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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 March 2007, 11:58 GMT
EU gets fundamental rights agency
The European Union has opened a Fundamental Rights Agency in Vienna to help combat discrimination on the basis of race, gender or religion.

The agency replaces the EU's Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia.

Its purpose will be to collect data on violations of fundamental rights, provide advice to the EU and its member states, and to raise public awareness.

Critics have said the agency will duplicate work being done by the Council of Europe and the UN.

"The Fundamental Rights Agency will take 20m (30m euros) of taxpayers' money and use it to advance a partisan agenda with little accountability to anyone," said British MEP Syed Kamall.

"Frankly, we can all think of better things to spend taxpayers' money on. While we do want to see greater equality, another expensive agency is not the answer."

But Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini said the European Union had to promote fundamental rights if it was to achieve "a Europe of which we can be proud - a Europe which is richly diverse, where people are integrated and live side-by-side, and gender, racial and other inequalities are overcome".

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