EU ANTI-RACISM LAW PASSES KEY LEGISLATIVE HURDLE
The European Union's first anti-racism law passed a key legislative hurdle Tuesday, receiving broad endorsement from social affairs ministers.
One of the law's more controversial clauses would shift the burden of proof in cases of discrimination, meaning that firms accused of racism must prove they did not discriminate.
"This agreement, only a year after the Amsterdam treaty came into force, is a clear sign of the commitment of Community institutions to people's fundamental rights," European Social Affairs Commissioner Anna Diamantopoulou said in a statement.
The Amsterdam treaty gave the EU the power to adopt legislation to curb or counter discrimination.
Some EU countries, like Britain, already have a large amount of domestic anti-race law, but others such as Sweden, have little. The new law will put all countries on a similar footing. Governments will have to define what is meant by discrimination, give victims a means of redress, provide information about individuals' rights and monitor incidents.
The part of the law that puts the burden of proof on companies and providers of goods or services that are accused of racism has met with some criticism in Britain. But EU officials noted the principle was already applied in British employment tribunals.
The political agreement on the main aspects of the law was achieved in near record time and coincided with fresh efforts by some EU nations to suspend bilateral sanctions imposed on Austria after the far right entered government in February.
Anti-race campaigners said, however, the fact the Austrian government put its name to the new law was no reason to lift the sanctions.
"It might be used (that way), but it would be wholly unacceptable," Richard Howitt, a British socialist member of the European Parliament said.
He said the parliament only rushed the legislation through "as a clear response to the ... Freedom Party entering in to the Austrian government."
© Reuters

EU COMBAT RACISM
Europe aims to show a united front against racism

Europe's first legislation to combat racial discrimination has been approved unanimously by European Union Social Affairs ministers.
It will mean big changes for the majority of EU countries, who currently have little or no specific legal protection against race discrimination.
In countries like Britain and The Netherlands, where legislation is regarded as more advanced, it will still shift the burden of proof in civil cases against employers. That means if an employee alleges discrimination, it will be up to the accused employer to disprove the charge.
The measure has been resisted by some employers' groups.
The legislation will not just cover discrimination at work but also when buying goods or services, and obtaining social security payments.
It was the first time the European Union has used its new powers which came into force last year to legislate against discrimination.

Plans welcomed

Anti-racism groups have welcomed the plans which they say will also make life easier for people travelling around Europe.
The penalties for discrimination will be left to member states but the directive says they must be effective and could involve compensation payments.
It's taken only a record six months for this proposal to be adopted. Later this year a second directive is expected to follow, which will cover discrimination in the work place on the grounds of religion, disability, age or sexual orientation.
© BBC news

BRITAIN BACKS EUROPE-WIDE CRACKDOWN ON RACISM
Britain has backed new Europe-wide measures to tackle racism - the most far-reaching moves since the Race Relations Act nearly 25 years ago.
Legislation which establishes common EU standards of protection for victims of racial discrimination includes a controversial reversal of the burden of proof in civil racism cases.
And it reintroduces a measure banned by the last Tory administration in Britain, obliging companies to prove they comply with anti-race laws before they are awarded contracts.
The new laws come into force in three years, ushered in by a unanimous vote of EU government ministers, including Britain's junior employment minister Tessa Jowell.
After the vote she said: "This is very good news for the UK and for Europe and I am delighted to give the UK's wholehearted backing to the proposals."
The result was hailed as a major breakthrough by Labour MEP Richard Howitt, who steered the plan through the European Parliament.
He said: "We agreed to rush this through because of the rise of the far right, and the vote today is a clear message that they have no place in a modern Europe."
The legislation was approved at talks in Luxembourg, overriding claims that the measures amount to extra burdens on businesses.
The reversal in the burden of proof has been attacked as a breach of a basic principle of British law - that an accused person is innocent until proven guilty.
Meanwhile, Conservative MEP and former Home Office minister responsible for race relations, Timothy Kirkhope, warned: "This is not only bad for businesses, it also sets back the cause of good race relations a long way, which is dangerous."
© Ananova

BIGGEST BREAKTHROUGH IN BRITISH RACE RELATIONS FOR A QUARTER OF A CENTURY
The European Parliament, meeting in Strasbourg, last night approved Europe's first ever race discrimination directive, and the most far reaching piece of anti racism legislation to affect Britain since the 1976 Race Relations Act.
The legislation contains a package of measures which will:
Ban race harassment and victimisation. Individuals will, for the first time, have the right to take civil proceedings if they are harassed or victimised on the grounds of race.
Overturn the Thatcher Government's ban, which denied public authorities the right to require companies to demonstrate compliance with anti discrimination laws before awarding a contract.
Reverse the burden of proof in civil race discrimination cases. Once the complainant has clearly established facts from which the court can presume discrimination, the burden of proof will shift from the complainant to the respondent. The onus will be on the accused to prove their innocence.
Give voluntary organisations the right to bring race discrimination cases against the courts on behalf of individual complainants.
Labour Euro-MP, Richard Howitt, co-author of the European Parliament's Report on the new legislation said,
"I am proud to have contributed to Europe's first ever race law, which represents in my own country the biggest breakthrough race relations for quarter of a century."
"Right wing extremism is on the rise, not just in Austria but throughout Europe."
"This legislation sends the strongest signal to Jorg Haider, David Irving and every thug who commits a racist crime on Europe's streets. With this new legislation, Europe will reject race discrimination in any form."
Further information: Richard Howitt M.E.P.
Labour's Member of the European Parliament for the East of England Region, U.K.
(U.K. office) +44 1376 501700,
or (Brussels office) +32 2 284 5477

FIRMS FORCED TO PROVED THEY ARE NOT RACIST
A NEW code that will force Europe's employers to prove their innocence in court when accused of racial discrimination was approved by Euro-MPs yesterday.
The directive will reverse the burden of proof in cases involving race discrimination in the workplace and education, thus eroding a fundamental safeguard in British law. Tories said it would fuel the "compensation culture".
Originally the European Commission modelled the directive on Britain's racial equality laws, then went considerably further. It denied that the new law infringed the rights of the accused. "It is a shift in the burden of evidence," a spokesman for the social affairs commissioner, Anna Diamatopoulou, said yesterday. "The claimant still has to come up with a solid factual case to get the process going."
But the directive clearly puts the onus on the accused to prove their innocence "once the complainant has established facts from which a court or tribunal can presume discrimination". Further tilting the balance, third party organisations and lobbies, such as victims groups, will acquire the right to file race lawsuits on behalf of claimants.
The commission justified the directive on the grounds that it can be hard for race victims to obtain the sort of evidence required to prove their case in court. It is the most dramatic evidence to date of the EU's sweeping new powers to dictate social policy. Article 13 of the Amsterdam Treaty signed by Tony Blair months after becoming Prime Minister authorised the commission to take action "to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation". Before Amsterdam, the commission's role was largely confined to areas of economic policy.
The new law stipulates that complaints should be handled by an independent body rather than by the courts. In Britain's case, this is expected to be the Commission for Racial Equality. It calls for "contract compliance" obliging companies to prove that they comply with anti-discrimination law before securing a contract by a public procurement agency. This reimposes a measure banned by the last Conservative government.
Richard Howitt, the Labour MEP, said: "This is the biggest breakthrough in British race relations for a quarter of a century. Right-wing extremism is on the rise, not just in Austria but throughout Europe. This sends the strongest signal to Jörg Haider, David Irving and every thug who commits a racist crime on Britain's streets."
But the Tories said that it would do more harm than good, adding to the burden of red tape on employers. Only lawyers were likely to gain. Timothy Kirkhope, the Tory chief whip in Strasbourg, said: "It could lead to another raft of regulations for employers." Francis Maude, the Tory foreign affairs spokesman, said he fully supported any measure to stamp on race hatred, but the new measure was "muddle-headed". Ruth Lea, head of policy at the Institute of Directors, said: "It is very dangerous because it means that employers will be guilty until proved innocent."
The Government played down the directive, saying that it had not been enacted. But it is almost certain to be approved by the EU's 15 member states at next month's council meeting. Officials said that avoiding unnecessary burdens on employers would be a key consideration when implementing it. The legislation is highly embarrassing for Mr Blair. This week Sir Clive Thompson, the president of the Confederation of British Industry, said that employment laws imposed by London and Brussels were threatening jobs.
© Telegraph

EU FIGHTS FAR RIGHT WITH LAWS ON RACISM
Euro-MPs are poised to deliver a resounding response today to the rise of rightwing extremism by approving the first EU-wide anti-racism legislation.
In a long-awaited vote in Strasbourg, a substantial majority is expected for laws banning racial harassment and victimisation as well as introducing sweeping protection against race discrimination in education, employment, access to grants, social protection and social security.
Another key feature of the new laws will be the reversal of the burden of proof in civil race discrimination cases. The so-called race directive, strongly backed by organisations such as the commission for racial equality in the UK, is part of a package of ground-breaking anti-discrimination legislation. It will require amendments to Britain's 1976 Race Relations Act to incorporate harassment and the new definition of "indirect discrimination". The legislation is designed to set a minimum standard of legal protection against discrimination across the 15-member union.
Richard Howitt, Labour MEP for eastern England, last night called the directive "the biggest breakthrough in British race relations for a quarter of a century".
He added: "Rightwing extremism is on the rise, not just in Austria, but throughout Europe. This legislation sends the strongest signal to Jörg Haider [leading light of Austria's Freedom party], David Irving [the second world war historian] and every thug who commits a racist crime on Britain's streets. With this new legislation Europe will reject race discrimination in any form." Normally, under EU rules, the European parliament would only be consulted on such legislation, but the urgency of the matter meant that Portugal, current holder of the EU's rotating presidency, had to have MEPs' clear backing before the directive could be adopted.
Crucially, the directive requires a shift in the burden of proof from complainant to respondent, recognising the fact that it can be difficult to obtain evidence in discrimination cases. The onus will be on the accused to prove their innocence "once the complainant has clearly established facts from which a court or tribunal can presume discrimination".
The race directive also incorporates the notion of "indirect discrimination", which exists in UK law but is barely recognised elsewhere in the EU. It extends race discrimination to include situations "where an apparently neutral provision is liable to adversely affect a person or group of particular racial or ethnic origin".
It also provides protection to third country nationals against discrimination on grounds of racial or ethnic origin - thus helping, for example, a Moroccan in Spain as well as a Rwandan in Belgium.
Member states are required to publicise measures covered by the directive, including information about available assistance.
Amendments introduced by the European parliament will require companies to prove that they comply with anti-discrimination law before being awarded a contract. Margaret Thatcher banned this practice when local authorities tried to implement it in the 1980s. British law already allows group actions in race cases but the directive will introduce the practice across the EU.
The new anti-discrimination laws will be passed under article 13 of the 1997 Amsterdam Treaty, agreed by Britain just weeks after Labour took power. The treaty provides the EU with a legal basis for the first time to take action to combat discrimination on grounds of racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.
© Guardian Unlimited

EURO MP'S BACK SWEEPING RACE RELATIONS REFORMS
New Europe-wide measures to tackle racism have been approved by Euro MPs in the most far-reaching moves since Britain's Race Relations Act nearly 25 years ago.
Legislation which establishes common EU standards of protection for victims of racial discrimination includes reversal of the burden of proof in civil racism cases. And it reintroduces a measure banned by the last Tory administration in Britain, obliging companies to prove they comply with anti-race laws before they are awarded contracts. The 179-40 vote in Strasbourg was hailed as landmark by Labour Euro MP Richard Howitt, who steered the proposals through.
He says: "This is the biggest breakthrough in British race relations for a quarter of a century."But Timothy Kirkhope, Conservative MEP and former Home Office minister responsible for race relations, warns: "This is not only bad for businesses, it also sets back the cause of good race relations a long way, which is dangerous."
He says it is an example of the European Parliament intervening in matters best left to EU member states themselves, most of which had already introduced significant measures to protect against racism.Reversing the burden of proof, he says, breaches one of the basic principles of British law - that an accused person is innocent until proven guilty.
But Mr Howitt, addressing MEPs just before the vote, said: "This is Europe's first-ever race directive and it will send a clear signal to the racist extreme right that they have no part in modern Europe.
"It closes the chapter of racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia which tragically blighted our history in the century just past. Racism is not an opinion - it is a crime."
© Ananova

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