Erminia Mazzoni: Statement - Opening Session - Fundamental Rights Seminar 6 October 2011, 9am Room PHS 3C50
I should like to welcome you all, and to welcome our distinguished guest speakers. This seminar has been organised by the European Commission and the European Parliament, on the initiative of Vivianne Reding, Vice-President of the Commission, to whom I should like to extend my warmest thanks. The Commission and Parliament, each in its own capacity, are called upon daily to respond to the many different concerns of European citizens and residents in relation to the application of Community legislation. Like the European Commission, under the formal complaints procedure, Parliament, through its Committee on Petitions and in accordance with Article 227 of the EU Treaty and Article 44 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, responds to applications made under the petitions procedure by EU citizens and residents on matters which come within the Unionâ€™s fields of activity. The Committee on Petitions acts as an intermediary between citizens and institutions, promoting democratic participation and ensuring the transparency of procedures. Each petition that is declared admissible is processed by the committeeâ€™s secretariat and then considered at public meetings in the presence of the interested parties. Investigations are conducted into the matter raised in the petition. This involves requesting information from other European institutions and from national and local authorities and, in some cases, investigating in situ. The aim is, wherever possible, to find a solution to the problems brought before the committee, by exploring avenues that are not open to individual citizens, or otherwise to determine where responsibility for the issue lies, so that it may be brought up with the correct institution. Todayâ€™s seminar is born of the need to remove all ambiguity from what is a very delicate area, namely the protection of fundamental rights. A large number of petitions regarding alleged violations of fundamental rights are submitted to the European institutions, requesting their intervention. Since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, into which the Charter of Fundamental Rights was incorporated, the number of requests for protection has LT\880232EN.doc
PE473.924 United in diversity
increased and the scope of activities in this area has broadened. Thousands of such petitions have been dealt with so far. Fifty-six are currently under investigation. However, a great deal of uncertainty still remains in this area. While in the past the Charter could be used purely as a point of reference, it has now become a formal part of the Treaty. The Charter needs to be analysed in the light of this new role, and institutional responsibilities defined at every level. The fundamental principles laid down by the Charter include respect for human dignity, physical integrity, family and private life, freedom of thought, conscience, expression and information, the right to property and to asylum, equality before the law and between men and women, the safeguarding of diversity, justice, and freedom of movement and residence. In view of the binding nature of these principles it needs to be clearly established how they are to be enforced. We need to determine who will decide upon the correct application and interpretation of each principle, and how this will be done. It is natural for more and more citizens to think that the Charterâ€™s provisions give rise to a responsibility on the part of the EU, and for them to expect adherence to these provisions to be ensured. Unfortunately we are currently on shaky ground and we need clear benchmarks in order to continue providing our citizens with full and proper responses. The obvious starting point is Article 51 of the Charter, which states that the provisions of the Charter must be taken into account in the implementation of Union law. This is not easy to interpret. The next Article, Article 52, states that the scope shall be the same as that laid down by the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, but it then adds that there is nothing preventing the Union from providing more extensive protection. This makes interpretation still more difficult. In practice, the Committee on Petitions works closely with the European Commission, to which we address requests for clarifications and opinions. In many cases, the Commission declares itself not competent, for example for examining petitions relating to the right to property, the freedom of the media, the protection of children, gender issues or racial discrimination. Within the Committee on Petitions, the policy to date has been to declare petitions on such subjects admissible, so as not to ignore situations affecting citizensâ€™ rights, PE<NoPE>473.924</NoPE><Version></Version> <PathFdR>LT\880232EN.doc</PathFdR>
which we are duty-bound to protect. However, while on the one hand this approach allows individual cases to be heard, on the other it can give rise to unfulfillable expectations and to conflicts of competence. We must prevent this from happening. It is therefore essential that we give careful consideration to these delicate issues, so that an unequivocal interpretation of the Charter can be agreed. I am sure that at the end of todayâ€™s seminar we will all have gained some useful insight into how best to fulfil our duties and to demonstrate that, in everything we do, we put the citizensâ€™ interests first.