Address to justice ministers at EU Justice Home Affairs Council meeting

Sirpa Rautio
New FRA Director Sirpa Rautio delivers her maiden speech to EU Justice Ministers during the EU's Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting on 5 March 2024 in Brussels. The Director joined a session on the Council’s Conclusions on the European Commission’s annual report on the application of the EU’s Fundamental Rights Charter.

Dear Minister Van Tigchelt, dear Ministers,

Allow me to thank the Belgian Presidency for the invitation to attend this session of the Justice Ministers’ Council. I believe, given that you just adopted Council Conclusions on the application of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, it is very fitting that this is my first external engagement as Director of the Fundamental Rights Agency, a role I officially took up only last Friday.

I welcome the adoption of the Council Conclusions. Access to justice cannot be taken for granted, even in the EU, and the Council Conclusions provide a timely and decisive roadmap. The Conclusions go beyond restating general principles. They outline explicit measures to take, which will make a real difference in practice.

Let me assure you that, as far as my Agency is concerned, we remain ready to support the Presidency and Member States in effectively following up on the Conclusions, including those measures which refer specifically to FRA, namely in the provision of training material and in the update of our Handbook on European Law relating to Access to Justice.  

For an Agency that deals with issues affecting many policy areas, it is essential that we remain agile and responsive to needs. This means setting clear priorities so that we can support policy and law makers where fundamental rights are at risk. They include challenges to justice and security, and threats to democratic values, including rule of law, among others.

By helping to develop policy responses that are fundamental rights proofed ‘by design’, the Agency can support the EU’s overall preparedness and resilience. The Agency will continue to remain responsive to emerging issues, as we did in response to the COVID crisis and the Russian aggression against Ukraine.

Some of my initial priorities relate specifically to the area of justice:

First, recognising the increasing importance of digitalisation and of the potential use of artificial intelligence in the justice field. FRA has recently launched research in Member States on the digitalisation of justice: an area which offers both opportunities with respect to the efficiency of justice, but also challenges if digital tools do not undergo a thorough assessment of the full range of rights that can be impacted by their use.  

Secondly, cybercrime, and its increased relevance to all manifestations of crime, from online hate to violence against women, is also a field that the Agency cannot afford to neglect. We are currently drafting the first FRA-Council of Europe Handbook on cybercrime, which will be a practical tool for judges and lawyers.

Thirdly, a particular strength of FRA’s is our data collection, which allows FRA to provide the EU institutions and Member States with evidence-based advice concerning, amongst other things, the application of the law in practice. Our socio-legal evidence, and the legal opinions we attach to them, serve to underline – as the Conclusions recognise – how trust in the justice system can be further enhanced.

Let me conclude by making three suggestions that – in my view - could enable the EU institutions and Member States to make even greater use of the Agency’s expertise:

  1. At the EU level: An early and systematic consultation of the Agency’s evidence, expertise and consideration of its role when drafting new legislation or policies can help embed fundamental rights into the decision-making process.
  2. On the interaction between EU and national level: The Agency, with its many networks and links to Member State authorities, National Human Rights Institutions and civil society, could further help with providing national fundamental rights evidence to EU institutions. It can promote dialogue on how to protect fundamental rights in EU policy areas, where cooperation is key.
  3. At the national level, I see the Agency strengthening its partnerships with Member States to help develop sound methodologies for data collection. This will enable Member States to have access to solid fundamental rights evidence when developing policies and legislation as well as monitoring progress and impacts.

Dear Minister Van Tigchelt, FRA welcomes the opportunity to continue to support Member States and the EU institutions with its evidence and advice. I look forward to working with you as Director of FRA. 

Thank you.