President Franco Frattini has received at SIOI the director of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), Michael O’Flaherty and the Head of the European Commission representation to Italy, Beatrice Covassi. The meeting has been scheduled to discuss and take stock with the European Ambassadors to Italy on the situation of fundamental rights in Europe.
On March 1st 2007, during his mandate as Vice president of the European Union and Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security, Franco Frattini inaugurated the Agency in Vienna. Here follow we post the speech that he pronounced at that time.
Fundamental Rights: Fundamental to Europe‘s identity
Speech by Franco Frattini, EU Commission Vice President
The Fundamental Rights Agency, which we inaugurate today, is much more than just a successor to the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia. It is the result of long and complex negotiations – now positively concluded – involving three European institutions, and which does not overlap in functions or tasks with the essential role of the Council of Europe, but on the contrary: complements it.
We must be aware of the Agency‘s new, daunting, challenging but necessary task: It must be a fresh and vital instrument which acknowledges today‘s reality of a Europe which has gone through important changes.
Let us be clear: A Europe that only monitored the most serious disease of racism and xenophobia – the two shames that made the EUMC necessary in the aftermath of the Holocaust when Europe‘s memories and sense of shame was still raw– would, in today‘s world, be doing only half the work needed to promote and protect fundamental rights.
Of course, we must continue to tackle these diseases. But there are also new challenges.
e Agency will be finished before it has started if it does not have at its heart the new big issue for Europe: After the crisis of different regimes and the conflict between identity and mass immigration, Europe must look ahead to achieve integration for the future.
The Agency must actively promote a culture of rights which reflects today‘s European reality. Europe had pluralism and multiculturalism as key elements of its identity until the abrupt interruption of terrorism. Indeed this identity was very disjointed and unclear. Perhaps nothing more than a frame in which different cultures co-existed. It did not offer a mechanism for different sections or newcomers to integrate in a coherent way. But now integration must be based on respect for fundamental rights, indeed they are called fundamental as they apply to each and every one of us, regardless of religion, gender or nationality. e old identity we offered was not like that – it came from the head not from the heart. We must look for a new identity, one based on fundamental rights.
We must therefore rethink and promote a culture of rights that can compensate for the errors of sustaining an incorrect multicultural model which in today‘s Europe has failed. A model based solely on recognising religious and cultural groups is limited in its ability to recognise individual rights. Treating as one entity and giving priority to groups‘ values and rights can sometimes be
at the expense of individuals within that group. For instance, under the same law, an Islamic girl could be treated differently to a Jewish or Christian girl according to her parent‘s tradition.
A Europe that forsakes the defence and promotion of individuals ‘fundamental rights would be a Europe without head or heart. I refer to some very concrete, daily issues: the freedom of expression and criticism, equality between men and women, right of non discrimination. A Europe that refuses to embrace its values, the values of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, is a Europe that is condemned to lose as it will always be weaker than those ‚who are more secure than us in terms of identity’.
And we cannot say that this risk does not exist. ere are those who will exploit our differences. Therefore, respecting different cultural identities is vital, but respect for fundamental individual rights must prevail.
Therefore, the task of the agency goes beyond the important but limited task of the EUMC to protect rights. It has also a positive task to promote fundamental rights. It has to be a more active and important part of a Europe in which the culture of rights should be disseminated in the conscience of free men and women with the new belief in integration.
Europe has changed, and is changing. It should be able to defend and promote fundamental rights. is is the new task and service of the Agency which goes hand in hand with the search across Europe for our identity. e promotion of fundamental rights could be our identity. As yet not clearly defined, but clearly based on an integrated Europe which includes solidarity, brilliance and positive energy.