04 Jun 2024

Taking the next step: the need for a European Union Recommendation on NHRIs

With its new legislature on the horizon, ENNHRI proposes that the next European Commission adopts a dedicated Recommendation on National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs). This would reinforce the invaluable role of NHRIs in advancing the European Union’s (EU) common values of fundamental rights, democracy and rule of law. It would also clarify what EU Member States need to do to ensure a strong and independent NHRI is in place.

Embracing the momentum for stronger NHRIs across the EU

During the current EU legislature, consensus has grown at the highest political level that each Member State should have a strong and independent NHRI. In line with this, the EU has increasingly recognised NHRIs as key actors for protecting and advancing fundamental rights, democracy and the rule of law. This follows regular submissions by and the active engagement of ENNHRI and its members with the EU. NHRIs have contributed reliable domestic and cross-regional information to EU procedures and consultations, including the annual EU Rule of Law Mechanism and Charter report. Beyond this, they have fed into ad hoc EU consultations on relevant policy and legislation on the rule of law, democracy, and fundamental rights. This includes the EU Directive on Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation and EU Defence of Democracy Package.

To fulfil their essential role, NHRIs must be independent and strong. Yet, NHRIs within the EU have continued to experience undue challenges and threats. The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) confirmed this negative trend. It noted in 2020 that 14 NHRIs in the EU suffered threats and harassment within a one-year period. ENNHRI research paints a similarly mixed picture: its 2023 study revealed common challenges facing NHRIs across Europe. They include difficulties in ensuring independent and transparent selection and appointment processes for NHRI leadership; inadequate funds for NHRIs to carry out their mandates; and the frequent disregarding of NHRIs’ findings, recommendations and queries.

In the context of enduring rule of law and fundamental rights challenges and increasing EU policies and legislation to address these, it is crucial that the European Commission steps up its support for independent and effective NHRIs in its next legislature.

Envisaged impact of a European Commission Recommendation on NHRIs

A European Commission Recommendation on NHRIs would be a game changer. In the long term, it would ensure having a strong and independent NHRI in each EU Member State. These institutions could fulfil their mandates fully and thus advance implementation of the EU acquis on the rule of law, democracy, and fundamental rights. Accordingly, the Commission could consistently engage with NHRIs as domestic, independent counterparts for promoting and protecting the full spectrum of EU values. In turn, ENNHRI would serve as the EU’s regional counterpart with a remit covering all EU Member States.

In the shorter term, such a Recommendation would reinforce the meaningful engagement between the Commission and NHRIs and ENNHRI. Deepening this cooperation would further advance the rule of law, democracy, and fundamental rights within EU Member States and across the EU, including in the context of new EU legislation. A Recommendation would also help prevent threats to and boost the promotion of NHRIs in the EU. It would do the latter by raising awareness among EU Member States of NHRIs’ mandates and roles – including how they implement the EU acquis – and how state authorities can facilitate this.

Last but not least, the Recommendation would provide clear EU benchmarks for dealing with  threats when they arise. This would enable quicker and stronger reactions from the European Commission and other relevant actors. Such support would reflect the values set out in Article 2 of the Treaty of the EU: the promotion and protection of the rule of law, democracy, and fundamental rights.

Further information

Read ENNHRI’s full proposal for an EU Recommendation on NHRIs.

Read the Concluding Statement of the outcome conference for the project “Enhancing the implementation of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights: Strong and effective NHRIs in the EU”.  This was based on the findings and experiences of a collaborative project – funded by EEA and Norway Grants – that involved FRA as the lead partner, as well as seven NHRIs and ENNHRI.

Explore ENNHRI’s recent submission to the EU’s Rule of Law Mechanism where the Recommendation is referenced.