Interview with Morten Kjaerum, Director of the Eu Agency for Fundamental Rights : Europe Needs to Focus on Fighting Racism

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Racism, privacy rights and discrimination of all forms will be the key issues for the new EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), says Morten Kjaerum. The Danish human rights expert with 23 years of experience in this field was appointed the first FRA director on 7 March. The FRA, based in Vienna, will give independent advice to EU institutions and member states on fundamental rights.

You are taking up the new post in June. What will be your three main priorities?

First of all, I must, together with the staff, look into the development of the agency. We must push forward the change from the old European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) to the new FRA. Next step will be to develop a coherent strategy, together with the Management Board, for a focused implementation of the multiannual framework programme and the key issues we should address. And, thirdly, it will be to enter into a dialogue with the numerous stakeholders - EU institutions, member states, NGOs, national human rights institutions and experts.

Which key issues do you see as the biggest challenges?

The multiannual framework is well balanced. We will, of course, continue the work on fighting racism. Racism and ethnic or national discrimination are phenomena in Europe which unfortunately we still have to strongly focus on. We need to further develop the thinking on how to address these issues. Then you have issues relating to the right of privacy, coming up in the wake of the fight against terrorism. Another key issue is discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or disability. There are a number of issues in the framework, which, all added up, creates a very challenging agenda for me.

How bad is racism in Europe?

It is a pan-European problem, but we have to look at individual member states and focus on their individual problems. In discussing ways forward, you always have to relate to the domestic context and look at individual mechanisms, the situation within the civil society and the ethnic minority landscape'. That differs from one country to another. It is a pan-European phenomenon, but the solutions have to be found at the European as well as national level.

Regarding racism, what is the difference between the new' and old' member states?

I am sure there are differences, but I would not enter into details on exactly where they are.

You mentioned privacy rights. Do you agree with critics who say that the measures that the EU is gradually introducing go too far, with a number of systems of personal data collection and storage proposed or already in place? …