European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights

European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA)
File:FRA logo.svg
Formation 15 February 2007 (ratified)
1 March 2007 (established)
Location Vienna, Austria
Director Morten Kjaerum
Website fra.europa.eu

The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (usually known in English as the Fundamental Rights Agency; FRA) is a Vienna-based agency of the European Union inaugurated on 1 March 2007. It was established by Council Regulation (EC) No 168/2007 of 15 February 2007 as the successor to the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC).

Mandate

The FRA is an EU body tasked with "collecting and analysing data on fundamental rights with reference to, in principle, all rights listed in the Charter"; however, it is intended to focus particularly on "the thematic areas within the scope of EU law".[1] This is an expansion upon the scope of the former EUMC, which was restricted to issues of racism and xenophobia.

Like the EUMC, the FRA's primary methods of operation are investigation, reports, provision of expert assistance to EU bodies, member states, and EU candidate countries and potential candidate countries, and the education of the public. The FRA is not intended to intervene in individual cases but rather to investigate broad issues and trends.

Publications

Since its inception, the FRA has published reports which are available online. A full list of publications is given on Publications . This section discusses reports that have seen significant attention from outside observers.

Report: Annual report 2008

Source: Publications - Annual Reports - 2008

The Annual Report 2008 covered racism and xenophobia in each of the 27 Member States of the EU for the year 2007. It covered the following areas:

It concluded that implementation of the EU’s anti-discrimination legislation was patchy and there was a lack of awareness about legal redress open to victims of discrimination, and stressed the importance of equality bodies in making the Racial Equality Directive work and the importance of sanctions in raising public awareness about the legislation.

Report: Homophobia and Discrimination on Grounds of Sexual Orientation in the EU Member States Part I – Legal Analysis

Source: Report: Homophobia Part 1

This report was the first major project of the newly created FRA. It identified inequalities in treatment and legal protection for LGBT people, particularly with regard to same sex partnerships, and noted that homophobia could be combatted more effectively using EU-wide criminal legislation. This is in accordance with the Article 21 of EU Charter of Fundamental Rights that prohibits discriminations on grounds of sexual orientation.[2] It also noted that 18 out of 27 EU Member States had already gone beyond minimum EU requirements and provided for legal protection against sexual orientation discrimination in employment, access to public goods and services, housing and social benefits.

It criticised the existence of a "hierarchy of grounds of discrimination" (meaning that legal protection against, inter alia, racism was stronger than protection against homophobia) and argued that more comprehensive legal protection and wider powers and resources for "equality bodies" were required.

Report: Incident report on violent attacks against Roma in Italy

Source: Report: Violent attacks against Roma

This 2008 report provides information regarding the Roma, immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. The report provides facts and background information in relation to the situation of Roma in Italy, specifically the Ponticelli district.[3]

European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia

The European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia was also based in Vienna. It grew from the Commission on Racism and Xenophobia (CRX), established in 1994, and also known as the Kahn Commission. The CRX was transformed into the EUMC in June 1998; officially established by Council Regulation (EC) No 1035/97 of 2 June 1997.

Publications

Sources: Publications

EUMC published reports are available from the website here of the FRA, the EUMC successor agency. A selection is given below.

Report: Working Definition of Antisemitism

In 2005, the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (now Fundamental Rights Agency), published a working definition of antisemitism, whose stated purpose was to "provide a guide for identifying incidents, collecting data and supporting the implementation and enforcement of legislation dealing with antisemitism." The working definition states: "Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities."

It provides contemporary examples of antisemitism, which include: promoting the harming of Jews in the name of an ideology or religion; promoting negative stereotypes of Jews; holding Jews collectively responsible for the actions of an individual Jewish person or group; denying the Holocaust or accusing Jews or Israel of exaggerating it; and accusing Jews of dual loyalty or a greater allegiance to Israel than their own country.

It also states that ‘Examples of the ways in which antisemitism manifests itself with regard to the State of Israel taking into account the overall context could include:’

  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
  • Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
  • Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.
However, the document stated that criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic '[4][5]

The FRA, in a document entitled 'Data collection and research activities on racism and xenophobia by the EUMC (2000-2006) Lessons learned for the EU Fundamental Rights Agency Working Paper 2007', stated regarding the definition:

In order to facilitate the data collection work of NFPs the EUMC developed, together with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and Jewish organisations, and on the basis of consultation with experts, a guide to data collection on anti-Semitic incidents. (This followed on from an earlier report in which it had identified the lack of both legal and operational definitions regarding anti-Semitism). The guide includes a proposal for a non-legal working definition to be used at national level by primary datacollecting agencies. Following feedback by the NFPs and other stakeholders the guide, which is considered as ‘work in progress’, will be reviewed.’[6]
The working definition has been adopted, used, or recommended by a number of European and other organisations which monitor and combat hate crimes, including the OSCE, the Council of Europe's European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), the UK's All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism, and the National Union of Students in the UK. 

Brian Klug argues that this definition proscribes legitimate criticism of the human rights record of the Israeli Government by attempting to bring any criticism of Israel into the category of antisemitism, and does not sufficiently distinguish between criticism of Israeli actions and criticism of Zionism as a political ideology, on the one hand, and racially based violence towards, discrimination against, or abuse of, Jews.[7] Sociologist Paul Igansky states that parallels between Israeli policy and those of the Nazis are "arguably not intrinsically antisemitic", and that the context in which they are made is critical. Igansky illustrates this with the incident where Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was described by fellow Jewish Israelis as cooperating with the Nazis, and depicted wearing an SS uniform. According to Igansky, the "Nazi" label was merely used as "charged political rhetoric" in this case.[8]

The working definition has been described by David Hirsh as "part of the terrain on which political struggles are conducted by, amongst others, academics".[9] The Report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism: Government Response 29 March 2007 noted that "from the EUMC’s evidence to the Committee", the "definition is in fact a work in progress and has not been recommended to states for adoption."[10]

Report: Rise in antisemitic attacks in the EU

In 2003 a report labeled 'Manifestations of antisemitism in the EU 2002 – 2003' was published.[11] It detailed a rise in attacks targeting Jewish businesses, synagogues, cemeteries and individuals. The countries with the most significant number of attacks were Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK. It is the only report made by the EUMC on antisemitism.

Report: Rise of Islamophobic attacks in the EU following 9/11

The largest monitoring project ever to be commissioned regarding Islamophobia was undertaken following 9/11 by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC).

From a total of 75 reports, 15 from each member state, a synthesis report, entitled "Summary report on Islamophobia in the EU after 11 September 2001", was published in May 2002.[12] The report highlighted occasions in which citizens abused and sometimes violently attacked Muslims. Discrimination included verbal abuse, indiscriminately accusing Muslims of responsibility for the attacks, removing women's hijab, spitting, using the name "Usama" as a pejorative epithet, and assaults. The report concluded that "a greater receptivity towards anti-Muslim and other xenophobic ideas and sentiments has, and may well continue, to become more tolerated."[12]

Criticism and controversy

The FRA attracted criticism even before it was created. The need for a new human rights institution was questioned given that human rights policy was a principal concern of the Council of Europe (CoE), of which all EU member states were also members. Terry Davis, then secretary-general of the CoE, was quoted with the remark: "With all the best will in the world, I can't understand what it (i.e., the new agency) is going to do."[13] However, by 2007 he stated "I welcome the decision by the EU Council of Ministers to create a new Fundamental Rights Agency to scrutinise EU institutions and the application of EU laws. This is an important and challenging task."[14]

Eurosceptics have criticised the Agency's cost and its perceived lack of transparency and ideological bias. A conservative Roman Catholic activist member of the Agency's independent Advisory Panel, Gudrun Kugler, alleged that the Agency's interest in homophobia was disproportionate.[15] English Conservative MEP Charles Tannock said in 2005 that "the Agency will duplicate work of other bodies".[16] In 2007 the British Conservative MEP Syed Kamall said: "The Fundamental Rights Agency will take £20m (30m euros) of taxpayers' money and use it to advance a partisan agenda with little accountability to anyone".[17] Also in 2007 Scottish Conservative MEP Struan Stevenson spoke of a "quangocracy... every craze and fad that comes along, they say we must set up a new agency. A lot of them are playing to the gallery of political correctness."[18]

In 2010 the conservative German newspaper Die Welt reported that the centre-right French politician Pierre Lellouche, then EU minister in the Sarkozy government, questioned "the added value" of the FRA when the Council of Europe already took care of human rights.[19]

A Open Europe proposed the abolition of the FRA along with ten other agencies and institutes.

In 2008 the Irish 'pro-life, pro-family' lobbyist Patrick Buckley criticised the Agency for having "outsourced its key competence of providing expertise relating to fundamental rights" through a contract with the FRALEX network of outside legal experts.[20][21] A Belgian lawyer and anti-abortion activist, Jakob Cornides, in 2010 was also critical of the FRALEX contract, and of the FRA for having published a report advocating civil partnership for same-sex couples.[22]

The European Parliament (EP) has repeatedly attempted to use the FRA in order to put pressure on Member States' governments, especially with a view to promote LGBT rights. One noteworthy example was a Resolution adopted in September 2009, in which the EP condemned a "Law on the Protection of Minors", which was then under discussion in Lithuania, as "homophobic" and requested the FRA to issue a legal opinion on whether the draft law was compatible with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.[23] The Lithuanian Parliament, however, responded by adopting a Resolution that condemned the EP's Resolution as an "illegal act" (pointing to the fact that the FRA explicitly has no mandate to examine the legislation adopted by Member States) and requesting the Lithuanian Government to take legal action against the EP before the European Court of Justice.[24] Following this, the FRA from its side informed the EP that it was not going to issue the requested legal opinion.

More recently, the European Parliament has tasked the Agency to continue research started by MEPs into homophobia in Poland.[25]

See also

References

External links

  • Agency website
  • The European Fundamental Rights Agency comes into existence on 1 March 2007
  • The EU Fundamental Rights Agency: Satellite or Guiding Star? Raison d'etre, tasks and challenges of the EU's new agency Details and analysis by Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik
  • Council Regulation (EC) No 168/2007 of 15 February 2007

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