Vienna, 6 December 2006 - "The Agency is a plus for human rights protection in the European Union. It will close a gap in the European human rights protection system", said Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik, who welcomed the agreement on the creation of the Fundamental Rights Agency scheduled to start work on 1 January 2007 in Vienna. "The Agency will assist institutions and Member States in the creation and implementation of EU law and thus contribute to the EU’s compliance with fundamental laws," said Plassnik. "The goal of the Agency is an EU that is in full compliance with fundamental rights and close to its citizens. By helping to bring this about, it will also bring added value to individual citizens," continued Plassnik. Monitoring of racism and xenophobia in Europe, until now the task of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia in Vienna, will also remain a focus of the new agency.
Plassnik emphasised that Austria had been pro-actively committed to the establishment of a EU agency for fundamental rights for many years. In December 2003, at the initiative of Federal Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel, the European Council had decided to convert the existing European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) into a fundamental rights agency. "During our EU Presidency we persistently pushed negotiations, thus laying the foundation for the present consensus", stated the Foreign Minister. In recent months, Austria had also been closely involved in the efforts of the Finnish EU Presidency.
In this endeavour, it was particularly important to Plassnik that the Fundamental Rights Agency receive a comprehensive mandate, in particular in the field of justice and police co-operation. It was precisely in this area where effective fundamental rights monitoring was particularly important in order to establish a balance between measures of the state for the protection of public security and the human rights and freedoms of the individual. At any rate, the current solution made it clear that the Agency may become active in this area as well if an EU institution or one of the Member States so requests.
"It was particularly important to me that the Agency will also cover the important external dimension of the EU’s human rights work. The new Agency will be given new instruments to safeguard the swift acceptance of EU fundamental rights standards by candidate countries and the Western Balkan states. Although we would have preferred a more courageous solution, the present agreement constitutes an important step towards assisting compliance with human rights and thus promoting stability in our neighbourhood", concluded the Foreign Minister.
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