Meeting the new Director of the Fundamental Rights Agency


From the right: Jana Hainsworth (President Social Platform), Michael O’Flaherty (Director FRA), Waltraud Heller and Dennis van der Veur (FRA).

Today we had the pleasure to meet for the first time with Michael O’Flaherty, the new Director of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), together with the Human Rights and Democracy Network (HRDN) and the European Platform on Asylum and Migration (EPAM).

FRA has to maintain close relations with civil society to achieve its goals, stressed Mr O’Flaherty; this network of friends and stakeholders increases FRA’s ability to impact on and improve individual lives. In consultation with its Advisory Panel, of which I am a member, FRA is currently reviewing its Fundamental Rights Platform – its network of over 400 civil society organisations – to make its structures more inclusive to civil society. In June FRA will organise a Fundamental Rights Forum, inspired by the Economic Forum in Davos, inviting 400 different stakeholders, including civil society.

Mr O’Flaherty responded positively and with interest to Social Platform’s priorities.

FRA supports the Equal Treatment Directive – a piece of legislation promoting non-discrimination, approved by the European Parliament but blocked by the 28 EU Member States – and appreciates our interest in mainstreaming anti-discrimination into other EU laws and EU funding. FRA is also broadening its reach by connecting with departments of the European Commission and Working Parties of the Council that it hasn’t worked with in the past. Mr O’Flaherty concurred that victims’ support and the provision of humanitarian assistance to all migrants and refugees is a priority, and he agreed that we need to have a conversation about what the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) mean for Europe. The SDGs will be part of the Fundamental Right Forum. Mr O’Flaherty finds the European pillar of social rights interesting as a way to strengthen the social rights of the European Charter.

The EU and its Member States will become more compliant with human rights obligation if more rights-holders know about their rights, said Mr O’Flaherty. We therefore need to further develop tools to put our words into action to really bring difference to the lives of rights-holders. We have seen what a game changer the UNCRPD is, the same should count for the Fundamental Rights Charter, and the European Court of Human Rights when the EU access to it.

Mr O’Flaherty recently came back from visiting countries that have been largely impacted by the refugee crisis, such as Lesbos and Lampedusa, where he met with decision-makers to discuss where FRA can have the greatest impact. FRA is collecting data on the current migration situation in nine Member States on a monthly basis.

The participants raised some of their concerns with the new Director, such as how to come to term with the resistance by the EU to support an EU Internal Human Rights Strategy; how to tackle the growing polarisations in European societies and the bigger picture of the democratic and social crisis, which the ‘migration crisis’ is a part of; the consequences of minority groups being left out of the fast tracking of processing refugees; the need to address the shrinking space for civil society in Europe; and the incoherence between the work for rights of older people in the EU and within the UN. Although time didn’t allow for Mr O’Flaherty to answer all of participants’ questions he committed to looking into these issues further, and we look forward to our ongoing dialogue.

Read more about our work on human rights here, as well as our campaign on the criminalisation of solidarity with migrants and refugees.

Read about FRA’s latest reports here.