The European Parliament has given its strong backing to the work of the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency. MEPs voted by a large majority to support the work programme of the agency for the next five years - known as the 'multi-annual framework'.
The move was welcomed by MEP Tatjana Ždanoka who was the 'rapporteur' responsible for steering the legislation through Parliament. The European Parliament has given its consent to an ongoing programme of work which now needs to be agreed by the Council of Ministers.
But concerns remain that the work of the agency may be put in jeopardy by the UK government's refusal to agree the multi-annual framework in the Council of Ministers. The UK wants to wait for its own parliament to scrutinise the framework before giving a view. This may lead to specific work on thematic areas of work being delayed for many months.
The Vienna-based EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) was established in 2007. Its role is to collect and analyse data on fundamental rights issues within the EU and to focus on particular thematic areas within the scope of EU law. It has published useful and influential reports on issues such as racism, xenophobia and homophobia.
The rapporteur said she was disappointed with attempts by some EU Member state governments to 'water-down' the work of the agency by excluding certain specific thematic areas from the agency's work. These include discrimination against national minorities and police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters.
Speaking in the European Parliament, Tatjana Ždanoka said:
"I deeply regret the lack of agreement in the Council as regards the inclusion of the proposed new thematic areas of police cooperation and judicial cooperation in criminal matters. Following the Lisbon Treaty, police cooperation and judicial cooperation in criminal matters have become part of EU law and are therefore covered by the scope of work of the FRA.
"I am also very concerned by reported attempts of several Member States in the Council to exclude discrimination based on membership of a national minority from the thematic areas. I find such attempts unacceptable.
"In other circumstances I would invite the European Parliament to decline to consent to this framework so that we might try to find a better solution. However, the agency needs new thematic areas of work to ensure continuity in its activities. Unless there is a new Multiannual Framework in place by the beginning of 2013, the FRA can only work if there is a specific request from an institution."