02 March 2007

Europe's Latest White Elephant

Imagine that the government had proposed establishing a special police force to monitor discrimination against Scots and the Welsh living in England, that the proposal had been overwhelmingly rejected in a referendum, but that they had spent £72 million to set up the force anyway.

Ridiculous? Yes. Yet that is effectively what the European Union has done. At a cost of €108 million (£72 million), the Agency for Fundamental Rights was yesterday launched in Vienna. The chief aim of this illustrious body is to enforce the Charter of Fundamental Rights. However, you may recall, the Charter of Fundamental Rights was part of the EU constitution, which was rejected even by those nations sympathetic to the federalists' cause that were allowed to express their opinion in a referendum.

The Eurocrats claim that the agency and its 50 staff will expand the work of the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia. However, British diplomats maintain that the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights should be enough to guarantee the rights of EU citizens.

At the other end of the spectrum, Amnesty International has dismissed the agency as a missed opportunity, criticising its "minimalist mandate that contrasts sharply with the serious scale and nature of human rights problems in the EU." Key areas excluded from the agency's remit include human trafficking, violence against women, police abuse, the right to a fair trial, the disproportionate detention of asylum seekers and migrants, and perhaps most crucially of all, the relation between anti-terror laws and basic rights and freedoms.