Page last updated at 09:48 GMT, Thursday, 13 December 2012

EU Fundamental Rights Agency

The Council of Ministers has come under fire from a number of MEPs for vetoing a Commission proposal to give more powers to the EU's Fundmental Rights Agency (FRA).

The European Commission wants the FRA to have more powers to scrutinise the performance of EU countries in judicial co-operation, but a number of EU government has said this infringes national sovereignty.

Speaking during the debate on 13 December 2012, British Conservative justice spokesman Timothy Kirkhope praised the work of the FRA in areas such as tackling intolerance and promoting victims' and childrens' rights.

However he was sceptical of the need for it to expand into the field of judicial co-operation.

"Member states should be the main drivers and they should have their own fundamental rights watchdogs," he added.

But British Labour MEP Michael Cashman criticised those who wanted to block expansion of the agency.

"What do we have to fear of being accountable of our own human rights record?" he asked.

A number of MEPs raised concerns about the costs of running the agency, but Mr Cashman accused critics of "knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing".

The agency is based in Vienna and was set up in 2007 to oversee the protection of minority rights in EU countries and candidate countries.

It has no power to intervene in individual cases but focuses on broad issues and trends.

Critics of the organisation say it duplicates work being done by other bodies, such as the Council of Europe and the Justice department of the European Commission.

However some political groups say it should be strengthened and should be allowed to publish country-by-country reports on the protection of fundamental rights.

Recent reports produced by the agency have focused on the treatment of Roma people, homophobia and anti-Semitism.

A report by the European Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee criticises the stance of member states, and was adopted at the daily voting session later in the day.

Useful links:

Democracy Live's guide to how the plenary sessions work.

A disclaimer on the use of simultaneous interpretations, on the European Parliament's website.

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