Today, the EU reaffirms its firm commitment to the respect for fundamental rights - human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.
These rights and values are the very foundations of our common project and they constitute the cornerstone of our societies and a hallmark of the European Union.
Indeed, the 10th anniversary of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights becoming legally binding reminds us that it's more important than ever to promote, strengthen and defend the EU’s rights and values as part of open, democratic and inclusive societies.
I welcome today's Council conclusions, which recalled the importance of removing and refraining from any unnecessary, unlawful or arbitrary restrictions on the civil society space, as civil society organisations undoubtedly play a vital role in raising awareness and supporting efforts by individuals to exercise and defend their rights.
Over the past years, the EESC has repeatedly called on the Commission to strengthen the culture of fundamental rights at EU level, especially by ensuring that the legislative process complies with the Charter and that they are observed in Member States, involving civil society as much as possible. We also strongly supported the adoption of an ambitious strategy on communication, education and public awareness of fundamental rights and democracy.
The EESC has a special role to play and a duty to act when the activities of its own members and civil society at large are at risk within the EU. Last year, we set up a transversal Group on Fundamental Rights and the Rule of Law (FFRL), which seeks to provide a forum for European CSOs to share their assessment on the state of fundamental rights, democracy and rule of law in the Member States, paying also attention to the economic and social rights.
We took good note of President-elect von der Leyen's primary objective to defend our common values and uphold the rule of law, not least by setting up a prominent portfolio for Ms Věra Jourová, Vice President for values and transparency, who will be directly responsible for monitoring the application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
The EESC will keep its commitment to promoting and protecting fundamental rights, ensuring that the Charter is used to its full potential and hopes to increase cooperation with the Commission and member states in the years to come.