In Vienna for a “reality check”

I spent 13-14 April in Vienna at the Advisory Panel Meeting of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA). I left the meeting with two words on my mind – reality check.

We – EU institutions and European non-governmental organisations (NGOs) – need a reality check about what is really happening on the ground, and how ordinary people’s human rights are violated. At the same time, grassroot NGOs need to learn how they can make the best use of FRA’s research to influence their local and national decision-makers, and also understand how important it is that they share their experience with policy-makers in Brussels.

In conjunction with the meeting we had the chance to see Alexander Nanau’s documentary “Toto and his Sisters” showing the grim reality of Roma children living in a ghetto in Bucharest. The director shared his long engagement in supporting these children and parents. Particularly interesting were his many examples of how unsuitable standardised measures are at helping the local Roma community; for example, although the EU funds vocational training, the standardised need for a parent’s signature for a child to participate in traning sessions stops people in need from accessing this service. As the documentary showed, the young girl who wanted to become a chef was not able to do so because her mother was in prison and she did not know her father, and therefore she could not obtain a signature from either. Alexander Nanau invited the audience to visit the reality of these poor neighborhoods in Bucharest, to understand that solutions must be tailored to the conditions of people – not the other way around.

One of the issues the Advisory Panel discussed was capacity building, and after long talks we agreed that such training needs to be a mutual learning experience for all participants in order to ensure a “reality check” for both NGOs and policy-makers at national and EU levels. Particular focus will be on NGOs operating in parts of Europe where civil society is the least supported politically and in terms of funding. FRA has carried out a survey among NGOs who are a part of its Fundamental Rights Platform to learn more about who they are; many have not yet answered so further information gathering will be needed to ensure meaningful and targeted activities.

Another topic on our agenda was how best to ensure the dissemination of FRA’s reports. FRA is working on two pilot schemes to improve their outreach: their upcoming report on the rights of the child and on severe labour exploitation of migrant workers in the EU. Some good practices to enhance national impact have already been identified in other projects: in the Netherlands, NGOs are translating into Dutch a summary of the findings from the Violence against Women report, and ILGA-Europe successfully mobilised their national members to tailor press releases on the same day as the launch of the LGBT report.

Instead of the traditional FRP meeting setting, several smaller thematic meetings will be held with FRP participant organisations. The next full FRP meeting will take place in the week of 20 June 2016.