European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI)

 

EUROPEAN CONFERENCE AGAINST RACISM

Ms Kirsty Hughes, on behalf of Ms Anna Diamantopoulou, Commissioner for employment and social affairs, European Commission

Introduction

This conference falls at an important moment in the fight against racism. It is more than fifty years since the most horrific racist atrocities in Europe’s history finally came to an end. In the intervening time, we have made some big strides forwards. But in recent years we have also seen large-scale and systematic ethnic violence on the scale seen in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo. And in the EU itself, hardly a day goes by without report of a serious racist crime in the EU. We have seen murders and arson and beatings in many member States and, this summer, even bombings. These racist acts represent clear violations of human dignity, human rights and fundamental freedoms, on which the European Union is founded.

Many governments are acting quickly. New legislation is being introduced in the UK, France, Germany and elsewhere. Practical initiatives are being developed to halt the rise of extremist and racist organisations. I welcome all these actions but much more is needed. Political leaders should stand up and make clear that society will not tolerate racism, xenophobia, antisemitism and other forms of discrimination and that it will take effective measures to root it out.

Cooperation on information and action

International co-operation in this fight is essential. Not just because it confirms us in our belief that we are not alone, that we are all working for a just cause. But because we can learn from each other's experience and strengthen our own efforts.

That was why the Community set up the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia in 1997. It reports on levels of racism across the Union and highlights good practices to combat it. It does so through research, through regular Round Table meetings and through the RAXEN, its new European information network. It helps us to identify the victims of racism and the barriers they face to successful integration, and to measure the success of the various policies and practices that are deployed to help them.

Good information and a proper understanding of the problem are essential for effective action. We need it to be sure that the policies and practices we introduce are the most appropriate and properly targeted. The Centre’s work should be of great value as we push ahead with practical action.

Directive on racial discrimination

Progress in some areas has been remarkably fast, highlighting the EU institutions’ determination to act and the strong political consensus on this issue amongst the national governments.

For instance, the Commission proposal for legislation to combat racial discrimination was adopted in just seven months - a record for the adoption of Community law, even though the decision required unanimity among all the member States.

The scope of member States’ laws - and in particular their enforceability - vary greatly. By laying down common standards of protection against discrimination, the directive will reinforce the Union's fundamental values of liberty, democracy and the rule of law. It prohibits racial discrimination in the areas of employment, education, social security, healthcare, access to goods and services and housing, and ensures that victims of discrimination will have effective rights of redress.

The directive also requires member States to designate a body for the promotion of equal treatment which will provide independent assistance to victims of discrimination in pursuing complaints. As ECRI and the UN have already pointed out, this is an important addition to the range of practical measures which can be used to fight racism.

Judicial and police cooperation

Ensuring common standards of protection across Europe was also the chief objective of the Council’s Joint Action on Police and Judicial Co-operation in 1996. This aimed to strengthen co-operation between member States and prevent perpetrators of racist violence from exploiting differences in legislation within the Union.

A report on implementation of the Joint Action is due for the end of the year. The Commission will use its findings to assess the need for other such measures covering, for example, the use of the internet for racist crime.

Changes in the law are of little real value to the people they are supposed to protect unless they are effectively implemented. That means the police and judiciary must be aware of and sensitive to race issues, they must treat racially motivated crime with the seriousness it deserves, and must aim to eradicate racism from their own ranks. Through the Grotius and OISIN programmes, the Commission funds training and exchange programmes to help law-enforcement authorities achieve these objectives.

Action programme

But the law can never provide a total solution to racism, even when it is well designed and properly implemented. It is powerless to remove an atmosphere of hostility, or tackle some of the more subtle forms of discrimination. Yet there is no doubt that these can do enormous cumulative damage to an individual’s life chances. Moreover, legal redress does not undo the initial wrong. And obtaining it can be a difficult, costly and lengthy process.

So, we need preventive measures too, designed to attack the underlying prejudices that motivate racist and xenophobic behaviour.

As part of our package of measures to combat discrimination, the Commission has proposed a six-year programme of action, with three objectives: to study discrimination and the effectiveness of methods used to combat it; to support co-operation between governments, NGOs, local and regional authorities, research institutes and social partners; and to disseminate the results of the programme to key people beyond the organisations directly involved in the programme.

Like the directive, the programme requires unanimity in the Council, but I hope the Council will find that unanimity when it meets next week. The Union will then be armed with a range of both legislative and practical measures to fight racism and other forms of discrimination.

Mainstreaming

But we must also ensure that other policies play their part in fighting racism. The Commission is working to incorporate anti-racist approaches into all relevant Community policies.

The effects are already visible in our policies on education, training, research and employment. The fifth research framework programme includes a study of xenophobia, racism and migration in Europe, and of their impact on economic development, social integration and social protection. Funding for education and awareness campaigns is available through the Socrates, Leonardo da Vinci and Youth Programmes.

Our policies also take account of the relationship between racism and gender discrimination: racial discrimination often affects women and men in different ways.

And of course, the EU’s employment guidelines call on member States to dismantle the barriers, including discrimination, that restrict access to employment, education and training for ethnic minorities.

To support that, we have launched a new Community initiative under the European Social Fund, known as EQUAL, which will provide around 3 billion euros over six years for projects to promote equality in the labour market.

Our wider duties

Racism and xenophobia must not go unchecked, regardless of where they occur, who their victims are or who is responsible for them. The fight against discrimination should be seen as part of the global struggle for human rights. Two consequences follow from this. The first is that we have a duty of concern towards all people living in the Union, including those who are not EU citizens. The second consequence is that the Union has a responsibility to help other countries deal with racism, particularly in the countries that have applied for EU membership.

Immigration and asylum

In the first case, this duty translates into measures to protect migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, who are amongst the most vulnerable groups in society. Meeting in Tampere one year ago, the European Council stressed the need for the European Union to ensure fair treatment of non-EU nationals who are legally resident in the member States. They also underlined that a more vigorous integration policy was needed; non-EU nationals should be granted rights and obligations comparable to those of EU citizens.

The Commission took this into account when preparing its first proposals under the new Title IV of the EC Treaty, for example, the European Refugee Fund, recently adopted by the Council, and the directives on the right to family reunification, on temporary protection of displaced persons and on minimum standards on procedures for granting and withdrawing refugee status.

Enlargement

I said that the EU also had a responsibility to help other countries combat racism. It does so through its co-operation policies with developing countries and, closer to home, through the pre-accession strategy with the applicant countries. Many of those countries have sizeable ethnic or religious minorities of their own.

The EU needs to encourage efforts within those countries to nurture positive, tolerant and democratic attitudes to diversity. We are doing so, politically, at every opportunity, not least through the criteria for engagement in the accession process agreed on at the Copenhagen European Council. One of those criteria is the achievement of stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and respect for and protection of minorities. Independent, specialized bodies can make a strong contribution to meeting that criterion. Applicant countries will also be able to participate in the action programme against discrimination.

The European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights provides support to NGOs in Central and Eastern Europe and to the New Independent States in order to strengthen civil society. These projects also cover the fight against racism and the promotion of tolerance.

The second phase of a Joint Programme between the European Commission and the Council of Europe on the protection and promotion of the rights of national minorities in Central and Eastern Europe was launched in 1999.

Conclusion

The Commission, together with the European Parliament and the EU Monitoring Centre, has been closely involved in the preparations for this conference. We have been pleased to contribute directly by providing funding for the NGO Forum and I am delighted to see so many representatives of civil society here. It is vital that events such as this should not be the preserve of policy-makers, but that civil society should be able to bring its experience directly to the table, to challenge received wisdom and bring new ideas. The Commission will continue to support the participation of NGOs in other regional preparatory events leading up to the World Conference as well as in the World Conference itself.

My services have also produced two documents earlier this year as contributions to the preparation of the policy content of this conference. One of them is a specific set of recommendations to the participants at the conference, drawing on our experience so far in fighting racism through the 1996 Joint Action, the European Year against Racism, our efforts in education, training, research and youth policy and in development aid and, most recently of course, through the Directive on racial discrimination. I hope that these contributions, with all the others, will help produce an outcome based on clear, measurable commitments by the participants to further action to strengthen their fight against racism at all levels and in all areas.

We must not forget, of course, that this conference is the first of a series around the world in preparation for the World Conference. Over the next two days, we will set the tone for the work to come. We are also assisting other regions with their preparations. The Community has offered around 2.1 million euros to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to contribute to NGO participation in the other regional conferences which are planned for Chile, Senegal and Iran and 1.5 million euros for the World Conference itself. We want to do what we can to make those conferences as inclusive as possible so that they bring a wide range of views to South Africa. We can only gain from that.

I wish you well with your work.