EU Fundamental Rights Agency’s survey – What do fundamental rights mean for people in the EU?

In June 2020, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) presented the results of a human rights survey conducted from January to October 2019 in all EU Member States, the United Kingdom and North Macedonia. The survey collected data from 35.000 citizens on their experiences, perceptions and opinions on a range of issues linked to human rights.

According to the survey, most citizens believe in the importance of human rights for creating a fairer society in their country. However, given that citizens who struggle to make ends meet, members of vulnerable groups or young people often believe that human rights are not for them, this research reveals major differences within European society and emphasizes the need for governments to reconnect Europeans to their human rights to ensure that everyone benefits equally from them. Although according to the survey 88% of people in the EU believe that human rights help create fairer societies, its findings point to several important issues that need to be further addressed. For example, 44% of people who struggle financially believe that human rights only benefit those who do not deserve them, such as criminals and terrorists. Financial constraints and lower levels of education diminish people’s confidence in equality and human rights, and governments should increase their efforts to ensure that human rights bring real benefits to all citizens.

Compared to other Member States, Croatia found itself among the countries whose citizens have the most distrust in institutions and protection of human rights with respect to several categories. Most Europeans believe that mainstream parties and politicians do not care about the citizens, and this percentage grows when it comes to citizens with lower income. The highest percentage of citizens sharing this view was found in Croatia, France, North Macedonia, Romania and Slovakia. The EU and Member States need to find new ways to reach out to those who feel left behind, especially young people, in order to involve them in decision-making and consider their needs.

Furthermore, 27% of respondents believe that judges are not able to do their job free from government influence and this perception is most prevalent in North Macedonia, Croatia, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Hungary. With respect to Croatia, 47% of its citizens believe that judges are never or rarely able to perform their work free from government influence (Figure 17). It is to be concluded that governments should improve public confidence in the judiciary by preserving the independence of judges.

Moreover, of particular concern is corruption in the provision of health care services. In Croatia, as well as in Hungary, Slovakia and Latvia, over 60% of citizens say that one has to, at least sometimes, give a gift or do someone some other type of favour to get better treatment in public hospitals. Also, over 50% of people in Slovakia, Czechia and Croatia would at least sometimes consider it acceptable to give a gift to or do a favour for a public official or civil servant to have them react more quickly to an urgent request, while this percentage is 20% or less in Sweden, Malta, Finland and Portugal (Figure 24).

Only 23% of Croatian citizens are of the opinion that all citizens enjoy the same basic human rights, while the EU average is 52% (Figure 2). Among the EU Member States, the perception that NGOs and charities are never or only rarely able to do their work free from government influence is the most widespread in Hungary, Croatia, Slovakia, Romania and Latvia, where one in four people or more think that this is the case (Figure 15). In addition, belonging to the party that is in power is seen to improve the chances of being hired or promoted by more than three in four people in Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Latvia, Malta, North Macedonia and Poland (Figure 19).

In conclusion, the results of the survey prove the existence of strong support for human rights among EU citizens, but it is not equally represented in all segments of the society. People who struggle to make ends meet, unemployed or less educated people belong to the category of citizens who sometimes suspect equal enjoyment of human rights by everyone and have a perception that there are citizens who benefit unfairly from the protection of their human rights.

In order to ensure continued support for human rights, it is necessary to inform and educate citizens about the importance of human rights in relation to their reality and everyday life. At the same time, the results highlight the need to ensure transparency and reliability of public services so that citizens can see that services are provided in a fair and non-discriminatory manner, i.e. without preferential treatment due to wealth or political connections. Regarding participation in democratic processes, the research shows that there is a need to further encourage participation of young people by informing them about the importance of participation of all citizens in traditional democratic processes in parallel with other ways of participation, such as involvement in work of civil society organizations.