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Racism watchdog faces closure

Amalgamation plan could end anti-discrimination body Halde

THE NEW president of anti-discrimination watchdog La Halde is pressing for it to retain a clear identity when it is absorbed into a new authority this year.

Several independent bodies are being amalgamated under the leadership of a new official called the Defender of Rights: La Halde, the Children’s Defender, the CNDS (which deals with complaints against the police) and the Mediator of the
Republic (who intervenes in disputes between the public and the state).

However the exact fate of the Halde, which has become well known to the public as the body to appeal to in relation to discrimination of all kinds, is still unsure: will it retain a separate identity under the umbrella of the Defender?
Will it retain its decisionmaking power, or will the “Defender” always have the final say?

When the body was left without a president when Jeannette Bougrab was appointed as a minister, pundits saw this as a precursor to its demise; however, its new president, former charity boss Eric Molinié, has said he does not want to be a transitional head, but wants La Halde’s “missions to continue, its specificity to be recognised”.

“La Halde acts as a safeguard,” he told Le Figaro. Businesses recognised its expertise and it freed up the courts. “It has dealt with 37,000 cases since it was created [in 2005]. It has allowed for mediations that satisfy complainants and made 1,800 rulings that are, on the whole, put into action by the public prosecutors.”

The then Justice Minister, Michèle Alliot-Marie, claimed last year the amalgamation would “bring the institutions together to be stronger”. It will also cost less, the government believes.

It comes as some aspects of the Halde’s finances were criticised in a report by public sector watchdog the Cour de Comptes, notably spending on PR.

However critics of amalgamation say La Halde’s job risks over-dilution. A group of unions and rights charities, “SOS La Halde”, is calling for it to remain independent, clearly identifiable and financially autonomous.

Lawyer Marie-Thérèse Lanquetin, a spokeswoman for the group, said: “This Defender of Rights will have more than 200,000 appeals a year, far too many for a single person to decide on; that’s why the Halde’s consultative committee [a panel of 18 experts], which I am president of, is against the idea.

“What is positive, however, is that we have a new president and that he supports collegiality and keeping the consultative committee, which would be axed in the current draft of the law.”

Mrs Lanquetin added: “I think the MPs don’t understand very well what La Halde does or what discrimination is and they don’t want a body which they can’t control.”

She said the Halde’s €12 million budget, and its 80 staff, were less than those of comparable agencies in the UK. “It takes time to work through a discrimination appeal,” she said.

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