EU starts Fundamental Rights Agency

Officials hopeful on anti-racism center replacement; European Jews skeptical.

eu 88 (photo credit: )
eu 88
(photo credit: )
After nine years of collecting data on acts of hate against minorities in Europe - including anti-Semitism - the European Union's Vienna-based Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia ceased operations on Thursday, with its responsibilities being taken over by a newly created Fundamental Rights Agency. EU officials told The Jerusalem Post they were hopeful the new agency launched Thursday would improve on the work done by the Monitoring Centre. Some European Jews and NGOs were more skeptical. "People are worried," said Gideon Van Emden, who is a policy officer at CEJI - A Jewish Contribution to an Inclusive Europe - in Brussels. The nonprofit organization runs anti-racism and pro-diversity educational programs. There is some confusion as to how it will all work, "and that is not a positive thing," Van Emden said. It's feared that some of the work performed by the Monitoring Centre, including compiling statistics on anti-Semitism, will fall between the cracks in an agency with a broader scope, said Shimon Samuels, the director for international relations at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Paris. Both men said they had not always been happy with the Monitoring Centre's work. The center made headlines in 2003 when it shelved a report that concluded that many violent anti-Semitic acts were committed by radical Muslims. Since then, it has issued numerous reports on racism against minority groups, including Jews. Its last report on anti-Semitism was published in December. EU officials said the closure of the Monitoring Centre did not reflect on its performance but instead represented a shift in focus on racism and human rights in Europe. Speaking with the Post while on a visit to Israel, European Commissioner for External Relations and Neighborhood Policy Benita Ferrero-Waldner said she trusted the new agency would monitor acts of racism and xenophobia in a way that improved on the good work that had been done by the Monitoring Centre. "I think it is a great chance to do even more then what has been done," Ferrero-Waldner said. The difference is that the Fundamental Rights Agency has expanded its scope to include basic rights, building civil society and raising public awareness on these issues, she said. "It has a positive approach to avoiding abuses and that is very, very good. I am very happy about that." Friso Roscam Abbing, a spokesman for EU Commission Vice President Franco Frattini, said that given the EU's expansion from 15 member states to 27, it was important to do more on the issue of fundamental rights then just documenting racism. There should be something positive that binds all members of the union, Roscam Abbing said. "We feel that these are the fundamental rights of the individual as they apply to each and every one of us," he said. According to the Fundamental Rights Agency's charter, it will also assist community institutions and member states in implementing supportive legislation or in formulating courses of action regarding fundamental rights. There will be some structural changes involved in the reorganization, Roscam Abbing said. A new director and board will be selected, he said. The number of staff members will be expanded from 37 to 46. It will remain in Vienna but is slated to move to new quarters, he added. He also said the EU is drafting new legislation to combat racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism that includes sanctions for offenders. Ferrero-Waldner said that under the European Neighborhood Policy, Israel and the EU work on ways to combat anti-Semitism. A joint seminar on anti-Semitism was held in Brussels in December and there has been an exchange of "best practices" on anti-Semitism as it relates to education, legislation and the media, including the Internet, she said.