EU Fundamental Rights Agency joins actors to improve national impact

On 9-10 June I was in Vienna for a meeting (Chatham house rules) on how the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) can best implement its strategic objective to “enhance the Agency’s contribution to processes at the national level”, in order to better strengthen the protection and promotion of fundamental rights within the EU. The meeting came ahead of FRA’s one-off stakeholder meeting to be held in November 2015, which will gather representatives from FRA’s Management Board, Scientific Committee, National Liaison Officers, Ombudsmen and the Fundamental Rights Platform (through its Advisory Panel).

Social Platform has long advocated for decision makers to improve civil dialogue with non-governmental organisations, both at an EU and national level. While the Council recognises the need for a dialogue with social partners, it continues to neglect a civil dialogue (read our messages to the EPSCO council). Although Social Platform now gets invited to informal EPSCO meetings, it was a long and arduous process to get to the point where we firstly were invited and secondly given the opportunity to contribute. Our work with the Equal Treatment Directive since 2008 demonstrates the many difficulties we face in trying to convince each EU Presidency to involve us and let us contribute to the Council working party. Our members’ national members have many more examples to share of similar barriers they face when trying to engage in a dialogue with their national governments.

A meeting that gathers all stakeholders has great potential to overcome misconceptions about one another and build trust. Some good advice given at the meeting was that when we disagree with each other we should – instead of getting defensive – ‘listen louder’ for what connects us instead of what divides us. FRA can play a crucial role by bringing together national stakeholders that otherwise might not know each other, and to enable stakeholder groups to meet each other, such as parliamentarians and governmental officials from different countries.

Several specific fundamental rights topics were mentioned as important to address, such as social rights, migration, under-reporting and equality data collection. Many participants reiterated the need to focus on sharing good practices and expertise in terms of what processes and methods has proven most successful. FRA’s LGBT report and Violence against Women report are two good examples of both impact and outreach.

The issue of incoherence between international players is an additional challenge, highlighting the need to build bridges between the EU, the Council of Europe and the United Nations in order to improve complementarity, benefits and synergies, such as when data and evidence is produced by all three actors. (Read my blog about EU internal and external coherence).

Finally, we also touched upon the methodology of the meeting itself, and the importance of ensuring that all stakeholder groups are equally included and able to contribute, for example as facilitators, speakers and discussants. It would also be good if the format allowed participants to have the choice between a predetermined agenda of informative sessions where good practices can be shared or a spontaneous format based on inquiries, such as the world café or open spaces formats.

As a member of FRA’s Advisory Panel, I will continue to be involved and keep you posted!