A renewed framework for the activities of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency
Fundamental rights and freedoms are at the core of the actions of the European Union. After five years of at times controversial operations, the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) is soon to have a new framework for its initiatives.
The European Commission recently launched its proposal for a
future Council Decision establishing a Multiannual Framework for the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights for 2013-2017. From the procedural standpoint, the European Parliament will simply have to provide its consent and it will be exclusively for the Council (with unanimity required) to adopt the relevant measures.
The proposed Framework
Some elements of the Multiannual Framework currently in force would be retained: the new Framework will have to be in line with the priorities of the Union, taking into account the orientations given on fundamental rights by EP Resolutions and by Council conclusions. Only on a request from the European Parliament, the Council or the Commission, could the Fundamental Rights Agency work outside the thematic areas determined in the Framework.
The thematic areas to be covered by the Agency would be enhanced. A number of themes are obviously reconfirmed, such as access to justice; the rights of the child; racism, xenophobia and related intolerance; migration and asylum; protection of personal data. There would also be a more positive broader reference to the situation of victims. The theme of non-discrimination is also reconfirmed with the relevant formulation being brought in line with Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU.
Important innovative references concern three themes: integration of Roma communities; police cooperation; and judicial cooperation. Recital 8 also contains an encouraging reference to the fight against poverty and social exclusion.
Reflecting on the future of the Agency
The reviewing of its Multiannual Framework constitutes an opportunity for the Agency itself to reflect on the impact and orientation of its actions in these first few years of existence.
Clear signals have been sent in this regard by important bodies. The European Parliament, in its Resolution on the situation of fundamental rights in the EU (2009) emphasized the need for the FRA to provide quality, objectivity, effective impartiality and transparency. The PACE Assembly, with its Resolution 1756 (2010), stressed that the EU Member States and Institutions should take all necessary measures to avoid unnecessary duplication by the FRA of the tasks of the Council of Europe.
The Agency could also consider playing an active role in raising the awareness of EU citizens on the possibilities offered by (but also on the limits and boundaries of) both the competences of the EU and of the rights protected by the Charter. Avoiding the creation of false expectations in this regard is in the interest of all concerned.
Concerning partnerships, priority should be given to entities that genuinely pursue aims of general European relevance, as opposed to organisations that defend mere group interests.
As for the areas in which the FRA would act, the Agency would ideally focus on issues that reach out to as many EU citizens as possible, while considering the need for efficient use of resources in times of economic crisis.
In the field of non-discrimination, the delicate implications for the varied sensibilities and approaches existing in Europe require that the Agency assume in every circumstance a balanced (and balancing) role, especially on less consensual issues. Secondly, full account should be taken of the evident specificity of disability, which deserves an enhanced degree of attention, even by comparison with other grounds.
Some actors are also reflecting on whether religious freedom should be fully integrated into the actions of the Agency, considering that it is widely regarded as one of the most fundamental of all human rights. While this would constitute an opportunity, it would also be up to the Agency to ensure a positive and constructive contribution to the topic, preventing any drift towards an instrumentalisation or partial interpretation.
Finally, the situation of elderly people could be included in the scope of actions of the Agency, as a specific thematic area, in consideration of the provision of Article 25 of the Charter.
All these elements will hopefully receive serious consideration in the context of the necessary evaluation of the future of the Fundamental Rights Agency.