The report highlights that while 2017 was a year of challenges for fundamental rights, the structures and tools in place to make sure the rights of the Charter are a reality have been functioning. Further support to the respect and promotion of fundamental rights, the rule of law and democracy, including the support for a free and vibrant civil society, will remain central in 2018.
First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said: "This year we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights. This is a good opportunity to recall that fundamental rights, democracy and the rule of law are the three pillars that are the bedrock of the European Union. Our Charter of fundamental rights is not optional. The EU institutions are bound by it and so are the MS when implementing EU law. The Court of Justice of the EU and the national courts play an important role to uphold fundamental rights and the rule of law across the Union."
Věra Jourová, EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality added: “We saw some encouraging developments in 2017, for instance when it comes to tackling racism and other illegal hate speech online through our code of conduct with social media platforms. Also the European Pillar of Social Rights was an important step towards more equality, showing that Europe is much more than a market. It is a Union of values that protects. But we have faced also important challenges in 2017, with the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and the work of civil society organisations under threat in parts of our Union. We will continue to work relentlessly to uphold fundamental rights, the rule of law and our democratic values in our Union.”
Some of the key initiatives promoting fundamental rights in 2017 include:
- Further support democracy and civil society - The report underlines the need for a renewed support to democracy. The role of civil society and current challenges were put to the fore in 2017. Support to civil society is included prominently in the multiannual financial framework and a new Justice, Rights and Values Fund was adopted on 30 May this year.
- Boosting social rights- The report shows some very encouraging strides in the areas of social rights, with the adoption of the European Pillar of Social rights and its follow-up actions. It adopted initiatives to ensure better work-life balance opportunities for people with caring responsibilities. The Commission has proposed to ensure more predictable and transparent working conditions, in particular for workers in non-standard forms of employment such as those with zero-hours or on-demand contracts.
- Combating discrimination against women. The EU's signing of the Istanbul convention on preventing and combating violence against women is a significant step. It will now be important to ensure swift ratification by the EU. The Commission also presented an action plan to combat the gender pay gap.
- Protecting children in migration. The Communication on the protection of the children in migration presented urgent actions to be implemented at the EU and national level, which were followed by Council conclusions in June 2017. The Commission established a European Network on Guardianship to facilitate cooperation between national authorities.
- Tackling discrimination and combatting racism, both offline and online -The Commission strengthened its cooperation with IT companies, national authorities and civil society organisations to ensure that online illegal hate speech is quickly identified and taken down, and assisted Member States in their efforts to step-up enforcement of EU law on hate crime, access to justice, protection and support for victims of hate crime.
- Improving access to justice and effective remedies - Following its Communication "Better Results Through Better Application", the Commission assisted Member States in their efforts to step-up enforcement of EU law for the benefit of individuals and businesses. In the context of the European Semester, the Commission addressed country-specific recommendations to help Member States improve their justice systems.
Annual Colloquium on Fundamental Rights
The report focuses on the 2017 Annual Colloquium on Fundamental Rights, which was devoted to "women's rights under attack". The Commission committed to a number of actions ranging from putting women's rights and gender equality on the agenda at the highest political level to funding grassroots projects.
The 2018 Annual Colloquium on Fundamental Rights will be devoted to "Democracy in the EU" and will take place on 26-27 November. Participants will work together to identify ways to foster free and open democratic participation in an era of growing low turnout in elections, populism, digitalisation and threats to civil society. It will be an opportunity to reaffirm one of the EU's key values in the run-up to the European elections.
With the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty on 1 December 2009, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union became legally binding. The provisions of the Charter are primarily addressed to the EU institutions and then to the national authorities only when they are implementing EU law. The Commission adopted a Strategy on the effective implementation of the Charter in which it committed to prepare annual reports covering the full range of Charter provisions. This year's report is the 7th report of its kind.
The Commission is working with the relevant authorities at national, local and EU level to better inform people about their fundamental rights and where to find help if their rights have been infringed. The Commission provides practical information on these rights via the European E-justice Portal and has set up a dialogue on handling fundamental rights complaints with ombudsmen, equality bodies and human rights institutions.
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