The Situation of Fundamental Rights in the European Union

Public hearing on fundamental rights in the European Union

On March 30, an important event was hosted by the European Parliament, a public hearing on fundamental rights in the European Union.

The main goal of this public hearing was to contribute to the on-going dialogue on the mechanisms and methods meant to better defend the rule of law and the fundamental rights of people in the Union, and to allow for an assessment of the Union's efforts to guard and promote its common values.

The public hearing has gathered institutional actors, researchers and organisations of the civil society to discuss the situation of fundamental rights in the EU. The first session focused on the Union's recent initiatives to protect and promote fundamental rights and the rule of law and on the Union's institutional framework in this field. Among the spokespersons were: First Vice-President of the Commission - Timmermans, Chair of Council's Working Party on Fundamental Rights, Citizens Rights and Free Movement of Persons (EU accession to ECHR) - Kristīne Līce, Advocate General of the EU Court of Justice - Kokott, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights - Muižnieks, and Amnesty International. The second session focused on specific threats to fundamental rights in the European Union, rallying the Fundamental Rights Agency, organisations of civil society and several experts. One also presented the recent study on "The impact of the crisis on fundamental rights across the Member States of the EU," conducted at LIBE's request.

The European Parliament has stressed in its February 27, 2014 on the status of fundamental rights in the European Union (2012) that it is crucial for the European Union, its institutions and the Member States to vouchsafe respect for common European values, and asked for the establishing of a mechanism to ensure that the fundamental rights and values of the Union (referred to in Article 2 TEU and in the Charter of Fundamental Rights) are respected, protected and promoted. 

In March 2014, the Commission issued its Communication on a new EU framework to consolidate the Rule of Law. In December 2014, the Council and the Member States that met within the Council adopted their conclusions on guaranteeing respect for the rule of law.

In its resolution, Parliament also required of the Commission to establish a European policy cycle regarding the application of Article 2 TEU (democracy, rule of law, fundamental rights, equality) and an open yearly inter-institutional forum on these European values, particularly the protection of fundamental rights.

During his intervention and in the provided answers, the First Vice-President of the Commission, Frans TIMMERMANS pledged to organize an annual colloquium on the status of fundamental rights in the Union, with the participation of institutions.

“I strongly believe in involving civil society in all these debates. This should not be a debate of politicians talking to politicians or experts talking to experts. […]

In modern European society dialogue very often is I speak and you listen and when you speak I don’t listen. And I think we need to rediscover the beauty of actually listening to somebody else and not just speaking to them. And I believe that if I look across Europe the beauty of dialogue has been lost for many people because, you know, if I speak and you don’t listen, next time I’ll shout, and you still don’t listen and I’ll shout harder, again. And I truly believe that if it’s one forum that can be helpful here it’s the European Parliament. Not dismissing people with other views but listening to them and responding to different views. […]

Reports of NGO-s play and important role in what we do, and I think NGO-s should always play and important role. When we have the annual colloquium NGO-s should be represented and should be able to state their case and help us find solutions. […]

We’ve got to look for a new phase in inclusive tolerance in our societies, tolerance meaning more than just indifference, respect for difference on the one hand, but also respect for all communities, for all minorities, for the rule of law and respect for the fundamental rights. There cannot be any religious based excuse to avoid the fair extension of fundamental rights to all citizens living in the European Union.”

Kristīne LĪCE, Chair of Council’s Working Party on Fundamental Rights, Citizens Rights and Free Movement of Persons (FREMP) referred to the fact that instead of focusing on the debate of the competency between institutions, rather focus on what can proactively be done in the region to make HR a reality for all. She also underlined the fact that: “we do need effective, systematic monitoring of HR obligations under EU law. It goes without saying, to persist and insist that the EU does accede to the ECHR. “

Lotte LEICHT, European Union Advocacy Director and Director of Human Rights Watch's Brussels office mentioned: “The EU has very strong HR framework, strong HR commitment and indeed legal standards, but respect for in deed and not in words. And reality is that very serious abuses persist across the EU and enforcement is lacking.”

Gabriel TOGGENBURG Senior Legal Advisor, European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights underlined the importance of the event in itself: “this is a milestone event in the fundamental rights calendar of the EU. And I’m most glad that Ms Ferara actually was adding a new component to this milestone by consulting directly with the civil society. As she was saying, she was consulting civil society through the fundamental rights platform of agency, bringing together 400 fundamental rights NGO-s.

Also he said that: “we should shift our attention from the law in the books to the rights on the ground and fundamental rights indicators can help to come to that point and therefore the focus action of this annual report is dedicated to that topic.”

Soteria International welcomes the openness and the dialogue between the institutions and the civil society and we hope that the fundamental human rights will prevail inside EU and also in the entire world.