European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI)



Mr Graham Watson, Chair of the Committee on citizens’ freedoms and rights, Justice and Home affairs, European Parliament

As we open this conference, which Mrs Nicole Fontaine, President of the European Parliament, deeply regrets not being able to attend, I am struck by the number and variety of national and European organisations against racism and xenophobia represented here today. The presence of so many of you and the quality of the preparatory work done at the Council of Europe over the last year for this conference are evidence of the active involvement of Europeans and Europe's determination to contribute to the success of the UN World Conference on the same theme, due to be held in September 2001.

On behalf of the European Parliament and the delegation representing it here, I wish to outline the nature and extent of our institution's commitment to combating racism and xenophobia, a political and legal commitment, a wholehearted commitment imbued with solidarity.

A political commitment

Parliament's concern for human rights, and in particular the fight against racism, is not new. Long years of patient work have been devoted to this issue from the European Community's earliest years. Examples of this include the work done by the two committees of inquiry appointed by the European Parliament in 1984 and 1991 on the subject, the 1997 European Year against Racism in which Parliament played an important part, the Charter of European Political Parties against Racism adopted in the same year, the establishment of the Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, the annual debates on racism in plenary, as well as the activities of the parliamentary intergroup on the fight against racism.

However, the Treaty of Amsterdam, no doubt as a result of the earlier efforts which I have mentioned - including, of course, the major contribution made by the Council of Europe's Court of Human Rights and the activities of the relevant NGOs - marked a new departure in that it contained a whole set of related provisions, all aimed at the recognition and implementation of fundamental democratic values, including equal rights for all citizens and the fight against all forms of racism.

Let me remind you briefly of these new Treaty provisions. The first one is Article 6 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU), according to which the EU is founded on 'the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms'. Far from being a statement made for form's sake alone, this founding article is intended to inspire the Union's actual policies, with regard to both internal matters such as social and immigration policy and, to external relations, that is development policy with the ACP countries, trade policy and foreign policy.

Other provisions which should be mentioned are Article 7 of the TEU, which makes it possible to penalise a member State for serious breaches of democratic principles, and Article 49, a natural corollary of that provision, under which accession of new member States is made dependent upon respect for fundamental rights and the rule of law. I will only briefly mention the serious issues raised by the recent political developments in Austria. Leaving aside the controversy regarding the methods adopted, I believe the debate on these issues was essential. An independent experts’ report on the subject has now been submitted to the Council and this has led to the lifting of sanctions. However, the EU must remain vigilant with regard to all extremist parties advocating racist policies. This important debate is an illustration of the way in which the EU has evolved in recent times: it can no longer be seen exclusively in terms of an internal market or an economic and monetary union, but must also assert its democratic aspirations. That is what the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, which is currently being drafted, is all about.

A legal commitment

It is important to remember that the EU is the only international body which is currently committed to applying legally-binding measures to fight all forms of discrimination, in particular discrimination on the grounds of ethnic origin. On the basis of the new Article 13 of the Treaty of Amsterdam, the Commission - and here I wish to pay tribute to the determined efforts of Commissioners Vitorino and Diamantopoulou in this field - submitted an initial set of anti-discrimination proposals last November. In May of this year, Parliament adopted in plenary a report drawn up by our colleague, Mrs Buitenweg, on a first general directive relating to measures against racial discrimination. There were already laws on this subject in our different countries, but these differed in content and legal force. Following the adoption of the directive under the Portuguese Presidency in June, we now have EU legislation providing a minimum framework for prohibiting and penalising racial discrimination. This is extremely important and ties up with the theme of this conference, which is about putting words into action. Through its amendments, Parliament was able to improve the text in many respects. As a result, we have a European directive which protects Community citizens and people resident in the Community against all forms of direct or indirect racial discrimination, in such areas as employment, education and social security.

The same legal approach, with binding provisions, applies to police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters. Article 29 of the TEU stipulates that the Union must, in its immigration policy, for instance, seek to prevent and combat racism. Similarly, the Union’s social policy must seek to combat all forms of exclusion one of which is, of course, exclusion on grounds of ethnic origin.

As regards external relations, the Union must conduct its foreign policy, development co-operation policy with partners in the ACP countries and trade policy in accordance with democratic values. That is why the European Parliament insists that any trade agreements and financial protocols established in connection with the EU’s international relations in these policy areas must include social clauses to guard against all forms of exploitation of human beings.

Lastly, Parliament's delegation to the Convention responsible for drawing up a draft European Charter of Fundamental Rights is insisting that this charter be made legally binding. Parliament will certainly make a statement to this effect before the European Council meeting in Nice. For the same purpose, the first chapter of this draft charter concerns respect for human dignity.

The European Parliament is thus committed, along with the other European institutions, not only to condemning all forms of racism but also to ensuring that they are duly punished. Although much still remains to be done, I felt it important to highlight this new legal framework which is being introduced in the EU.

A wholehearted commitment imbued with solidarity

In addition to political commitments and legal sanctions, determined action against racism requires financial resources and technical support for the relevant NGOs working effectively upstream and downstream of acts of racism and assisting victims of exclusion. Here, as in other areas, we need to take advantage of the added value of the Community dimension as far as exchanging information and selecting best practice are concerned, but again this requires cooperation and solidarity at European level.

In this connection, the European Parliament is particularly supportive of the various programmes submitted by the Commission, such as the EQUAL programme and the recent 2001-2006 programme of action against discrimination, whose aim is to enable us to take more effective joint action to prevent and combat discrimination, and in particular racism.

This form of European assistance is also intended to benefit the applicant countries, some of which are faced with the difficult problem of integrating ethnic minorities, and ACP countries.

One of the factors in the success of the campaign against racism is also undoubtedly the content of educational programmes, as well as campaigns to raise awareness of the implications of racist regimes, the work of the media in general and measures to prevent the internet being used for racist purposes. Political commitment, effective sanctions and backup measures, these are the main lines of European policy to combat racism, as it is being applied at present. Parliament is firmly committed to this approach and, in a resolution it adopted at its plenary sitting of 21 September 2000, it mandated the Council to put this position across at the World Conference.

The present globalisation trends are all too often accompanied by nationalistic and tribal reactions, as if man were incapable of considering his fellow-man as anything other than an enemy. The danger of racism is therefore still with us and it is up to the Union, if it is prepared to defend the values on which it was founded, to take consistent action, both inside and outside its territory, to reject this exclusionist way of thinking. That is what the European Identity we aspire to is all about: an identity which embraces the wealth of diversity that ethnic and cultural differences have to offer.