Hate speech in the European Parliament?

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Mose Apelblat

Mose Apelblat

An oath of allegiance to the Treaty of the EU and ‘European values’ should ban far-right, anti-immigrant and racist politicians from the European Parliament. Sounds too good to be true? That’s because it is, writes Mose Apelblat.

Mose Apelblat is a writer and commentator on EU affairs and former official at the European Commission.

But what else can be done to prevent hate speech and the abuse of the parliament? These MEPs have been elected on a national mandate and cannot be banned from the parliament. They also do enjoy parliamentary immunity.

The opening of the new parliament is approaching and until now we haven’t heard much about how it intends to tackle the problem. The main parties and the Council have been busy arguing about who should be the new president of the Commission.

The far-right parties themselves have other more urgent concerns and have been trying forming political party groups which would make them eligible for more funding and speaking time in the parliament.

Forming a political party group would give these parties added strength. On the other hand political party groups are obliged to respect the basic values of the European Union. A similar condition cannot be found in either the Code of Conduct of the MEPs, or the Rules of Procedures of the parliament.

Until now their efforts to form a common party group haven’t been very successful. They are too divided, and as ultra-nationalists, they really don’t like other nationalities from other countries. We can therefore expect that a large number of them will not be attached to any party group.

It would really be a disgrace if any MEP would use the floor of the parliament and its meeting rooms for hate speech – even more so when considering that there is a Council Framework Decision (2008/913/JHA) on combatting certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law.

The parliament would be advised to reflect on the Commission’s report of 27 January this year on the national transposition of the Framework decision. The report begins by stating that all forms and manifestations of racism and xenophobia are incompatible with the values upon which the EU is founded.

As regards hate speech, Member States must ensure that the following intentional conduct is punishable when directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, color, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin:

  • Publicly inciting to violence or hatred
  • Publicly condoning, denying or grossly trivializing crimes of genocide

Racist and xenophobic attitudes expressed by opinion leaders, e.g. MEPs from far-right parties, may contribute to a social climate that condones racism and xenophobia and may therefore propagate more serious forms of conduct, such as racist violence. The report states that public condemnation of such expressions is of utmost importance.

The Commission concluded that at present, it appears that a number of Member States have not transposed fully and/or correctly all the provisions of the Framework Decision, namely in relation to the offences of denying, condoning and grossly trivializing certain crimes.

The majority of Member States have provisions on incitement to racist and xenophobic violence and hatred, but these do not always seem to fully transpose the offences covered by the Framework Decision. Some gaps have also been observed in relation to the racist and xenophobic motivation of crimes, the liability of legal persons and jurisdiction.

Denying or trivializing the Holocaust comes to mind. It would be shocking if that would happen in the European Parliament. However similar shocking events have recently taken place in the parliament without the Parliament’s Secretariat or the Cabinet of the Parliament’s president reacting.

In April a Polish MEP, belonging to the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), invited a retired professor from Georgetown University to lecture at a conference on anti-Semitism. Ironically Georgetown was also the place where Jan Karski, who risked his life during WWII to report on the Holocaust, was lecturing.

But nothing could have been more different from Karski’s legacy, which is being celebrated this year. The speaker was supposed to talk about “Low intercultural and interreligious competences as a source of anti-Semitism” which sounded quite innocent and interesting.

She did give a historical overview of ant-Semitism but unfortunately her description of Judaism was based on dubious and one-sided sources which of course are no excuse. The Holocaust was trivialized as Nazi-German fear of bolshevism. The state of Israel was painted as the worst threat to the region (the Middle East).

I happened to be there and was shocked. I understand that the host of the conference – who has a respectable record – must have invited the speaker by mistake. But I wouldn’t like events like this to happen again. If it happens, I would expect that the Parliament will hold the responsible accountable.

An oath or pledge of allegiance by all MEPs to fundamental rights and European values would be a step in the right direction.