Comments on the establishment of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (February 2007)
EWLA welcomes the adoption of the Council Regulation establishing an EU Agency for Fundamental Rights by the Council of Ministers of Justice and Home Affairs, on 15 February 2007. The Regulation is expected to be published in the OJ of the EU on 22 February 2007. It shall enter into force on the day following its publication. The Agency shall be operational by 1 March 2007. On this occasion, the German Minister of Justice, Brigitte ZYPRIES, declared: "The decision to create a European Agency for Fundamental Rights underlines the importance that the Union attaches to the respect of European fundamental rights. The establishment of this Agency constitutes a logic consequence of the Charter of Fundamental Rights".
On 25 April 2006, EWLA issued its First Comments regarding the establishment of the Agency. It welcomed the decision to establish this Agency and stressed the necessity for it to be independent from EU institutions, Member States and economic and political interests and considerations, and to deal with the whole acquis in fundamental rights.
The Regulation contains several guarantees of the independence of the Agency, such as the requirement for the members and alternate members of its Management Board to be independent experts; the requirement for the members of its Scientific Committee (eleven highly qualified experts in fundamental rights) and the Director of the Agency to be appointed following open calls for candidacies and transparent methods of assessment; guarantees of personal and functional independence of the members of the Board and the Scientific Committee during their five year, non renewable, term of office; transparency of the Agency's work. The Management Board of the Agency shall comprise one member and alternate member appointed by each Member State, one independent expert appointed by the Council of Europe and two representatives of the Commission. A balanced participation of women and men in the Agency's organs and staff is required.
The objective of the Agency shall be to provide the institutions bodies, offices and agencies of the EC and the Member States with assistance and expertise relating to fundamental rights. Candidate countries may participate in the Agency as observers and the Agency shall deal with fundamental rights issues in these countries. The Agency shall closely cooperate with the Council of Europe and international organisations and shall conduct a structured dialogue with civil society through a Fundamental Rights Platform.
The Agency shall act within the scope of EC law; it shall cover gender equality, as a horizontal requirement. Regarding areas of the 3rd pillar (police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters), EU institutions and Member States may request, on a voluntary basis, the Agency's expertise as from its establishment. The Council agreed to re-examine, before 31.12.2009, the Agency's remit with a view to extending it to these areas and invited the Commission to submit a proposal to this effect.
Sophia Spiliotopoulos, past vice-president of EWLA, member of the board of EWLA, participated, as an expert designated by the Greek National Commission for Human Rights, in the ad hoc COREPER group that elaborated, for one year and a half, the above Regulation.
EWLA calls on
- Member States to appoint independent experts as members and alternate members of the Agency's Board and to comply with the requirement of balanced participation of women and men;
- Member States and EU institutions to avail themselves immediately of the possibility to consult the Agency in matters of the 3rd pillar;
- The Commission to present a strong proposal for the extension of the Agency's remit to the 3rd pillar and the Council to agree to such an extension the soonest possible.