Howard vetoes EU anti-racism drive

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Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, yesterday vetoed far-reaching proposals aimed at halting the rising tide of racist violence in Europe.

In a hot-tempered meeting in Brussels, Mr Howard accused other European Union members of "lecturing" Britain over the need for greater controls to ban racist demonstrations and racist literature. The Home Secretary's lone stand was enough to block the resolution, drawn up over several months within the Council of Ministers, detailing measures to counter racism and xenophobia.

Britain argued that Europe had no right to insist on uniform controls, saying the measure could mean major legislative change, and the Home Office needed more time to consider the resolution. Mr Howard stands accused by Labour of playing the "race card" at home by pushing through new restrictions on political asylum in the run-up to the next election.

In Brussels, the Home Secretary was charged by his partners with blocking a vital initiative which many states believe would have helped improve race relations. Countries like Germany, the Netherlands and France, where racist violence by right-wing groups has been on the increase, argued strongly in favour of the measure.

The resolution, drafted by the highly secretive K4 committee of senior officials from all member states, is the result of a lengthy study into racist violence and xenophobia. The proposal was put forward to balance new measures agreed yesterday imposing tighter EU controls on refugees and immigrants. The study concluded that member states must co-operate and harmonise efforts to combat racist violence if the problem was to be eradicated. The recommendations included:

t Harmonising laws in each member state on the confiscation of racist or inflammatory publications, videos, films and television programmes.

t New Europe-wide intelligence centres to monitor the activities of extremists and the spread of racist materials.

t An examination of penalties in different member states, with a view to harmonisation.

The proposal was presented as a so-called "common action" which would be binding on member states. The text, which Mr Howard blocked, stated that international co-operation in this area was essential to prevent extremists in one country moving their activities to a neighbouring state where controls were less stringent.

British officials stressed last night that Britain was not against the principle of the proposals, and it is understood that Mr Howard might have accepted the resolution if it had not been legally binding.