One step further in tackling xenophobia and racism in Europe
Ladies and gentlemen,
Welcome to the launch of our High Level Group on combating racism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance.
The High Level Group follows up on the Colloquium on Fundamental Rights that I held, together with First Vice President Timmermans, last October.
And the issue remains as topical as it was then..
Too often, people are harassed, threatened or assaulted verbally or physically because of their ethnic origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or disabilities.
The Commission rejects and condemns all forms of intolerance and hatred: they do not belong in our societies!
Over recent years, racism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance have been growing and spreading across Europe at very high speed.
Evidence shows that threats against Jewish people and acts of Antisemitism are on the rise in many Member States.
In the wake of the recent terrorist attacks, we have also observed direct and widespread discrimination and stigmatisation of Muslims, as well as a surge in the number of anti-Muslim incidents. In France, for example, individual attacks against Muslims increased by 53% in 2014 compared with 2012. After the Paris attacks things have even taken a turn for the worse.
"Toxic narratives" about migrants and religious minorities fuel not only fears and prejudices but also hatred against those who are perceived as foreigners by local populations. In Germany, for example, the Parliament recently published data on the number of incidents targeting accommodation centres for asylum seekers. Over 3 years, the number of incidents has gone through the roof, from 62 incidents recorded in 2012 to 1.610 in 2015.
Attacks against Roma, LGBTI persons and disabled people also make the news all over Europe. This confirms worrying trends highlighted by the Fundamental Rights Agency in 2008. Their survey showed that on average, 18% of all Roma interviewed said they had experienced in the previous year at least one racially motivated crime. In 2013, more than 1 in 4 respondents to the FRA LGBT survey reported having been attacked or threatened with violence over the five years previous to the survey.
Finally, there is also an exponential spread of hate speech on online fora, including social media and chats.
The use of Internet to incite violence and hatred has a devastating effect on the groups that it targets and on those who stand for freedom, tolerance and non-discrimination.
Working with IT companies to fight hate speech
At the Colloquium last October, many participants called for cooperation with online intermediaries to remove hate speech and develop counter-narratives.
And they stressed the need for clearer procedures to prosecute and take down hate speech on the internet.
Not long after the Colloquium I started a dialogue with IT companies at the EU level to tackle hate speech.
As a result, I presented two weeks ago what could be a 'game changer' in countering hate speech online.
It is a code of conduct signed by major IT companies, such as Facebook, and Twitter to ensure that hate speech online can be easily identified and tackled by online intermediaries and social media platforms.
Our action against online hate speech is also a part of the Commission's efforts against radicalisation, which my colleagues Commissioners Navrascisc and Avramopoulos will present later today. Radicalisation has a wide variety of causes, that need to be better understood and tackled both through education and security measures. The fight against hate speech and xenophobia is as an important part of this agenda.
EU Laws to combat racism and law on victims' rights, and the importance of ensuring their implementation in practice
The EU is equipped with laws to combat racism and xenophobia, as well as a law on victims' rights that protects all victims, including victims of hate crime.
All who took part in the Colloquium highlighted that laws on paper are not enough. It is urgent to improve investigation and prosecution of hate crimes, raise the awareness of hate crime victims and provide them with the necessary support.
This is the primary responsibility of law enforcement authorities, judicial authorities and civil society.
As for the Commission and other stakeholders at both EU and international levels, we can help national authorities and local actors to effectively address these challenges. Not only can we give political impetus to all actions undertaken on these issues, we can also provide guidance on how to effectively implement laws and policies, through training, or by developing platforms for exchange of methods and practices. Finally, we can fund relevant projects and initiatives.
Talking about funding, I am pleased to announce that a new one-stop-shop website will go live today. It will provide easy access to information about EU funding, projects and initiatives in the area of inclusive tolerance, racism, xenophobia and non-discrimination. .
But a lot more needs to be done to make a difference on the ground.
[The importance of increasing coordination and maximising synergies]
Only together will we be able to ensure that effective measures are put in place to prevent and combat racism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance in Europe.
We need to build on the rich expertise coming from our many different partners.
We need to build partnerships and increase coordination.
We need to maximise synergies and achieve more effective and measurable results for our citizens.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
For the first time today, all the actors, are sitting around the same table.
Today, we have the opportunity to join forces.
Let us put our minds together and discuss concrete ways to prevent and counter hate speech and hate crime.
Let us develop, under the guidance of the Fundamental Rights Agency, a common methodology to record incidents and collect comparable data on hate crimes;
Let us use this High Level Group as a platform to monitor and report on the implementation of the commitments undertaken by IT companies and the Member States to fight against online hate speech.
Only with practical support, proactive engagement and ambitious initiatives coming from all of us will we be able to succeed in this endeavour.
I wish this High Level Group a very good start and I look forward to hearing about the joint actions we will undertake together to tackle the unprecedented societal challenge Europe is facing.