, and I urge you to use it. Please use this occasion, and over the next two days, ask questions, share opinions, meet new people, explore unfamiliar territory, gather fresh ideas, consider adverse views, and above all, challenge yourself. I am looking forward to doing the same, benefiting from your presence here.

I hope you will all leave Vienna having cultivated and strengthened partnerships and friendships, and filled with new energy and ideas.

I wish you all the very best for the next two days.

Thank you.

See also