The Regulation establishing the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights was today approved in its final form by the Council of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers. Following a political agreement under the Finnish Presidency in December 2006, the final versions of the texts could now be formally adopted in all languages.
Federal Minister of Justice Brigitte Zypries stated, “The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, the successor to the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, will take up its work in Vienna on 1 March 2007. It will become a European centre of competence for fundamental rights, and will continue the previous activities of the Monitoring Centre. The decision to establish a European Fundamental Rights Agency underscores the significance accorded by the EU to respect for European fundamental rights. Its creation follows directly from the Charter of Fundamental Rights. I am very pleased that, following intensive negotiations, we have succeeded in creating a secure basis for the Agency’s work, enabling it to gradually take up its activities.”
The primary task of the Agency is to make expert insights available to the European institutions and Member States in matters relating to fundamental rights. It will gather and analyse information. It will also develop methods and standards to attain improved comparability, objectivity and reliability of data at the European level. Furthermore, the Agency’s work will include in-house scholarly research, either within the scope of its annual work programme or at the request of the European Parliament, the Council or the Commission; it will also prepare expert opinions on certain issues for the institutions and Member States.
In order not to overtax the Agency, Germany has advocated a streamlined Agency whose geographic area of activity is limited to the EU and its applicant countries. This should also be reflected in the impending decisions regarding material resources and staffing.
The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights on the one side, and the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on the other, will complement one another in a way which will avoid duplication of work. Based upon the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the Agency will concentrate on Community law and its implementation, while the Council of Europe and the ECHR will focus on ensuring compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights. Unlike the ECHR, the Agency for Fundamental Rights will not adjudicate specific cases; rather, within the scope of its work programme, it will serve to provide the institutions, Member States, civil society and the general public with academic expertise and background information on specific issues dealing with fundamental rights. A cooperation agreement with the Council of Europe will ensure close cooperation.
The Agency, which will perform its duties on an independent basis, will be headed by a Director and an Executive Board. Each Member State will appoint one independent person to the Management Board, while the EU Commission will appoint two representatives. In order to ensure that activities are coordinated, the Council of Europe will also send one representative each to the Management Board and the Executive Board.
In its work, the Agency will depend in no small part upon support from civil society and the large number of non-governmental organisations. For that reason, the Regulation expressly provides for close cooperation with non-governmental organisations and the institutions of civil society, as well as for the establishment of a cooperation network (“fundamental rights platform”).