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EU: Watchdog Urges Steps Against Xenophobia, Racism

Nationalists demonstrating in Russia on 4 November (AFP) The European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) has called for stronger political leadership in addressing racial discrimination and violence. The EUMC, an official EU-backed body, has unveiled its latest annual report at the European Parliament in Brussels, a report that claims much of the EUMC's work is undermined by the absence of clear EU-wide guidelines for how to measure racist crime, how to deal with it, and how to gather related statistics.

Brussels, 23 November 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Now more than ever, European political leaders need to take a stand against racism.

This was the message that Beate Winkler, head of the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia, brought to the European Parliament on 21 November when she presented her group's annual report to the justice and civil liberties committee.

Winkler said terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists in Europe could potentially unleash counter-attacks against innocent Muslim. But she said strong British leadership avoided just such a scenario following last July's attacks on London's metro, which were claimed by Al-Qaeda and carried out by British-reared Muslims.

Political Leadership Crucial

"Political leadership is crucial," Winkler said. "We know that racism is decreasing if it is clear that it is not all accepted. Our report on the London bombings has shown very clearly that political leadership works. The clear stand, the clear commitment of all the European political leaders [has] shown it was [possible] to have a decrease in racist violence within three weeks [of the bombings] after an [initial] increase of 500 percent."

Speaking in the wake of extended rioting in France by youths of immigrant families, Winkler said the overall picture of the situation across the EU varies.

She said some member states report improvements, but others clearly face problems. As a whole, Winkler said, the EU must do more to fight racist discrimination and violence.

"Our annual report takes stock of how far we have come in the European Union to bring greater awareness, respect, dignity to all members of our societies," Winkler said. "We try to avoid the word 'tolerance' because people would like to be accepted, and not tolerated. The key message is that we have come some way -- quite a long way in some states -- but we still have a long way to go. We should accelerate the pace of implementing non-discrimination policy and measures."

Reliable Data

But Winkler said that at the moment, the EU does not have enough reliable data to pursue effective policies in this field.

What EU-wide regulation exists is scattered among a number of laws. Winkler cited an urgent need for a single overarching EU framework to tackle racism and xenophobia.

Also, there are no common binding definition of racism, no uniform guidelines for the related statistics, and no provisions for the compulsory reporting of data by EU members.

The trends recorded up until 2003 display a decrease in officially reported racist crime and violence in countries like Germany, Britain, Austria, Denmark, and Sweden. At the same time, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece have no publicly available official data. Definitions of racist incidents and principles guiding their registration vary from country to country.

France, the recently site of nightly nationwide riots by youths of immigrant families, is at the center of the European debate over racism. But there are laws in France that prohibit recording any details on the ethnic or racial background of French citizens.

Baroness Sarah Ludford, a British member of the European Parliament, argued on 21 November that the French position is untenable if the EU is to improve its anti-discrimination record.

"We should generalize the collection of statistics on the basis of race and ethnic origin," Ludford said. "How would we know what policies, what social and economic policies were succeeding if we did not have any statistics on the outcome? However, this is a very sensitive matter and there are very different attitudes around the European Union and I understand the historical and the legal and in some cases the moral objections against that. However, because perhaps of the background I come from I do believe that the collection of these statistics is necessary."

The EUMC report notes both official and unofficial data on racist crime are patchy in most new member states. Estonia, Latvia, Cyprus, and Malta have no publicly available data.

Anti-Muslim Incidents Uncommon

Anti-Muslim incidents are relatively rare in the new member states, with the exception of Poland and Lithuania, where Chechens have made up the lion's share of recent refugees.

The report says that given that Chechens are mostly Muslim and "come from a war-torn country that is often identified by various governments as a seat of international terrorism," they are "victimized and discriminated against as [a] religious and dangerous 'other'."

Isolated anti-Semitic attacks were recorded in all Central European countries in 2004.

According to the report, in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland, the victimization of Roma is "particularly acute."

In Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia -- but also in Finland and Germany -- there is "widespread hostility against the Russians."