In its latest annual report, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), the Council of Europe's human rights body, warned that there is an “intensification of hate speech against vulnerable groups and racist violence”.
The ECRI noted an "increase in resentment and prejudice against immigrants, Muslims and Roma people in particular" as some of the "worrying trends" identified during 2012.
The observation is shared by other human rights institutions.
The latest assessment by the European Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) shows that racist crimes have decreased only in six of the surveyed 16 member states.
“It’s been a general trend for several years,” says Michael Privot, director at the European Network Against Racism (ENAR).
The trivialisation of hate speech only a few months before the European Parliament elections and in a general context of euroscepticism should be of great concern for politicians.
“A worrying populism is developing everywhere in Europe,” confirms Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for justice and fundamental rights.
“Hate speech has become more and more vocal, aimed at different communities," Reding said. "It is dangerous to trivialise any type of xenophobic or racist speech and it is our responsibility to condemn it".
"The insults against my colleagues Cecile Kyenge and Christiane Taubira are unacceptable,” Reding added.
Cecile Kyenge, the current Minister for Integration in Italy and Christiane Taubira, Minister of Justice in France, have both recently been target by racist insults because of the colour of their skin.
“I started my political activity precisely on the subject of racism and I believe that we are going backwards," said Isabelle Durant, a Green MEP from Belgium and European Parliament vice-president.
“It is extremely worrying. I congratulate those who have the courage to combat it because it has become harder," Durant added.
Scapegoating and economic crisis
The economic crisis sticks out as the top reason for having stigmatised immigration.
“The major financial instability is leading to scapegoating and the rise of extremist ideologies,” ECRI stressed.
According to ENAR, migrant workers and children are the most affected groups; they are a “source of resentment and hostility”.
The crisis has also decreased the budgets dedicated to the promotion of equality. In the UK for example, the amounts allocated to multiethnic groups will be decreased and integration associations are left with little resources.
In Spain, budget cuts in health might leave between 500,000 and 700,000 migrants without healthcare.
The media also stands accused of aggravating the problem by perpetuating damaging stereotypes. “Media reports about ethnic minority groups are generally presented through a distorting and negative prism,” ENAR warned.
“I think we need to educate the media and academic personalities to combat everyday racism and highlight positive examples,” Durant suggested.
In Slovakia, Norway or France, printed media and TV programmes regularly insist on the ethnic origin of offenders. In Malta, immigrants are usually called “illegal” regardless of their legal situation.
The internet has also contributed to the rise of 'digital racism', which is made easier by the anonymity it provides. The increase of hate speech on the web helps trivialise racism.
In Italy, 84% of racist speech comes from the web. In Greece, 800 openly racist blogs have been listed. In the Netherlands, more than 1,500 complaints have been filed for online insults.
ECRI even draws a parallel between “the increased use of Internet by extremist groups and the rise of racist violence”.