Human Rights Without Frontiers announces the release of the report "EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA): A Reality Check." In addition to being available here, the full 72-page report is available at the HWRF website and also as the 9 November 2011 entry of the blog Religious Freedom. Following is a summary by the author of the report, Dr. Nadja Milanova.
The purpose of the present report is to provide a critical assessment of the work of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) and to identify some shortfalls in the overall EU system of promotion and protection of EU fundamental rights and values. The work on the report has been guided by the premise that the new fundamental rights dimension of the EU policies, ensuing from the legally binding nature of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights as incorporated in the Lisbon Treaty, makes it necessary for the European Union to develop and consolidate a genuine culture of fundamental rights at the level of both EU institutions and EU Member States broadly and when applying and implementing the Union Law.
The importance of a EU fundamental rights culture has been widely acknowledged but it is still in its nascent stages and risks to remain rudimentary, unless a proper institutional architecture is installed to support its development and consolidation. Notwithstanding the existing mechanisms and legal provisions in place, the whole system remains fragmented and reactive. In its resolution of 15 December 2010, the European Parliament calls on the EU institutions and Member States to increase coherence among their various bodies responsible for monitoring and implementation of fundamental rights protection and to reinforce a cross-EU monitoring mechanism, as well as an early warning system, similar to the UN Universal Periodic Review. However, the European Union still lacks a comprehensive internal human rights structure to ensure cross-institutional coordination and to allow each institution to build upon other institutions' reports and institutional expertise acquired in the process of their autonomous processes of conducting compatibility checks and impact assessments of legislative proposals and policies.
On its side, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), which has been in existence since 2007 as a "focused observation and assessment agency on Union policies", falls short of filling the gap of a much-needed early warning mechanism and ex ante examination of breaches or risk of breaches of EU fundamental rights. Most importantly, FRA fails short of fulfilling two important criteria underlying the UN Paris Principles governing the work of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), i.e. a broad mandate and full-fledged independence. Despite these deficiencies, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights still can carve an important role for itself in the overall EU fundamental rights architecture, if properly resourced, mandated and politically supported. In this respect, the objective of this report is to raise critical questions at a period when the Agency is coming to the end of its first five-year Multiannual Framework (MAF) and starts planning for its second five-year cycle of existence. This should be seen as a critical juncture of the institutional learning process of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights. It is therefore an opportune time to assess the Agency's position and role within the EU fundamental rights architecture as well as its added value and ability to mobilise resources and expertise to fulfil its mandate within the context of the prescribed broad-based participatory process of consultations within the EU and its Member States.
Report drafted by Dr. Nadja Milanova
Brussels, 7 November 2011