UKREN blog

Monday 4 November 2013

The importance of EU Fundamental Rights to UK race equality issues


The government is organising a large-scale consultation on what the UK’s membership of the EU means for the UK national interest, the so-called Balance of Competences Review. NGOs, businesses and other organisations are being invited to give their views on this important question.

Sounded like a good opportunity to put across views on race equality issues. So I went along to the first workshop at the Ministry of Justice. This was focused on fundamental rights and everything that is deriving from EU law that has an effect on the UK. With an on-going political debate in the UK on whether human rights should be further eroded, this review is a real opportunity for race equality NGOs to counter that negative, divisive narrative by providing evidence on how the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights covering dignity, freedoms, equality, solidarity, citizen’s rights and justice makes a real difference to the people we work with. Disappointingly, officials outnumbered participants with just four NGO people there (and no businesses or ‘others’). My plans to take a backseat and listen (I am new to the UKREN co-ordinator role) were shattered as it is difficult to do so when so many officials want to hear what so few participants have to say on a whole series of questions. Even more so when you have decided to liven up a dull day by wearing a bright checked jacket!

I also feared that the workshop could turn into a lawyers session on case law....my nightmares are of discussions about which I have little comprehension “XYZ versus the UK was a precedent that trumped the AB v. Sweden case, blah blah”. Although there was a little case law, the workshop was well chaired and the policy, and dare I say it, activist viewpoint was eagerly listened to. So my views on the difficulty of engaging time and cash-short NGOs on the relevance of the EU to their work; the hard lessons learnt by the European Commission on persuading Member States to devise and implement a strategy or set of policy measures to improve the situation of Roma; the high quality of research undertaken by the Fundamental Rights Agency but its perception of being out-of-touch with grassroots organisations; and the inaccessibility of EU funding programmes for small NGOs (need to find matched funding, heavy financial administration costs, late payment of grants). That was a lot off my chest for what I hoped would be a quiet morning.

The Ministry of Justice is organising further two-hour workshops on EU fundamental rights in London on 11 and 25 November and Edinburgh on 20 November. Further details on our news page: http://www.ukren.org/news/533/17/Review-of-the-Balance-of-Competences-between-the-UK-and-the-EU-on-fundamental-rights.html. You can also send in views online by 13 January 2014. I thought it was a good use of time. Officials were definitely in listening mode. They actively seek evidence and views from NGOs on the impact in the UK of the EU’s fundamental rights. Worth the investment in your time too?

Alan Anstead, Co-ordinator, UKREN

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