Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency: The silent authority

The Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency has been working without management for years – barely noticeable and yet at the limit.

Fighting Discrimination on the Street: Demonstration Against Racism in Memory of George Floyd Photo: Sebastian Wells / Ostkreuz

BERLIN taz | When Bernhard Franke appeared in front of the press in early June, the big Black Lives Matter protests in many German cities were just three days ago. For a short time there is a broad debate on racism in Germany. Franke’s authority, the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency (ADS), is the supreme advisory body for those affected by racism and discrimination. He presents the annual report for 2019. “Germany has an ongoing problem with racist discrimination and does not support those affected consistently enough,” summarizes Franke. One thing is certain: more and more people turn to the anti-discrimination agency every year.

Even so, it is arguably only a small fraction of the actual amount of people who experience discrimination on a daily basis. The ADS received around 4,250 inquiries last year – almost 16 a day. The anti-discrimination agency has problems getting noticed by the population.

One reason: The management of the position has been vacant since 2018. Franke is only acting head. This is largely due to mistakes made by the SPD and the Federal Family Ministry to which the office is affiliated. Although the ADS is technically independent, the selection of its management is the responsibility of Franziska Giffey, the social democratic Federal Minister for Family, Seniors, Women and Youth.

In April 2018, she proposed her party colleague Nancy Böhning to the cabinet for the office. Böhning had previously been deposed as managing director of the party. Your planned move to the top of the anti-discrimination agency gives the impression of internal party compensation.

A “poor certificate”

Shortly after the selection became known, two female competitors complained. The Berlin Administrative Court thereupon prohibited Böhning’s appointment in the first instance in February 2019. In its reasoning, the court clearly criticizes the appointment procedure. It is not compatible with the “principle of the best selection” laid down in the Basic Law. The selection was also not “open-ended”. A month later the Higher Regional Court in Münster made the same decision.

The Ministry of Family Affairs then took more than a year until it announced in June 2020 that it would no longer hold on to Böhning. Meanwhile, she has long been working as a consultant at IG Metall. A spokeswoman explains that there is currently no “legal certainty” for a new selection. The ministry is facing two different court decisions. That is why they now want to develop a new appointment procedure. To this end, an “internal government exchange” was initiated. It is unclear whether a leadership will be found in this legislative period.

There is a lack of understanding among the opposition: “The ADS is deprived of the opportunity to raise its voice,” says Ulle Schauws, queer and women’s political spokeswoman for the green parliamentary group. Schauws is convinced that the decision to no longer hold on to Böhning could have been made much earlier by the ministry. The responsible left-wing MP Gökay Akbulut sees it in a similar way: It is an “indictment of poverty” that the top position is still vacant.

Franke himself describes the situation less dramatically: “The fact that I am only acting head does not limit the content of the job,” he says. However, he is not publicly known as a person and is therefore “less effective”.

Toothless legal basis

This is exactly where his predecessor sees the problem. Christine Lüders headed the ADS from 2010 to 2018 and managed to get the authority into the headlines time and again with suggestions. Franke and his employees do an excellent job, according to Lüders. But someone is missing who is fighting with a strong mandate. “By keeping this position open, the anti-discrimination agency is one lame duck become ”, she says.

But the authority is not only paralyzed by the lack of management. Their legal basis, the German anti-discrimination law, is also comparatively weak. In 2006 the position was introduced as part of the General Equal Treatment Act – as an advisory service for those affected and to coordinate public relations and research. That only happened at the urging of the EU to implement a corresponding directive in Germany. CDU and FDP fought vehemently for a long time.

In a European comparison, German law is still toothless, the anti-discrimination authority is small and has few powers. So even if those affected know about ADD and turn to them, the authorities cannot help them in many cases.

“We were very late and we are pretty weak when it comes to this law.” This is how the journalist Ferda Ataman, who herself worked for two years as head of unit in the anti-discrimination agency and is now on the agency’s advisory board, sums it up. Your biggest point of criticism: a lack of representative action.

The most visible problem remains the lack of equipment in the authority

In this way, the ADS could legally represent those affected collectively in an accumulation of similar incidents. The authority itself has been publicly calling for this option for over four years. However, there is no majority for this in the Bundestag. Union and FDP reject the proposal.

The most visible problem remains the lack of equipment in the authority. The ADS currently has 27 posts. These officers are responsible for research, advice and campaigns on five different forms of discrimination – and that for the whole of Germany. The British equivalent, for example, has over 201 employees.

The number of requests for advice to the ADS is also low. But it is increasing steadily – during the corona pandemic again significantly faster: “We had more advice requests this year in mid-August than in the entire previous year,” reports Franke. Without more resources and bodies, the small authority will soon no longer be able to do this. “We are at the limit,” says Franke.

More money and staff – all democratic parties in the Bundestag support this on request. Little has happened so far. “Actually, the thing that annoys me the most is that it upsets so few people,” says the Green Show, which has long been dealing with the ADS in parliament. “If the Federal Government’s Commissioner for Sexual Abuse were not occupied, what do you think would be going on?” She asks.

The anti-discrimination agency is in a difficult position. For example, Ferda Ataman reports that even other federal authorities often ignore or forget about ADS. Franke puts it a little more gallantly: “We have experience in repeatedly calling ourselves to mind and having to demand participation.”

Last hope: independence

Some see a solution in making the ADS an independent authority. According to information from the taz, a corresponding application was discussed at the last meeting of the advisory board at the end of August. In the internal paper it is proposed to raise the ADS to the highest federal authority – on the same level as the Federal Commissioner for Data Protection.

The anti-discrimination agency could then make its own personnel decisions and would be independent of the family ministry. In addition, the leadership would be directly elected by the Bundestag. It is said that the proposal met with great approval in the advisory board.

By the end of October, the federal government also wants to adopt comprehensive measures to combat right-wing extremism and racism. After the right-wing terrorist attack in Hanau, the government set up a cabinet committee for this purpose. The committee would underline the “considerable political importance” attached to the fight against racism and right-wing extremism, the government stressed in a press release.

The anti-discrimination agency, the most important state source of knowledge on the subject of racism, is nevertheless not a permanent guest on the committee – unlike, for example, the Federal Government Commissioner for the new federal states.

But even though the ADS is not permanently at the table: It is not unlikely that it will play an important role in the plans. In any case, the authority hopes that the federal government will use the opportunity to comprehensively reform the General Equal Treatment Act and the Anti-Discrimination Agency at the same time.