European Human Rights Agency
The credibility of the EU commitment to human rights protection in the world depends to a large extent on the quality of human rights protection within Europe. The commitment to human rights is underscored by the establishment of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, which started work in Vienna on 1 March 2007 and which is designed to ensure that all EU legislation and the resulting provisions within the individual Member States are in line with the human rights and basic freedoms guaranteed in Europe.
Austria had been calling for the creation of a European human rights agency to strengthen the protection of fundamental rights within the EU since 1998. In December 2003 the European Council finally decided to transform the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) into the EU Fundamental Rights Agency.
Austria has always called for a strong agency with a broad mandate with competence in police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters (third pillar) and wide geographical competence. During the Austrian EU Presidency Austria fostered these aims and endeavoured to bring about rapid progress in the negotiations. On 15 February 2007 the Regulation for the establishment and mandate of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) with offices in Vienna was adopted.
The main task of the Agency is to act as a competency centre for fundamental rights questions for the European Parliament, the Commission, the Council and the EU Member States in the implementation of Community law. To this end it collects and analyses data on fundamental rights issues and on this basis provides EU institutions and Member States with expertise by means of thematic reports and comments on specific legal or political measures. It works in close collaboration with civil society organisations and international organisations such as the Council of Europe. As it is a permanent concern of the European Union to promote human rights protection not only within Europe but also outside its borders, the Fundamental Rights Agency can also deal with issues in neighbouring states (EU applicant countries, Western Balkans).
The FRA will be responsible for the entire spectrum of fundamental and human rights within the field of Community law (first pillar), as set forth, for example in the European Convention on Human Rights, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the shared constitutional traditions of the EU Member States. The Agency’s focuses will be determined in the five-year Multiannual Framework adopted by the Council. One of its main priorities will remain the fight against racism and xenophobia. The EU has agreed that EU institutions and Member States will also be able avail themselves of FRA expertise in questions of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters (third pillar). By the end of 2009 at the latest a decision will be made on formally extending the FRA’s mandate to the third pillar (by Council decision).
The Agency is designed to promote the quality and coherence of fundamental rights protection in such a way that improvements are achieved as rapidly and concretely as possible for the people in Europe. It will therefore insist on the protection of the fundamental rights of all people living in Europe by the EU institutions and Member States and will also provide information to raise public awareness of fundamental and human rights. It will not, however, deal with individual complaints about human rights violations by citizens, which is the task of the European Court of Human Rights and other bodies.