More action needed to ensure equal opportunities for all, says report of EU Fundamental Rights Agency

Unequal treatment continues in employment, housing and education, according to data collected by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA).  Figures for racist crime in 2005 and 2006 are up in a number of EU countries. Data collection systems remain inadequate to support the fight against racism. While there are more signs that the EU's anti-discrimination legislation is having a positive impact, victims of discrimination still lack knowledge of the new rules. This shows that Member States need to do more to raise awareness in this respect. These are some of the main findings emerging from FRA's "Report on Racism and Xenophobia in the Member States of the EU", presented at the European Parliament on 27 August.

Information collected by the Agency in 2006 points to ethnic discrimination and inequalities in employment, education and housing. Evidence of this is found in surveys that reveal discrimination against those who simply have foreign-sounding names. In a significant number of EU countries, research describes widespread experiences of discrimination amongst migrants and the Roma in housing, as well as limitations in their right to equal access to education, and higher vulnerability to unemployment.

 An increase in recorded racist crimes has been noted in 8 of the 11 EU Member States that have collected adequate criminal justice data on racist violence and crime over a period of several years. Yet, FRA is unable to present a full picture for all EU countries due to a severe lack of national data. Differences and gaps in recording systems make it impossible to compare numbers between countries. Five of the EU's 27 Member States did not publish any national criminal justice data on racist crime in 2005 or 2006. The FRA report does, however, offer encouraging examples of good practice in some Member States towards improving criminal justice responses to racist violence. These range from better police-community relations to the provision of professional support to victims of racism.

FRA notes that the EU's legislation on racial equality is gradually stimulating positive change. The Agency finds that there is more awareness as regards discrimination, and the need to combat it, among politicians, the media and the public. In some Member States there were for the first time landmark court decisions against discrimination in access to employment. New political and civil society initiatives have been taken to combat discrimination in and through education. Noting, however, the gaps in achieving the right to equal opportunities for everyone in the EU, the Agency called on governments to ensure adequate protection against discrimination.

By the end of 2006, quite a few EU countries had still not fully implemented the EU's racial equality rules. In addition, no sanctions had been applied against offenders in around half of the EU Member States. The very low level of complaints recorded in some countries during 2006 suggests that victims are unaware of the existing legal protection against discrimination. According to a recent Eurobarometer survey,(1) on average only one third of EU citizens (32 per cent) claim to know their rights should they become victim of discrimination or harassment. Member States must therefore intensify their efforts to raise awareness and disseminate information, in particular among potential victims of discrimination. This is important because the protection offered under the EU racial equality rules rests on the awareness and initiative of victims and the application of dissuasive sanctions.

FRA presented its new report to the European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. Anastasia Crickley, the recently elected first Chairperson of the Agency's Management Board, noted: "There is progress with regard to putting in place racial equality legislation in most EU countries. Yet, FRA's report proves that we cannot be complacent. There is ample evidence that racist violence and discrimination persist and in fact are on the increase in parts of the EU. We must guarantee equal rights and protection from violence for everyone - not just on paper, but also in practice. It is important that the new Agency for Fundamental Rights continues to provide the EU with reliable data on the development of racism and discrimination, along with advice on how to develop evidence-based policies to combat such phenomena."

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(1) (January 2007).

Notes to the Editors:

Information about FRA:

  • The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) is an independent body of the EU. Its objective is to provide assistance and expertise on fundamental rights matters to the EU and its Member States, when they are implementing Community law. The aim is to support them to respect fully fundamental rights when they take measures or formulate courses of action.
  • FRA was established through Council Regulation (EC) No 168/2007 of 15 February 2007. It is based in Vienna and is being built on the former European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC). Racism, xenophobia and related intolerance continue to be a thematic priority within the extended mandate.

Information about the Report:

  • The Report on Racism and Xenophobia in the Member States of the EU is the Agency's first major publication since the extension of FRA's mandate.
  • The information and data collection activities for this report involved 27 National Focal Points (NFPs), for the first time including Bulgaria and Romania.
  • The report covers developments on racism, xenophobia and related issues in the EU Member States during the year 2006. It presents information and data in five thematic areas: legal issues, employment, education, housing, and racist violence and crime. In addition, there is a final chapter covering developments and policies at the EU level in combating racism and xenophobia.
  • In terms of anti-discrimination legislation and its application, the report notes the progress in implementation of the EU Racial Equality Directive in a majority of Member States in 2006. However, by the end of the year there were still a few countries lagging behind. In many countries there was no indication that a single sanction had been applied or compensation awarded in cases of ethnic discrimination during 2006, even though laws and procedures were in place.
  • Although good practices in response to racist violence and crime either continued or emerged in some Member States in 2006, most Member States still have insufficient data collection on the issue. This means that trends in recorded crime in many Member States are difficult to detect. Eight of the 11 Member States, for which sufficient criminal justice data is available to undertake a trend analysis, experienced a general upward trend (Denmark, Germany, France, Ireland, Poland, Slovakia, Finland and the UK). Three of the 11 Member States experienced a general downward trend in recorded racist crime (Czech Republic, Austria and Sweden).
  • Where official state-produced criminal justice statistics are lacking, NGOs continue to fill a gap in many Member States with respect to documenting racist incidents. Importantly, NGOs have recorded a number of incidents of violence and other abusive treatment against vulnerable minorities such as refugees, asylum seekers, and the Roma, by police, immigration and border control personnel.
  • There were continuing indications in 2006 of a growing awareness of the problem of ethnic discrimination in employment, and the need to combat it. In some Member States there were landmark court decisions against discrimination in access to employment, where before there were none. Some innovative ‘good practice' examples were reported in 2006. In the public sector in several Member States there were special positive action initiatives to recruit under-represented minorities.
  • New data on migrants' housing conditions has surfaced over the course of 2006. This data shows that disparities in housing between migrants and nationals are significant across Europe. There are clear differences between migrants and nationals regarding housing standards, occupancy rates, quality of facilities and concentration in poorer housing areas. Roma segregation remains a particular problem. In some countries, the extreme deprivation of housing for Roma is heightened by their vulnerability to forced evictions and relocations.
  • Information in 2006 points to an increased public and political awareness as regards discrimination and related inequalities in education in the European Union. While there are an increasing number of programmes aimed at supporting Roma and diminishing segregation and discrimination, in many of the EU Member States efforts to ensure equal opportunities in education suffer from insufficient funding.