The time has come to close our first Colloquium on Fundamental Rights.
But before you go, I would like to thank you!
As Frans Timmermans yesterday said in his concluding remarks “What we are doing here over these two days is historic.”
Thank you for your vivid testimonies and for offering solutions on how to learn, work and live together better.
Indeed, we heard representatives of different talking with each other, not about each other.
As many participants remarked, combating anti-Muslim and antisemitic hatred is not an issue for the Muslim and Jewish communities alone.
And it is not only about them. It is about society at large. It is about basic principles and our core values: rule of law, fundamental rights and democracy.
And the time for action, for collective action, is now!
I heard many of you call on the European Commission for action on many issues, ranging from education and culture, security, non discrimination, fighting and prosecuting hate speech, and hate crime.
We, at European level, have some tools to help you and we will do our part.
But let me make this clear: it is not only for the European Commission to solve such issues.
It emerged clearly from these two days that education at home, at school, or our cultural centre plays a crucial role in preventing discrimination and hatred.
Let me quote a young speaker representing a Muslim-Jewish platform: “Interfaith and cross-cultural dialogue cannot be taught at university. It has to be learned by doing it. Young leaders are a vaccine against misconception”.
And I also heard that children know better. They can become agents of tolerance and bring positive change into their families and communities.
But we need teachers to be well-trained for diversity and contribute to break stereotypes.
For our part, we will reinforce these educational actions including through EU funded programmes, such as Europe for Citizens and Erasmus+.
More than once, you raised concerns about EU financial support for your actions.
I must admit that applying for an EU grant may feel to some of you like a “mission impossible”. This is why I plan to set up a one-stop shop website to guide grassroots organisations into applying for funding.
And please monitor this; this is the first concrete thing we have to do.
Now on hate speech. If freedom of expression is one of the building blocks of a democratic society, hate speech on the other hand, is a blatant violation of that freedom.
It must be severely punished.
As some of you noted, over the past few weeks, we have witnessed a lot of solidarity towards refugees. But we have seen a surge of xenophobic hate speech.
Some of you advocated enrolling the help of online intermediaries such as Google or Facebook to take down hate speech from the web. Other participants rather underlined promoting the use of counter-narratives. You also highlighted the need for clearer procedures to prosecute those who spread hate speech online. I was pleased to hear media and Internet providers' experiences and to hear their commitment to work with us.
I fully agree with you on these lines of action. As was said this morning, Internet knows no borders.
I intend to bring together IT companies, business, national authorities and civil society around the table in Brussels to tackle together online hate speech. I will discuss this with EU Justice Ministers next week.
Let me now address the burning issue of hate crimes and data collection. We clearly need better and serious recording of hate crimes to ensure appropriate investigation, prosecution and sentencing.
It is indeed high time that Member States fully implemented EU law to combat racism and xenophobia. I intend to take decisive actions to monitor this implementation and will focus on three points. First of all, Member States must firmly and immediately investigate and prosecute racist hatred and violence. Second, I find it disgraceful that Holocaust denial is a criminal offence in only 13 Member States. Last but not least, Member States must decisively address hate speech.
The Fundamental Rights Agency will assist the Commission and EU Member States to improve data collection. We should also tap into the wealth of experience from the Council of Europe and many other organistions.
But for data recording the ball is in the court of Member States.
Let me know speak about victims who are on the receiving end of hate speech and hate crimes. Too often, they are left to fend for themselves.
I was moved by the testimonies yesterday. It is unacceptable to hear that when a victim reports an assault to the police, their case is dropped. In such circumstances, how can we expect victims to trust in police forces and seek redress?
Let us remember that victims have a right to strong support and empathy. They must be protected from their offenders. They are entitled to appropriate support and have access to justice. This, in a nutshell, is what the EU Victims Rights Directive seeks to provide.
And Member States have a little less than two months to transpose this directive into their national laws. Past the deadline of 16 November, the Commission will not hesitate to take action against Member States that fail to protect victims.
Preventing radicalisation leading to terrorism is another of the Commission’s priorities for Europe.
Last April, we set out the EU Agenda for Security to support Member States' cooperation in tackling security threats and step up the fight against terrorism, organised crime and cybercrime.
I call on Member States to implement this Agenda without delay to improve the security and protection of both Jewish and Muslim individuals, institutions and infrastructures.
Regarding the specific challenge of radicalisation in prisons, I will host on 19 October a high-level ministerial conference. Ministers of Justice, legal practitioners, prison administrations, academics and civil society will debate on effective interventions, management and sentencing practices to prevent the spread of radicalised ideas inside and outside prisons in the European Union.
I will conclude my speech with a rather sobering observation on discrimination. Today, discrimination on the basis of religion and belief is prohibited by law in the area of employment. But let's not fool ourselves!
Muslim people, particularly women, report cases of discrimination at work, while Jewish people are increasingly victims of offending comments by colleagues.
The latest Eurobarometer on discrimination released yesterday, shows very worrying results. Only 61% of respondents said that they would feel fully comfortable working with a Muslim colleague.
We must step up our efforts to further implement and better monitor EU anti-discrimination law, particularly the Race Equality Directive and the Employment Equality Directive.
With their diversity charters, companies are at the forefront of the fight against discrimination. But they still can do more: they should further share their best practices to promote a culture of tolerance and respect in the working place.
For my part, I will press ahead to have the Directive on Equal Treatment adopted, so that discrimination is prohibited not only at the work place but also in the areas of social protection, education and access to goods and services.
At the same time, we need to raise awareness and better implement equality law through funding and exchanging best practices between Member State authorities, including judges, equality bodies, prosecutors and lawyers. Equality bodies have a crucial role in this context.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The road to a society of tolerance is still long, but over these two days, I felt your strong determination to roll up your sleeves and get the work done together.
And therefore I completely understand the calls for concrete actions. This Colloquium was about more than words. It was about paving the way towards a more inclusive society, a society where we all feel respected and safe. A society that stands as a fierce defender of democracy, equality, and respect for human rights.
Let me conclude by again thanking all of you for taking your part in this Colloquium, for being here and sharing your ideas with us. And also let me thank my colleagues who really worked day and night to prepare this important event. Thank you all, thank you for your attention, and I am looking forward to meeting you on our next actions, thank you.