This week, the European Commission unanimously approved the establishment by January 1, 2007 of a European Union Agency for Fundamental Human Rights. The agency, which is to employ 100 Eurocrats from the various EU member states, will be housed in Vienna. The Vienna based European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC), which was set up in 1997, will be integrated into the new agency.
The ample resources that the Commission intends to bestow on the new agency has led to criticism from the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe (not to be confused with the European Council, which is the EU “government”) is an organisation of 46 European countries, including all 25 EU member states, which, together with its subsidiary, the European Court of Human Rights, monitors compliance with the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights. For years it has been pleading for extra funding from the member states, as the European Court is struggling with a huge backlog of cases. The Council of Europe simply does not see the point of establishing the new European human rights organisation in Vienna.
However, according to Alain Brun, Head of Unit in the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Justice and Home Affairs, the new agency is designed to help the Commission develop policies. Brun conceded that the agency has been set up to watch over de EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, proclaimed in 2000 at the Nice Summit. This Charter has been included in the European Constitution. Consequently, it has no legally binding effect so long as the Constitution has not been approved. Brun explained that this does not really matter: “Many values defended by the EU are not legally binding either. For example our opposition to the death penalty. This does not entail, however, that there are no consequences. For example, we do not extradite prisoners to the U.S. who risk the death penalty there.”