EU's ethnic groups fight for fairer race policies

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The Independent Online
ETHNIC communities in Europe are concerned that governments in the European Union will stifle initiatives to combat racism and xenophobia unless the European Commission is allowed to play a co-ordinating role.

The Maastricht treaty created a new area for European co-operation, justice and home affairs, traditionally the unique preserve of individual governments. It is now harder to monitor organised crime because borders were abolished. Drug trafficking and the flow of migrants between countries also cannot be controlled without pooling resources and information. But despite the efforts of federalist EU members, this new area, along with foreign policy, was made subject to inter-governmental agreement; the European Commission has no controlling role.

The German government, which takes over the presidency of the Union from Greece in July, has made justice and home affairs co- operation a keynote of its presidency, which it is running in tandem with France. Bonn, the most popular destination for immigrants and refugees particularly from former Yugoslavia and Algeria, is keen to tighten controls and - since the issue is politically sensitive - would prefer to do this in the context of an overall European policy.

The Franco-German proposal this week suggests establishing a committee to co-ordinate relations between governments and those working with immigrant groups, a more precise definition of what consitutes a racist act, and improved information-sharing. The proposal will be discussed at the EU summit in Corfu next week.

However, the Migrants' Forum, which groups representatives from ethnic minorities in all 12 member states, has written to Bonn and Paris to ask that the proposal be brought under the responsibility of the EU. The forum fears that, in the hands of member state governments, the issue of racism and xenophobia risks being turned into a political football.

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