Michael O'Flaherty: "Fundamental rights are always under threat"
The protection of fundamental rights is one of the core values of the EU. However, it faces constant challenges, from concerns about data protection to possible failures to respect human dignity in the context of migration. On Monday 25 January, Director of the EU's fundamental rights agency Michael O'Flaherty presents to the LIBE committee a report on mass surveillance and citizen's privacy. We asked him to talk to us about the general situation of fundamental rights in the EU.
What is the role of the fundamental rights agency? How can it help European citizens?
The fundamental rights agency's job is to provide advice and support so that the policy-makers and the decision-makers can adopt policies and decisions that are compliant with Europe's fundamental rights commitments. We provide advice on what individuals think about their rights and entitlements as well as legal advice and awareness-raising and capacity-building programmes for the European institutions and in the Member states.
We are very preoccupied with issues of impact: it is important that what we do makes a difference for the individual on the street. That's why for example I just come back from 10 days visiting the refugee hotspots.
There is currently much debate on fundamental rights, with security measures being implemented to fight terrorism but also regarding recent developments in some Member states. Do you think that fundamental rights are threatened in Europe?
Fundamental rights are always under threat. The greater the security risks, the more the temptation tocurtail rights, not recognising that a strong infrastructure of rights is one side of a coin of a strong and healthy society. That doesn't mean that all human rights must be fully guaranteed without any exceptions or limitations at all times: the challenge for states is to make sure that the restrictions respect principles of necessity and proportionality.
Where we help on matters like this, it is through the development of expert advice, such as the recent report on the relationship of fundamental rights and surveillance.
How is your agency helping with the migration crisis?
We are working very closely with EU agencies that are on the frontline, like Frontex. We support them in training their officials and in developing methodologies and protocols around very sensitive matters such as the fingerprinting of asylum-seekers. We are reporting publically on a monthly basis on the actual situation in 9 Member states that are most deeply affected by the crisis. We are also drawing attention to the impact of the crisis for the fundamental rights of people living in societies and communities such as on Greek islands that have been affected by what we have seen over the last couple of years.