Call for Union action as racist hostility rises

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Series Details Vol.4, No.46, 17.12.98, p7
Publication Date 17/12/1998
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Date: 17/12/1998

By Gareth Harding

THE EU is stepping up its efforts to tackle racism in both existing member states and countries lining up to join the Union, as a new survey reveals an alarming rise in the problem over the past decade.

The survey, carried out by the European Centre on Racism and Xenophobia in Vienna, reveals a rise in the number of Europeans who believe there are too many foreigners in their country from 37% in 1989 to 41% this year.

Although the survey found that the fight against racism is considered less and less important by the public, 84% of those questioned said they favoured the EU institutions playing a greater role in tackling the problem.

At their summit in Vienna last weekend, Union leaders appeared to be listening. At Sweden's behest, they called on the European Commission to draw up proposals for a raft of measures to combat racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia before the next Union summit in June.

Their demands caught some Commission officials by surprise, as the EU already has a scheme to counter racism and is planning new laws to clamp down on discrimination in 1999. With a budget of only 3.5 million ecu a year to fight racism, officials are wary about stretching their purse-strings any further. "Campaigns cost cash," said one. "The question is: are member states prepared to put their money where their mouth is?"

Sweden is particularly worried about the rising wave of anti-Semitism in the former Soviet bloc countries and wants to extend its own successful campaign to educate the public about the Holocaust to central and eastern European states.

"It is terribly important to inform about the Holocaust in countries like Poland and Lithuania," said Swedish Premier Goran Persson in Vienna.

The Union is, however, hamstrung both by a lack of resources and legal competence in the applicant countries. One possible answer would be to extend the activities of the centre for racism to the region.

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