Navigation path

Left navigation

Additional tools

Other available languages: FR DE ES IT


Romano Prodi

President of the European Commission

A Union of minorities

Seminar on Europe -- Against anti-Semitism, For a Union of Diversity

Brussels, 19 February 2004

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

The very fact that we are all gathered here today is important and significant. It sends a positive message of dialogue, openness and tolerance.

I also wish to express my thanks to the co-organisers of today's Seminar, the European Jewish Congress and the Congress of European Rabbis. And my warmest greetings to all our guests today -- Shalom.

Europe's history has many glorious pages. I think of the democratic principles we have inherited from Greek civilisation. I think of the flowering of the Renaissance and the advances of the Age of Enlightenment.

But Europe's past also has many dark and terrible chapters. Chapters that relate the worst of man's cruelty to his fellows.

It has seen persecutions and pogroms. It has seen the Inquisition and the Wars of Religion. It has seen burnings at the stake, autos-da-fé, noyades and purges.

Most terribly, within the span of my own generation it has seen concentration camps, mass extermination, genocide and the unique horror of the Shoah.

Often these have been passed off with euphemisms -- such as the "Final Solution" and the equally obscene "ethnic cleansing".

There are killing fields elsewhere too, but this does not reduce the heavy burden of guilt we Europeans bear for the past. We are not here to judge other nations or continents or their crimes. We are here to talk about Europe. Let us have the courage to face the facts and call things by their true names.

And I want this Seminar to produce results and have an impact. We are not here to beat our breasts in public and then do nothing. So I have some practical proposals to make on follow-up.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I believe we can learn a lot from the history of the Jews of Europe. In many ways they are the first, the oldest Europeans.

We, the new Europeans, are just starting to learn the complex art of living with multiple allegiances -- allegiance to our home town, to our own region, to our home country, and now to the European Union.

The Jews have been forced to master this art since antiquity. They were both Jewish and Italian, or Jewish and French, Jewish and Spanish, Jewish and Polish, Jewish and German. Proud of their ties with Jewish communities throughout the continent, and equally proud of their bonds with their own country.

In Germany and eastern Europe, the medium they used for expressing these complex bonds was Yiddish, while Judaeo-Spanish or Ladino was used in the Balkans and the Mediterranean.

Historically and culturally the Jews are Europe's archetypal minority. They were deprived of rights that others enjoyed and they were persecuted throughout Europe.

It has been said that civilisations can be judged by the way they treat their minorities. The way a society behaves towards its minorities reveals a lot about its underlying values and its culture.

So the way Jews were treated is a sort of litmus test of civilisation. And we all know that over the last two millennia the results across Europe were often shameful.

And yet the Jews of Europe, whatever their nationality -- Belgians, British, French, Germans, Italians, Poles, Portuguese or Spaniards -- have made an immense contribution to European culture -- as artists, as scientists, as thinkers and writers.

Not only as individuals but also as a community, they have contributed enormously to Europe.

The values that have guided them through the centuries have provided a reference for us. They have played a big part in shaping the European ethos and our diverse cultures and histories.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Shoah was the most horrendous crime ever committed on European soil. The immense suffering it caused has scarred the survivors and the Jewish people as a whole forever.

It has also left its mark on all those Europeans who have grasped the full magnitude of the crime.

The horror of the Shoah and the terrible loss of life caused by the Second World War deeply marked Europe's founding fathers too.

They set out to make sure the Europe of the 1930s and 1940s could never return.

The European idea was based on the firm determination to make sure the Europe of the future would be different -- a Europe of peace, tolerance and respect for human rights. A Union of diversity where differences are accepted and perceived as enriching the whole.

My personal commitment to the European idea stems from the deep conviction that this is the right way forward for our continent. That is why the first thing I did after my investiture as President of the European Commission was to visit Auschwitz.

The European Union has outlawed war as a way of settling differences between its members. It has reconciled centuries-old foes.

And now with enlargement, we have healed the divide that split the continent in two for half a century and we have united Europe peacefully for the first time in history.

We have started pooling our resources and sharing our national sovereignty. We have a single market and a single currency. And we all benefit from the peace, stability and prosperity this has brought.

Most importantly today, we also share the same core values.

Respect for human rights, respect for minorities and respect for human dignity are among the founding principles of the European Union, along with liberty, democracy and the rule of law.

That is why racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism are a clear violation of all the Union stands for.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I have called the Europe we are building a "Union of minorities". A Union where no single national, ethnic, religious or cultural component can lord it over the others.

Because all Europe's components -- be they cultural, religious, ethnic or national -- are entitled to equal dignity.

I want us to take the title of today's Seminar seriously. We must ensure the Europe we are building is a true "Union of diversity". That is the Union we are building.

Today I want us to send a strong signal that we will fight for this Union of diversity of ours.

Europe's cultural and ethnic diversity is one of its strengths. And along with the Union's founding values, our cultural diversity and multi-ethnic character can vaccinate us against fresh manifestations of anti-Semitism and new forms of prejudice.

I am also firmly convinced that an awareness of the past is crucial -- crucial if we want to root out any signs of intolerance or rejection of diversity -- in schools, at the workplace and in political life.

Let us be clear. We do hear expressions of anti-Semitic prejudice. We do see vestiges of the historical anti-Semitism that was once widespread in Europe. We do see attacks against synagogues, desecration of Jewish cemeteries and physical assaults on Jews. That is why we are here today.

But let us be honest and keep things in perspective.

Today's Europe is not the Europe of the 1930s and 1940s, and it would be false to claim it were. I do not believe that any organised form of anti-Semitism comparable to the anti-Semitism of the 1930s and 1940s is rampant in Europe today.

We have no right to insult the memory of the Shoah's millions of victims by putting their sufferings on a par with today's manifestations, as serious as they undoubtedly are.

Today's Europe has unreservedly condemned the anti-Semitism of the 1930s and 1940s and continues to condemn any fresh manifestations of anti-Semitism. This attitude is shared by the immense majority of Europe's people and leaders.

On numerous occasions the Union's institutions have reaffirmed their determination to defend human rights and have condemned all forms of intolerance, racism and xenophobia.

The European Treaties and the national laws of Member States, upon whom the main responsibility for practical action lies, provide instruments for combating any breach of those principles.

Protection of human rights -- and especially the rights of minorities -- is a key criterion for joining the Union and for remaining a member of it.

Today's Europe has put in place a set of safeguards and preventative measures to guard against any resurgence of the terrible events of the past.

  • The Charter of Fundamental Rights, which has been incorporated into the Union's draft Constitution, prohibits discrimination in the strongest terms.

  • Member States have adopted strict laws against the production, sale and dissemination of anti-Semitic propaganda.

  • In November 2001 the Commission put forward a Framework Decision on racism and xenophobia. It has three aims: first, to make racism and xenophobia punishable by law by introducing effective, proportionate and dissuasive criminal penalties; second, to improve and encourage judicial cooperation by removing potential obstacles; third, to define anti-Semitic acts, including any public denial or trivialisation of the Shoah, as crimes punishable by law.

Ladies and gentlemen,

There is also another context in which a form of anti-Semitism may develop and which feeds on the unresolved conflict in the Middle East.

In Europe we see this conflict fuelling the social frustrations of new minorities established through immigration in many Member States of the Union.

Such frustrations imported into Europe do sometimes translate into anti-Semitic acts, in some countries more than in others. Such acts must be dealt with severely.

This type of anti-Semitism represents a new challenge for the Union. We must use all the instruments available to deal with anti-Semitism of this sort, ranging from police and judicial action to education and social measures.

I began my speech by saying that we are not here to put the blame on others, but to make sure we do what is needed to root out racism and xenophobia. Whatever form anti-Semitism may take, a constant policy concern of ours must be to banish all such manifestations from the Union.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Peace is the fundamental value of the Union -- peace within Europe and peace abroad. And peace must go hand in hand with security if it is to be more than just an empty word.

The process of European integration and enlargement has brought peace in security to a continent where borders have lost much of their significance, because we share the same values, we apply the same rules and we protect minorities in the same way.

The desire to foster these values in the wider world is the major impetus behind the neighbourhood policy we are developing for eastern Europe and the Mediterranean.

The European Neighbourhood Policy seeks to create a "ring of friends" around the Union, stretching from Russia around to Morocco, based on shared values and common or converging interests.

In addition to our eastern neighbours, this new Policy encompasses all the countries around the Mediterranean, and that naturally includes Israel. And Israel is a country with which we Europeans have close, longstanding cultural, historical and personal ties. It is also a vibrant practising democracy.

Under the Neighbourhood Policy, we are offering our partners the chance to share in the peace, stability and prosperity that we have enjoyed in the European Union.

I must mention the peace process in the Middle East in this context because it has an impact on the topic of today's Seminar.

The Union is firmly committed to the clear objective of two States -- Israel and a viable and democratic Palestinian State, living side by side in peace and security, with no place for terrorism or violence of any sort, within the framework of a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, as laid out in the Road Map.

Peace and security are overriding concerns for Europeans.

When Europeans identify a particular country as a threat to peace, I like to think this is a concern at lack of progress in the peace process and the infernal cycle of violence.

Equally, where criticism is levelled at specific policies of the Israeli Government, I like to think this is a normal expression of democratic dissent. And the right to democratic dissent is something the Israelis practise passionately.

But I am aware, and I cannot deny, that some criticism of Israel is inspired by what amounts to anti-Semitic sentiments and prejudice. This must be recognised for what it is and properly addressed.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me repeat why I have called this Seminar and what I hope will come from it.

First, the very fact that today's Seminar is taking place raises the profile of the problem in the public eye and increases awareness of anti-Semitism.

Because anti-Semitism feeds on ignorance.

But we need more than words.

I want that this seminar to consider practical measures to combat anti-Semitism. Discussion is needed to focus action, not replace it.


    Let me start with the Commission. Anti-Semitism calls for specifically targeted action that cuts across the competences of a number of Commission departments, including justice and home affairs, social affairs, employment and education. I want this Commission to look into the matter, so we can offer the incoming Commission a proposal on the best way to address the issue.

    Secondly, the Council -- and that means the national governments -- has a fundamental role to play. I call on the Justice and Home Affairs Council and the Education Council to hold meetings specifically to discuss anti-Semitism in Europe. I mention these Council configurations because anti-Semitism calls for law-enforcement measures as well as pre-emptive action in the field of education.

    I have already referred to the Commission's proposal for a Framework Decision on combating racism and xenophobia. This proposal is of paramount importance. So I urge the Council to adopt as a matter of urgency.

    I also urge the Member States to draft measures and proposals to combat all manifestations of racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and related intolerance. To that end, it is indispensable for Europe to be able to count on an effective and credible system for monitoring anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia, both at national and at Union level.

    I welcome the fact that last December the heads of State and government showed how important they regard these issues by deciding to turn the Union's Vienna-based Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia into a fully fledged Human Rights Agency. I call on the Centre to speed up the publication of its new study on anti-Semitism in the Union.

    At international level, I sincerely hope that the situation will evolve to an extent that the United Nations General Assembly can finally adopt the resolution on anti-Semitism. And I hope the Union's Member States will take suitable action to that end. This would send an important signal of tolerance across the world.

I would like all of us today to agree on this set of proposals and policies. This should be the message of today's Seminar.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The EU institutions are united in their condemnation of anti-Semitism.

The Europe of today is not the Europe of the 1930s and 1940s. We must never forget what happened then, because remembering the past is a way of ensuring that such terrible events never recur.

Anti-Semitic acts must be dealt with severely and the rights of our minorities must be safeguarded.

The Union must work for peace and security within Europe just as it works to foster peace and security abroad.

There is no place for anti-Semitism in a Union of diversity.

Side Bar