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EU Commissioner for Home Affairs
Raoul Wallenberg - To me there's no other choice
Kazerne Dossin, Mechelen, Belgium
18 June 2013
Last January, in the European Parliament, I participated at a ceremony in remembrance of the Holocaust. A film from the ghetto in Warsaw was shown. Aged survivors talked about their experiences of the persecution in Europe in the 30s and 40s.
They talked about violence and harassments, about the regime's terrible crimes against humanity. About the sorrow and the burden of being the only survivor of the whole family.
These were very powerful stories that moved us all.
Later that evening, another film was shown. It was about Roma people in Hungary. It showed fear, violence and harassments, young men marching in the villages and screaming hatefully.
The only difference between the movies was that this film was in colour. And that is was from 2012.
In Greece, the party Golden Dawn, marched into the parliament with a result of 7 % in last year's elections. Since then the support has increased. It is an open Nazi-party. They help lonely old ladies during the da. And at night they beat Muslims, Africans – anyone who does not look Greek.
Golden Dawn is the third largest party in Greece.
In France, there has been a huge debate lately about same sex marriages. And even when the law was voted tens of thousands took to the streets to deny homosexuals their basis rights. Not only that, there has been an increase in violence against LGBT people and organisations.
I am afraid that Hungary, Greece and France are just examples of a much wider development. I think we all are painfully aware that intolerance is spreading in Europe today.
As history has shown, difficult times nurture nationalism and the need to find scapegoats. Racist and anti-Semitic hate crimes are increasing; Roma people are still discriminated against. LGBT people meet intolerance, prejudices and discrimination in daily life. In several countries xenophobic parties have representatives in parliament. In fact not since the WWII, have we had so many xenophobic parties in elected assemblies.
All these developments go very much against all the principles the EU is built upon and they threaten tolerance and democracy.
In fact, what we are seeing is worryingly reminiscent of what Raoul Wallenberg must once have observed – the economic recession, with very high unemployment in combination with a political crisis that pushes political parties to the far right and left.
The EU must respond to this. The EU's foundations grew from the lessons learned from the horrors in the first half of the 20th Century. The universal values of human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity - reflected in the Charter on Fundamental rights - leave us no choice.
And the EU does act
We have put in place the legal framework that allows us to address the challenges. The Framework Decision on racism and xenophobia prohibits racist or xenophobic speech and crime. There is European legislation to bans racist speech in media.
The Fundamental Rights Agency monitors the respect of the basic rights and will deliver its report before the end of this year.
The Agency will also present the results of its survey of Jewish people's experiences with anti-Semitism in the nine Member States where 90% of European Jews reside.
We are funding actions fostering mutual understanding, countering traditional and new stereotypes which are at the roots of racist or anti-Semitic attitudes and behaviour.
The Commission is determined to further increase its efforts to fight all forms of intolerance in the EU.
We need a new instrument adapted to the new realities in Europe. The EU needs some sort of human rights monitoring for all its members. During accession negotiations we have great opportunities to push the candidate country's progress towards reform and democratization, but States are reluctant to criticise one another once you are a member of the Union.
This negligence needs to stop. The Treaty provides the tool of last resort to exclude a member country. We are not at that stage yet, but if the EU is to live up to what it stands for, we may never exclude that such a decision could be taken.
New efforts are also needed to counter violent extremism. The Radicalisation Awareness Network, created in September 2011, is doing magnificent work here. The network brings together practitioners, researches and policy makers to exchange best practices with actors on a local level from around the EU. We have powerful examples of counter narrative stories to combat radicalisation and also of exit programs for those who chose to leave extremist environments. The network allows for immediate policy making, directly connected to the realities and experiences of those affected.
Protecting fundamental rights and values is also about protection those in fear of persecution.
When I took office as European Commissioner, one of my main goals was to make sure Europe would remain a safe haven for those are in need of international protection.
In order to reach that goal, a truly Common European Asylum System was needed. After though and lengthy negotiations, I am extremely pleased that a political agreement has been reached that that a common system can now be implemented. I believe we have made a decisive step towards Europe remaining a safe house for the many who fear persecution in our times.
So, we have the Treaty, we have legislation and agencies and we are taking further initiatives. But all of this will certainly not be enough.
In times when Europe is put to the test, when a cold wind blows and gains strength, people need to stand up for the fundamental values and defend diversity.
An important responsibility lies with politicians. I am extremely worried that many in power today do not live up to their responsibilities. I am concerned about the way that many mainstream politicians blame all kinds of miseries on minorities and migrants.
Why did it take Prime Minister Orban several days to dissociate from the proposal to register Jews in his country?
Why are Greek Ministers so slow to improve detention conditions for migrants?
Why are even main stream politicians increasingly turning to anti-migrant rhetoric's?
Why are there are increasing calls for criminalizing people simply because they cannot show the right documents?
Political leaders have the obligation to bring people together; to bridge the differences in their society by promoting dialogue and understanding.
What we need is strong political leadership to condemn extreme violent acts and discourses. Politicians need to reiterate the values Europe is built on: freedom of speech, democracy, the rule of law and equal rights regardless of race, religion or gender.
We need dedicated discussions at the highest level – meaning the Heads of States and Government at the European Council – leading up to a joint commitment on how we stop the growing trends of xenophobia and violent extremism in Europe.
For European Leaders, the time to act is now – not tomorrow or when the economic crisis is over.
When protection the fundamental rights is Europe, we also have to make the link to a more positive dialogue on migration. Any society which gives way to populism and anti-migration sentiments ignores the reality that we need migrants.
I am therefore very pleased to see that this museum has dedicated a special place to migrants. The pictures are impressive and the questions to the point. They encourage us to reflect about what kind of world it is that we want.
Migrants enrich our societies. They have done so always and will always do. If we forget that basic fact, if we appeal to populism rather than engaging with the real issues that are certainly there, we risk fading into a very dangerous rhetoric.
But, while we are right in expecting our politicians and the EU to act, the deeds and legacy of Raoul Wallenberg, hold a maybe even more important message: that we carry our own individual responsibility.
Some call it a 'moral duty', some call it 'civil courage'. But we all need to recognize that a Europe that truly respects the values it is based upon, will never exit without people that take up their responsibilities, that stand up for tolerance and equal rights, that stand up to all forms of oppression.
We must never forget the Holocaust. When Jewish children are again afraid to go to school, when the Roma are evicted from their homes and are described as parasites, when cruel traffickers exploit vulnerable people and sell them as slaves, when refugees are abused, then we have to stand up for equal rights.
Each of us has a responsibility to stand up for the values that so many people on our continent have died to defend. It could be to go out and vote in the election, to add a vote for one of the democratic parties that moves us forward, not a fascist who wants back in time and turn limits.
That evening in the European Parliament last January, we also inaugurated the Raoul Wallenberg room. We did this to honour Raoul Wallenberg who took action where others may have remained silent. He showed us what one human being can do to go fight the forces of evil. He considered it his personal responsibility to act. In the face of the totalitarian regime he felt no other choice than to protect and save his fellow man.
We can be inspired by the courage and strength of others.
When I was a child, many in my generation had the possibility to meet survivors of the Nazi camps. In school they could listen to their own words about life and death in the camps, about the persecution and the hate.
My grandfather, active in the Red Cross, and who drove survivors in the white buses from the camps told me about the horrors he witnessed. My grandfather is no longer alive and soon there will not be any survivors left.
Our children will be the first generation where most will not have any opportunity to listen to those who had the direct experiences with the horrors of the Second World War and the atrocities of the Nazi regime.
Therefore, it is even more important to talk about what has happened.
We need to double our efforts to help the new generation to read the signs of the times….to explain how it all started…to explain that democracy and the respect of human rights is never a given.
It is our duty to pick up the torch and not let the Holocaust or role models like Raoul Wallenberg disappear in the past.
The principles about right and wrong are transferred from adults to the young in every generation. We need to integrate these experiences into our educational systems and bring our children to places where they experience the past.
That is why this museum and this exhibition are so important. I therefore would like to thank the Swedish Institute and the many people who have contributed to this impressive initiative.
The importance of keeping the past alive grows as time passes.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I have come to the end of what I wanted to say. So, as we are gathered here, at this place where tens of thousands started their journey to the Nazi camps, let's use this moment to feel the message Raoul Wallenberg is sending us today.
Let's realize the importance of his legacy and recognize that in securing a human Europe we all carry a responsibility, because also for us, there can be no other choice.