Rule of law as a priority of the German EU Council presidency was an open secret long before the programme was presented. Thus, it was only fitting that the first Council meeting chaired by Germany was that of the ministers of justice. EURACTIV Germany reports.
German Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht (SPD) discussed with her colleagues via video conference how to protect the rule of law even during a global pandemic.
At the press conference afterwards, Lambrecht emphasised above all how united they were. This included, for example, with the aim that measures against the virus “must not restrict civil liberties for even a day longer than is absolutely necessary”.
She praised European parliaments and courts for their ability to act during the pandemic. As proof of this, she used the fact that non-proportional restrictions had been withdrawn.
Fighting hate speech on the internet: no “truth commission”
There was also agreement among the ministers on the issue of whether more action should be taken against hate speech and disinformation on the Internet. The answer: yes, the EU must do more here. During the pandemic, there were particularly worrying trends here, for example in the area of conspiracy theories.
However, it is still unclear what exactly the EU should do. Until now, the Commission has relied on the accountability of online platforms. Instead of an EU law modelled on the German Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG), which obliges platforms to delete illegal content, there was a voluntary “code of conduct.” Whoever signs this is not legally obliged to do anything.
In doing so, the Commission wanted to avoid acting as a “truth commission,” as Věra Jourová, the EU Commissioner for Values and Transparency, put it.
However, according to Lambrecht, there was consensus today “that voluntary commitment alone is not enough. We will take further steps towards clear commitments by the platforms.” She summarised the goal as the following: “What is already punishable in analog form must not be possible in digital form either.”
Jourová conceded that the definition of illegal content, such as incitement to hatred, was quite simple, but not the definition of misinformation. It had to cause harm to be eligible for any regulation at all.
Such a definition will be provided in the Action Plan for Democracy to be published at the end of this year.
Racism must be “tackled”
Strengthening the protection of victims was also on the agenda. To ensure that “all victims of crime can fully exercise their rights,” the strategy for victims’ rights already adopted must be taken up and further developed during the German Presidency, the EU’s Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders told a news conference on Monday (6 July).
This protection explicitly includes victims of racial discrimination.
Victim protection has a special role to play, particularly in view of the growing hostility towards minorities that has emerged during the pandemic. After all, the increasing agitation is closely linked to structural racism, Jourová said during today’s meeting. “This is an issue that we need to address within the EU,” she said.
Criticising Horst Seehofer
The debate on structural racism has recently been fuelled by growing discrimination against people of Asian origin and the Black Lives Matter movement, triggered by George Floyd’s violent death at the hands of a police officer in the US.
In addition, the recent adoption of the first state anti-discrimination law in Berlin, which is intended to improve the protection for victims by facilitating evidence collection, has also triggered discussions in Germany.
German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer’s (CSU) latest decision not to commission a study on racial profiling in the German police force came as a surprise and stood contrary to the European Commission recommendation against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI).
Lambrecht criticised the decision on Monday, saying the conduct of the study was “correct and important to ascertain the current state of affairs.” She said she therefore wanted to consult with Seehofer again.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]