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Culture: EU Center Says Racist Violence Is On The Rise

The European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia yesterday released its second annual report. It says violent racist crime is on the increase in many EU member states. Leading EUMC officials yesterday also criticized member states for failing to support adequately the work of the center. RFE/RL Brussels correspondent Ahto Lobjakas reports.

Brussels, 24 November 2000 (RFE/RL) - The conclusions of the EU Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia 1999 annual report make for grim reading.

Although diversity is officially held to be one of Europe's most basic values, the report says attacks against immigrants and minorities increased in most EU member countries in 1999. Germany, France and Sweden were singled out yesterday by the EUMC officials presenting the report in Brussels.

It also appears that many member states do not keep adequate records of incidents of racial discrimination, and that records that do exist are often subject to variations in statistics and data- collection methods.

To make matters worse, the director of the Monitoring Centre, Beate Winkler, told journalists that many if not the majority of racist attacks go unrecorded, for their victims are afraid to go to the authorities.

"The main results of our report are that victims or incidents of discrimination of victims are not reported or not covered in the way should be. We have a highly under-reported, under-recorded system. The reason for this is victims have fear. Many of them have fear to be excluded, they have also fear that they would have to leave the country."

Winkler quoted studies that show that approximately 200 racial crimes were reported in the Netherlands last year, whereas experts estimate the total figure to have been closer to 1,000. In Finland, 42 percent of all interviewees said they had suffered from racial discrimination, but only 10 percent reported the incidents.

According to Jean Kahn, the chairman of the EUMC's Management Board, all EU member states have passed the necessary legislation and have set up national bodies for monitoring racist crime. But they often fail to support or finance the bodies properly.

Graham Watson is the Chairman of the European Parliament's Committee on Citizens' Freedoms and Rights. He says that Article 13 of the EU's Amsterdam Treaty, which came into force in 1999, outlaws racial, ethnic, religious and cultural discrimination, but it has yet to be implemented properly in member states.

He says legal measures on their own are not enough to combat racist crime. The law must be backed up by political action, but the EU has not done this yet.

"We also need political remedies, and the onus is on those of us who defend the concept of a multi-racial society to go out and argue the case for that multi-racial society to our citizens and our electors. It is an area of failure at present in our Union."

Building a multi-racial society is likely to be an uphill task. Many EU countries may be soon forced to drop their "zero- immigration" policies of the last 25 years and permit more immigration. This in turn could lead to an increase in racist attacks.

Demographic trends in the EU could soon make the present welfare arrangements unsustainable. A UN report, released this spring, says that by the year 2050, the EU could face a situation where the number of its old-age pensioners exceeds the size of the working-age population. The study -- widely reported in EU capitals - concludes the EU may have to admit as many as 75 million immigrants in the next 50 years.

Presenters of yesterday's report argued that right-wing extremism will become an increasingly significant factor. The recent electoral successes of Joerg Haider's Austrian Freedom Party and the Belgian Flemish nationalist Vlaamse Blok can be attributed in part to a right-wing backlash.

Winkler says that the present report does not analyze this reaction in great detail. However, next year the Centre does plan to release a separate report on right-wing extremism as well as a study of attitudes towards immigration in all 15 EU member countries.