President. The next item is a statement by the Council and a statement by the Commission on the increase in racist and homophobic violence in Europe.
Hans Winkler, President-in-Office of the Council. (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, this issue that we are now dealing with in this plenary is one that we consider to be particularly important. Whenever the security and dignity of a citizen of the European Union is threatened, then we are all threatened. The credibility of our Union and its principles and institutions are at stake here.
The Union – and this was made very clear in this morning’s debate – is based on the principles of freedom, democracy, respect for human rights and basic freedoms and constitutionality. This is anchored in the founding treaties, and since then it has been restated in numerous institutional agreements and in numerous legal acts. We must therefore consider acts of racist and homophobic violence as direct provocations, and we must take decisive steps against them.
We must not allow people who are citizens within our own Union to feel like outsiders, and neither can we allow it, if people from other parts of the world who come here have experiences that contradict our values completely.
Since the Treaty of Amsterdam entered into force, the Union has – with directives on equal treatment laid down in the year 2000 – created a set of instruments to prevent or rather to combat discrimination across the Union, whether on account of ethnic background, religion, or of sexual orientation, among others.
On the basis of these two directives, the Community Action Programme to combat discrimination 2001-2006 was set up. In doing this, the European Union makes it very clear that in dealing with this matter it will not limit itself to passing legal statutes, but will take sweeping measures in order to implement anti-discrimination policies.
You know these measures, I do not need to go into detail here. I would, though, especially like to emphasise the great significance that we all attach to the activity of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia in this context. For those in positions of political power, its findings provide an important basis for decisions.
Allow me to continue here a point that I already made this morning. We believe that it would be a fair acknowledgment of these efforts towards equality and against discrimination and racism, if we were to create a fundamental rights agency, a separate agency that tackled these issues. The concern of this agency would be to ensure that we, in the Member States, in the institutions and in official bodies, observe the rules that we have in the European Union, rules that have become part of the acquis communautaire. This is not about carrying out general human rights investigations and setting ourselves up in competition with other institutions, in particular the Council of Europe. It is, rather, about the fact that we, as a Union, need an institution with the job of implementing measures that were decided here.
I repeat what I already said this morning, namely that in my opinion this planned human rights agency would fulfil this task. Civil society – our fellow citizens – wants and needs this agency.
We know that in the field of combating forms of intolerance, below the level of the Union, there are a great number of worthy national initiatives, both public and citizens’ initiatives. These initiatives are striving to promote awareness, to bring different groups together in order to remove prejudices or, in the case of young people, using educational means to prevent prejudices from ever arising, which I regard as particularly important. They deserve our full support.
Where we have to recognise, however, that positive initiatives, education and awareness are not enough to stop violence or its precursors – intolerance and incitement – then our Member States must make use of legal proceedings in order to protect their citizens. The States of the European Union have criminal law procedures that are thoroughly appropriate for dealing with the challenges of racist and intolerant patterns of behaviour.
The Austrian Presidency of the Council believes that a European framework decision on the combating of racism and xenophobia would be an important signal and an important step towards the completion of the relevant European instruments. Work on such a framework decision began in 2001, although there are still problems, due to the Member States’ historically developed criminal law systems. Work here is difficult, and until now a definite result has not been achieved.
In the light of the serious and dangerous challenge represented by racist and homophobic violence, decisive leadership is needed from those in positions of political power – especially from the Presidency of the Council. The President-in-Office of the Council, Mrs Plassnik, I myself, and other representatives of the Austrian Presidency, have been and are trying to provide this leadership. Thus on 21 March of this year, on the 40th International Day for the Elimination of Racism, Mrs Plassnik declared, among other things, that: ‘The worldwide struggle against racism is by no means won – in the EU, too, there is no cause for self-complacency.’
Earlier, on 17 March, at an event dealing with this very issue, I myself said: ‘The contribution of local and regional bodies to the protection of minorities and to measures against discrimination is particularly essential.’ I also drew attention to the situation of the Roma minority, who are unfortunately often targets of discrimination and racist violence in the European Union.
On 5 May, the national Austrian day against violence and racism, the President-in-Office of the Council commemorated the liberation of Mauthausen concentration camp as well as the people from over 30 European nations who were brought by the Nazis to Mauthausen, where they were degraded, tortured and murdered. That should remind us where intolerance and racism lead - and this European Union must ensure that it never happens again.
Honourable Members, I would like to give my heartfelt thanks – and also personal thanks, since I have been working on this issue for many years – to this House, for having put such an important item on the agenda; and I would like to assure you that the Council greatly appreciates your dedication in this matter and that it will be working with you hand in hand.
Vladimír Špidla, Member of the Commission. (CS) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, as a matter of principle, the Commission opposes all form of racism and xenophobia and will continue to channel all its efforts into the fight against these phenomena, as laid down in the Treaty.
Today more than ever, this task should be a priority at all levels – international, European, national and local. The Commission is bitterly disappointed that the Member States have yet to adopt the Commission’s 2001 proposal for a Council Framework Decision on combating racism and xenophobia. The aim of this proposal is to ensure that all forms of racism, including racism on religious grounds, are subject to punishment under criminal law in all Member States. The Commission is once again urging the Council to adopt the proposal without watering down its effectiveness, and is striving to reopen the debate on the proposal, the adoption of which would be a major step forward in combating racist and xenophobic crime. The Commission hopes that the seminar on the fight against racism and xenophobia, organised together with the Austrian Presidency and the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) and to be held on 20 to 22 June, will lead to reopening the debate in the Council under the Finnish Presidency.
The Framework Decision is not the Commission’s only initiative in the fight against racism and xenophobia. For example, the Commission supports the EUMC’s work by gathering data on the extent and development of racism in the EU. The fact that the EUMC is becoming a Fundamental Rights Agency will not have a detrimental impact on current activities, given that the fight against racism and xenophobia will remain a fundamental goal of the new agency. On the contrary, I am convinced that this fight and our efforts will in fact be strengthened. The Commission is also striving to ensure that the Member States fully and correctly implement the anti-discrimination regulations that have been adopted, and it is heading a series of programmes and initiatives such as the European Year of Equal Opportunities for All (2007), which will contribute towards the fight against racism and xenophobia.
The Commission has undertaken to continue and step up these activities, and it is determined to extend its future efforts in the fight against racism and xenophobia. The Commission is also firmly opposed to all forms of homophobia. Homophobia runs counter to the principles on which the EU is founded. It is necessary in this regard to point out that the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms expressly forbids any form of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
The Commission would like to mention its statement of January 2006 in Parliament. In the context of its powers, the Commission stands firm in the fight against homophobia. A key element of that fight is combating discrimination and the EU has already taken steps in that direction, for example with the adoption of Directive 2078/EC. The Commission is also aware that the legislative measures must be accompanied by further initiatives aimed at effectively combating discriminatory, derogatory, stereotypical and degrading behaviour. To this end, the Commission is also contributing by means of information campaigns and initiatives such as the European Year of Equal Opportunities for All (2007).
All things considered, the Commission is convinced that the EU, which at its core strives for deeper solidarity between nations, must set an example in the fight against discrimination and must take a lead in the fight against all forms of racism, xenophobia and homophobia.
Ladies and gentlemen, I await your debate with interest.
Patrick Gaubert, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – (FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the European Union is founded on a community based on the indivisible and universal values of human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity.
By coming together, our countries decided to uphold and to promote these values. Each political group has decided to table a resolution to follow up the statements we have just heard; I personally have drawn one up on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats.
Almost every day we see evidence that the fight against intolerance is far from won. I would have preferred to deal with this subject in a different manner. It is appalling that we still have to point out publicly that racism in our societies is intolerable. Numerous racist, xenophobic, anti-Semitic and homophobic attacks have taken place in recent times in our countries, and that is unacceptable and intolerable.
While as citizens we must remain vigilant, as elected representatives we must stand firm and vigorously condemn this behaviour; to stay quiet would be tantamount to accepting it. We must also adopt laws to protect our fellow citizens – political will is crucial in this area – and countries that have not laid down anti-racist and anti-discrimination laws must do so.
I shall repeat what I said yesterday in this House and what I have been saying for some months in committee. The Council must immediately stop blocking the framework decision against racism and xenophobia, otherwise fine words and good intentions will serve no purpose. Our respective governments must offer an example and move forward in this fight for equality, respect for others and tolerance.
As for the current situation, it is unfortunately necessary to point out that we are seeing a rise in far-right parties in many of our countries. Although I personally am fully committed to this fight, I understand my group’s reasons for not signing the joint text: this text clings on to ideological positions that have become obsolete. These countries will not be moved forward along the path of rigorous respect for the Union’s values by our condemning any particular current situation.
It is unacceptable to confuse individual cases of aggression perpetrated in Member States fighting against racism and homophobia with extreme positions openly adopted by some governments. We must distinguish between these situations. It is dangerous to lump everything together. We must separate this issue from the debate relating to any particular motive. The fight against racism, xenophobia and homophobia is not a matter for the left or for the right; that is something we must accept. That is why the joint resolution that will be put to the vote tomorrow seems to me to be a balanced compromise.
I shall end by saying that I very much regret that Parliament is reluctant to speak with one voice on this subject. This is an opportunity missed, since I know that this is a fight that all of us here in Parliament share in.
Martin Schulz, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, when I was elected into the European Parliament 12 years ago, I would not have thought it possible that we would have to have such a debate yet again.
We were considerably more advanced in Europe then than we are today. It is an alarm call that, in today’s European Union, we have to address the question of how we can combat and get to grips with increasing racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and hatred of minorities - whether of an ethnic, religious, or sexual nature.
That is why I, as leader of the Socialist Group in the European Parliament, am making a statement in the name of all of the members of our group. European social democracy – Christian Democrats in Europe, Conservatives, Liberals, democratic forces on the left and on the right – those who stood at the cradle of the European Union: they knew why there had to be a supranational solution to the conflicts at the end of the first half of the 21st century.
Therefore let us think back once again: what were their motives? What had caused the European catastrophes of the First as well as the Second World War, but above all, the catastrophes of fascism and Stalinism too? Hatred of minorities, a racist feeling of superiority, the exclusion of people who did not conform, the disabled, those of different sexual orientation, people who could be stigmatised as enemies, in order to channel general discontent and direct it onto scapegoats, those who came from somewhere else, who took our jobs. I do not want to repeat all that here, you already know it.
These people with racial madness, religious madness, were the firebrands of the first half of the 20th century. What, then, have we set up instead? A solution based on integration, on a community of values and laws, and on basic rights for all: no matter what religion they have or whether they believe in God or not, no matter what race or skin colour they have; no matter where they come from, no matter what convictions they have or do not have, no matter how they wish to live their individual lives, whether on the basis of family, alone or in whatever partnership they choose, that is up to them. What binds us together is that – in our richness, in our superiority - we can organise a society that says ‘yes’ to a community in which each person has his or her own place: Catholics and Muslims, Protestants and Jews, black people and white people, heterosexuals and homosexuals, heads of families and those who live alone.
Why should anyone turn race, sexual orientation, or belief into the subject of a political debate at all, except as a means to an end - namely, to succeed in one’s own political aims by victimising a minority. That is the most repulsive thing that European history has ever seen, and that is what led to this inhumanity. We do not direct our criticism at any one country, because unfortunately we have the same phenomenon in all the Member States of the European Union - not only in the new Member States, but in the old ones as well.
The criticism that we are adopting here is not directed against peoples or states; it is directed against the intellectual deficiency of those who propagate such ideologies - no matter where they are in Europe. They have no place anywhere, not in any society, and, I hope, not in this House either!
Sophia in 't Veld, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – Mr President, unfortunately this debate is indeed still necessary. In the resolution you will find a list of names of individual victims, people who were killed only because of the colour of their skin or their sexual orientation. In the 21st century in Europe that is barbaric and we should be ashamed. I am, on the other hand, proud to be a Member of this House that stands up against those kinds of barbaric acts.
Intolerance is on the rise everywhere, and my own country is no exception in this regard. I therefore welcome all the mass demonstrations we have seen all over Europe in favour of tolerance and equality and, most recently, the very successful equality march in Warsaw. I was very happy to be part of that.
Tolerance, anti-discrimination and equality are not national, internal matters. If it is anything, the EU is a community of values, and if we are a community of values, then we should be discussing these matters at European level and we will not accept that Member States hide behind the argument of subsidiarity, because that is only a pretext. As I said in the debate yesterday evening, the EU needs an ambitious strategy to become the world champion of fundamental rights. We should be just as ambitious in this area as we are when it comes to the economy and things like the Lisbon Strategy.
We do not need to weep crocodile tears: we need action. We do not need to be timid and reluctant when it comes to intervening in matters that are going on in the Member States. I am therefore very happy to hear that the Council will speed up the work on the framework decision and the Agency on Fundamental Rights.
I would very personally like to address a word to the President-in-Office and to call for the recognition of gay people as victims of the Nazi regime. That has been mentioned before in this House. I am also happy to hear that the Commission is willing to instigate infringement procedures and is considering a horizontal directive.
Finally, we should not hesitate to use an instrument we have at our disposal, namely Article 7, in cases where a Member State or a Member State government fails to comply with EU principles.
Jean Lambert, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – Mr President, I welcome the strong statements that we have heard from the Council, the Commission and my colleagues in the House, and wish that other politicians would be as clear and as forthright as they have been in their condemnation of racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, homophobia and other hate speech and hate crimes.
As has already been said this afternoon, the list in this resolution is a sad one, but it is not exhaustive. We could have added the tragic murders of young men in the United Kingdom recently, and it is clear that no EU Member State is free from this hatred. But I do not think we should be seeking to remove countries’ names from resolutions.
This week, we took a very brave stance on Guantánamo; I think we should be doing the same thing when we come to look at what is happening within our own Member States and be absolutely clear that we are not going to tolerate that either. It is very easy to be brave about third countries; it is much more difficult to be brave, in some respects, about your own, and I think that is a shame.
People on European soil have the right to live free from violence; they have the right to live in peace; and that, I believe, is unequivocal. The political response of governments and other institutions to racist and homophobic attacks is crucial and sends very strong signals.
It took numerous deaths in the United Kingdom, and one in particular, before our police services realised that they were institutionally racist and set out to change that. It is still a long, slow struggle but progress is under way. If we are going to speak out, we also need to be critical of some of our media, which is also determined, it seems to me, to sow hatred rather than information and integrity.
Vittorio Agnoletto, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the continual homophobic attacks in Europe are a symptom of a crisis in democracy that this Parliament needs to address, above all when they take place in European Union Member States such as Poland.
The far-right Polish Government, which is suppressing the civil rights of the homosexual community, needs to realise that such conduct is incompatible with membership of the European Union. The recent gay pride march in Warsaw was only authorised because of pressure from Europe. Poland must understand that, if homophobic attacks continue, my group will not hesitate to call for possible political sanctions for breach of Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union and of the fundamental democratic principles of the Union.
It is also crucial that the 2001 framework decision on racism and xenophobia be extended also to cover the crime of homophobia, a legal category that already exists in France and Belgium.
I am disconcerted by the Austrian Presidency’s failure to move on these issues and I wonder whether it may not be due to the fact that Mr Haider’s neo-fascist party forms part of the government in Vienna. I challenge the Council, which is present here today, to say something in that regard. I therefore hope that the Finnish Presidency will inject some civilised attitudes into this Europe that has fallen prey to dangerous new fiends.
Wojciech Roszkowski, on behalf of the UEN Group. – (PL) Mr President, justice requires reason and prudence. So while racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and dislike of Muslims or Christians are lamentable facts of life in certain European countries, we have to be very careful when comparing and generalising these phenomena in the course of political debate. Otherwise, we may achieve the opposite of what we intended and contribute to aggravating rather than calming the conflict.
The motion for a resolution on racism and homophobia contains too many contradictions and unjustified generalisations and this can have just such an effect. It is not right to throw racism and so-called homophobia and Islamophobia into the same pot. That is mixing real discrimination based on race or religion with an opposition towards ideology, which is justified in democratic political discourse. Our liberal colleague from the Netherlands is quite humble when it comes to assessing tolerance in her country. Recently a paedophile political party was legalised there and I would like to ask: how much further will tolerance go in that country? The post-Communists who are speaking so freely here would do better to look at their own record of tolerance instead of picking on Poland.
It is grotesque that this resolution juxtaposes regret over the lack of comparable data on the phenomena mentioned above and general judgments about the countries where they manifest themselves. Why should Parliament publicise its sloppy work in this superficial draft of such an important document if we have been dealing with these phenomena for many years in committees within the Council of Europe? In ratifying paragraphs 1, 3, 4 and 11 in the current version, Parliament would simply lose credibility in the fight against racism and discrimination.
I would like to appeal to all those of you who are motivated by genuine concern for justice to avoid false comparisons and unjustified generalisations.
Bogdan Pęk, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. – (PL) Mr President, this is an important day for the European Parliament because this debate, and especially the resolution potentially resulting from it, may create a new trend in the just fight against all kinds of racism and persecution of minorities. However, let us for God’s sake not allow it to become another weapon in the political campaign conducted by the left and the European liberals against the political parties that lean towards the right and countries where right-wing parties have come into power.
I strongly protest against the proposed formulation in paragraph 4 of the resolution, which levels serious allegations at my country. They are deadly serious allegations from a moral and political point of view and include xenophobia, anti-Semitism, homophobia and a lack of tolerance in Poland.
One thousand years of Polish history surely prove beyond all doubt that Poland is the most tolerant country in Europe. It is a country that will never allow its good name to be dragged through the mud with impunity.
We protest against the lies and hypocrisy of the left.
Maciej Marian Giertych (NI). – (PL) Mr President, Mr Schulz, together with his socialist colleagues, has joined the ranks of the Polish post-Communists in kicking up a fuss about the fate of homosexuals in Poland. Does he know of any cases of intolerance towards homosexuals? If not, what is all the fuss about?
Apparently a member of the League of Polish Families advocated the use of violence against gays. This allegation is now the subject of a complaint filed by the member against the newspaper which printed the claim. This Parliament would make itself a laughing stock if it were to protest against a statement that was never made. We must check our facts first. He said that the police should prevent illegal demonstrations, by force if necessary. When the post-Communists were in power, illegal gay parades were protected by the police. Now they are not. We have a government that is determined to uphold law and order.
Yes, we are against promoting homosexuality in Poland. We are against promoting immoral behaviour. We clearly differ from Mr Schulz in our judgment of what is or is not morally acceptable.
He would be better off fighting intolerance in his own country. I am old enough to remember German intolerance towards Poles during the Second World War. There are still examples of lamentable intolerance in Germany today.
Bogusław Sonik (PPE-DE). – (PL) Mr President, I would like to support the statement made by Mr Gaubert, my colleague from the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats, that this House has missed the opportunity to speak with one voice and to support the resolution he has drawn up. This document highlights the kind of mechanisms that should be introduced in the European Union: constant monitoring of racist crimes, the introduction of a framework directive and the creation of an Agency for Fundamental Rights as soon as possible. These should be priorities in our debate and in our resolution, rather than the slinging of mud at certain countries and cases, as seems to be happening here.
The European Union is trying to uphold the highest human rights standards. That is the aim of the Agency for Fundamental Rights which is to be set up soon. Already, a report is published annually by the Vienna-based European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia on the subject of racism and xenophobia in the European Union. It is worth looking at the 2005 report. Under point 5 on racist violence and crime there is an assessment of the situation in the 25 Member States. What can we learn from this text? In four European countries, including Italy, Mrs Agnoletto, there is a lack of publicly accessible official data on incidents of racist crime and violence.
Amongst the new Member States, the report states, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia collect official data on racist violence and crime on a broader scale than other countries. We lack a unified European system for registering these crimes, and this makes it difficult to carry out comparable analyses of this phenomenon. Over 52 000 incidents of a racist nature have been registered in the United Kingdom, thanks to an efficient system for recording such statistics, 6 400 incidents have been registered in Germany, 1 565 in France and 209 in the Czech Republic. This disproportion shows how important it is to introduce a unified monitoring system.
The majority of the 25 European Union Member States, we read, have transposed the Anti-Discrimination Directive into their own national contexts. In July 2000 complaints were filed at the European Court of Justice against four countries, including Germany, Mr Schulz, for not fulfilling their obligations concerning the directives on racial equality.
Martine Roure (PSE). – (FR) Mr President, our duty today is to make a commitment, to speak out against this return to hate, xenophobia and homophobia. All over Europe we are horrified to see odious acts and we are hearing hateful words and incitements to violence. I would repeat: all over Europe. It is therefore our duty to say ‘that is enough’, that we will not tolerate any more such acts of violence, that these horrendous attitudes are contrary to our values and the foundations upon which we have built our Europe.
We must put an end to racist, xenophobic and homophobic crimes for good, whether they be against a man or a woman because they are black, against a young man because he is Jewish, against a young man because he is North African or against a woman because she is trans-sexual. It is our essential duty to silence all of those who preach this vile ideology. We all know where it leads: to the abyss and to horror.
Furthermore, we must stand firm against the incitements to hate expressed by Polish leaders against homosexuals. To this end, I welcome the tolerance and the joy of living together shown by the Polish people on the occasion of the Gay Pride event in Warsaw.
This is my solemn appeal: let us stand up, for these are grave times. All we have to do is count the resolutions that we have adopted on this issue to little effect, since the situation has only worsened. We must now move on to actions. The States must mobilise themselves against the hate that is re-emerging on their soil. The Union must accept the seriousness of the situation and make this fight a priority. We will not be able to say in the future that we did not know what was happening. It is now that we must act, all of us together, urgently and without delay. I would therefore call upon the Member States to reach an agreement on the framework decision on racism and xenophobia as soon as possible. The time has come to act.
Frédérique Ries (ALDE). – (FR) Mr President, here we have yet another resolution condemning racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic acts, a resolution which is unfortunately justified given the exceptional and alarming levels of hate and intolerance that we have been seeing in the European Union for some years.
The facts are horrendous and they have been mentioned by previous speakers: racist attacks – all forms of racism taken together – are increasing dramatically. Article 2 of our joint motion for a resolution mentions the most recent ones: in Anvers, on 12 May 2006, Oulemata Niangadou was murdered because she was black, together with little Luna for whom she was caring. In France, Ilan Halimi was abducted, tortured and murdered because he was Jewish.
We could spend days discussing the causes of these barbarous acts. The first, in my view, is the fact that many of the arguments have become hackneyed. There are those who use the ‘we must not fan the flames’ argument. There are those who preach the infamous ‘quest for social peace’. There is also a certain culture of keeping quiet as well, increasing the sense of impunity felt by the perpetrators of these xenophobic acts, and above all there are the arguments that inflame people’s attitudes.
I shall give one specific example, though there are others, of this great tendency to resort to hackneyed arguments which paralyse people and prevent the public authorities from acting in good time. In 2004, in France, the advisory committee on human rights stated that anti-Semitism was the cause of half of the physical and verbal attacks in the country. Nevertheless, it has taken two years and the murder of Ilan Halimi for the French citizens to realise that a culture of anti-Semitism is proudly displayed in certain suburbs, amongst a minority, it is true, but a very active and particularly indoctrinated minority. Two years too late, two years that should have been spent speaking out, condemning, integrating and bringing people together.
My custom is to end on an optimistic note. I could, for example, mention Recital I and say that we must work towards educating people to respect others, to hold dialogue and to show tolerance. It is an obvious and essential duty: knowledge with a view to recognising the full wealth and differences of others.
I shall end, Mr President, by saying that, in order to contain the increase in racism, we must begin, to paraphrase Albert Camus, by daring to call things by their name, we must identify who is provoking them, and we must have the courage to face the truth.
Bairbre de Brún (GUE/NGL). – (The Speaker spoke Irish)
My constituency in the north of Ireland has seen a number of violent attacks on communities from other Member States and from further afield, as well as a consistent level of homophobic violence. We also experience ongoing sectarian attacks, such as the recent murder of a 15-year old Catholic boy, Michael McIlveen.
It is absolutely vital that the Council now adopt the 2001 Framework Decision on Combating Racism and Xenophobia. I would echo calls for the Finnish Presidency to restart work on this with all urgency and, as we have heard today, for the Council to adopt the decisions without watering them down. National governments and other institutions must respond adequately.
(The speaker continued in Irish)
Eoin Ryan (UEN). – Mr President, I believe it is important that we all use this opportunity to highlight the unfortunate rise in racism at football matches in Europe.
FIFA, the world’s governing body for football, has said that there has been a recent upsurge in discriminatory behaviour towards fans and black players, an escalation that has dovetailed with the signing by many European clubs of players from Africa and Latin America. FIFA has stated that there is a deplorable trend in the increased level of racist attacks in Europe. This is not in any individual country; it is everywhere. It is unfortunate if people pick one place or country to highlight this.
Racist incidents that have taken place at European football matches include the following acts: monkey-like chanting, derisive singing, the hanging of banners that reflect neo-fascist beliefs and the tossing of banana skins on to football pitches. In all, more than 30 billion television viewers are expected to watch the World Cup that has just started.
I welcome the fact that FIFA is going to use that tournament as an opportunity to crack down on racist acts at football matches in Europe. There are a number of things it intends to do. Because of time constraints I will not list them. However, I believe it is important for our own Commissioner for Sport, Mr Figeľ, the Finnish Presidency, the EU and the European Parliament to look carefully over the coming months at how we can highlight this unfortunate trend.
I also believe that players have a huge role to play in this. They are very influential with fans and they can have a hugely positive impact on getting people to stop that kind of behaviour.
Urszula Krupa (IND/DEM). – (PL) Mr President, racism is a result of people who want to rule over others as they are convinced of their own superiority.
Racist violence and other discrimination due to social background, old age, illness or religion cannot be combated using racist methods, especially here at the European Parliament. That is why I strongly protest against the vilification of Poland, Poles and the Catholic radio station, Radio Maryja, which has increased in particular since the right took control of the government. The right has been ferociously fought by the international liberal socialists who, having the worldwide press under their thumb, tarnish the good name of Poles, accusing them of xenophobia, anti-semitism and homophobia simply because the majority of my compatriots believe in God and uphold traditional values.
The perfidious lie that has been spread by the anti-Catholic media is the alleged criticism of the radio station Radio Maryja by the Holy See. Radio Maryja is the only independent medium in Poland with a worldwide audience, something I wish applied to all media, which respects the truths of faith, defends life and real freedom and promotes truth, human dignity and human rights.
Poland was, and is, one of the most tolerant countries, where for many centuries those persecuted in other countries have been welcomed. That is why adopting the resolution stating that there is anti-Semitism, xenophobia, racism or homophobia in Poland is a scandal, and would indicate that there is racism and xenophobia in the European Parliament.
As Polish Catholics we are offended by these insults and, not for the first time, feel discriminated against. This is something that should not be happening, particularly here in the European Parliament, which prides itself on respecting the ideas of tolerance, democracy, respect for diversity and freedom of belief.
Frank Vanhecke (NI). – (NL) Mr President, first of all, I should like to join in the emphatic and unqualified condemnation of any kind of violence, of course. In fact, we should come down hard on all perpetrators of violence, wherever they may come from. That is beyond dispute.
Secondly, I should also like to point out, though, that violence committed by isolated individuals must not ever lead to a witch hunt on people and parties who have nothing to do with that violence and who, using only peaceful means, flag up the dangers and enormous problems of immigration that is on far too large a scale and that has grown, in fact, out of everyone’s control.
Thirdly, I should like to add that this House is once again showing little evidence of reasonableness. The joint resolution that will be put to the vote tomorrow is simply not worth the paper it is written on due to its grotesque exaggerations and of it mixing up violence on the one hand and legitimate criticism of the unworkable multicultural society on the other. It is also, on account of its de facto plea in favour of further curbing the free expression of opinion, worryingly undemocratic.
Alexander Stubb (PPE-DE). – Mr President, I have seen and heard homophobia vaguely, on TV and so on, but listening to some of our Polish colleagues speak here today, especially Mr Roszkowski, Mr Pęk, Mr Giertych and Mrs Krupa, well that is homophobia if anything is! It is absolutely unbelievable stuff!
I am glad that I have a lot of good, sensible, rational Polish friends, because if that is liberal history, then for goodness sake, I do not want to see what right-wing conservativism is!
Sorry about that. To me this resolution is about four things. It is about the fight against racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and homophobia.
First, we already have a resolution on homophobia, which was signed by all of the political parties, and I am indeed very glad about that.
Second, it is clear that racist violence has increased in Europe and we cannot just sit down and watch it. We need action. We need action from the Commission, as Mrs in ‘t Veld said, and we need action, as many have said, from the Finnish Presidency.
My third and final point is that when I came here I thought that the resolution should not name any countries or political parties. I am still trying to believe that it should not do so, but if someone wanted to put the country of Poland into this resolution, I think that after hearing this debate there is no question as to why it was done. Because I am a big friend of Poland, I still think it should come out.
Józef Pinior (PSE). – (PL) Mr President, European history places a particular responsibility on the shoulders of politicians, the churches and civil society in terms of protecting tolerance and human rights. This responsibility weighs especially heavily on the shoulders of the governments of European Union Member States, which should guard the rights enshrined in the European Treaty.
Unfortunately some, I repeat, some actions of the current government in Warsaw, especially those related to the League of Polish Families, are spreading intolerance and homophobia. The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Education, Roman Giertych, sacked the director of the National In-Service Teacher Training Centre because of its publication of an official Council of Europe guide entitled Compass: A manual on human rights education with young people. The Deputy Prime Minister alleged that the book, and I quote from the press, ‘encourages schools to hold meetings with gay organisations’. Roman Giertych is considering the need to shut down this institution, which has been in existence since 1991 and which is an important institution in Poland responsible for drafting and implementing educational programmes based on humanist values.
Fortunately, these actions by the government have roused another part of Polish society. One hundred and forty thousand people have signed an Internet petition calling for the dismissal of the Minister for Education. Teachers and pupils are protesting, and a new civil society is on the rise.
Mojca Drčar Murko (ALDE). – (SL) We have defined homophobia as an irrational fear of otherness, a fear of something that one is not familiar with or that one does not want to become familiar with. Opposition to homosexuality is simply a form of opinion based on inveterate prejudice. It springs from the roots common to racism, xenophobia, hatred towards people of different beliefs and religions, and other phobias.
In the case of homophobia, what we are faced with is a traditional form of prejudice, often stimulated by the media and misused by populist politicians. It manifests itself in a wide spectrum of actions, from hate speech and incitement against those who are different to calls for discrimination against individuals and actual inequality in legislation. At times, such politicians can command widespread support, especially when they choose to link homophobia with nationalistic chauvinism, religious zeal, contempt for ethnic minorities and so forth.
Because such ideas can fan the flames of hatred, particularly in economically deprived areas, it is our duty to warn of the illegality of homophobia and acts of racism. Eradicating prejudice is, however, only one of the objectives in educating people in tolerance towards those who are different, and can complement other types of education in tolerant behaviour. The European Parliament can identify the dangers of homophobia, and expose its protagonists, but it is ultimately the responsibility of individual Member States to take measures to stamp it out.
Dimitrios Papadimoulis (GUE/NGL). – (EL) Mr President, unfortunately, cases of racism and violence are increasing, both in terms of intensity and frequency, not only in Poland, but also, unfortunately, throughout Europe. We need to condemn various racist crimes but, in light of both past resolutions and current Community legislation, this is not enough.
The legislation and daily administrative practices of the various Member States foster intolerance and discrimination to such a degree that we can talk of institutionalised racism. The Member States need to apply practical measures to combat racism. Public opinion-makers must not create a climate of racism. Prosecution of groups that foster racism must be encouraged. Racism is a multisided, multidimensional problem. That is why composite measures are needed to combat it, measures which both prevent and cure. We need to combat both racist perceptions and the social exclusion that fosters the development of racism.
Jan Tadeusz Masiel (NI). – (PL) Mr President, we should take this opportunity and, at the same time as acknowledging the rise in racism, xenophobia, homophobia or any other kind of oppression, we should avoid putting a premature end to the discussion by stating that it should not be taking place at all. Instead, we should think about the reasons for this increase, for it is this kind of reflection that has been lacking in this House.
There are a number of groups other than those mentioned today which are also oppressed. I think that all Europeans in the European Union are being oppressed by having enlargement, in the form of Turkey’s accession to the EU, forced upon them. Another oppressed group is that part of society which has a traditional Christian outlook, which does not have anything against homosexuals but which is shocked by gay parades. Why are parades necessary? They are also a form of oppression.
Michael Cashman (PSE). – Mr President, I am saddened by what I have heard here this afternoon from our Polish colleagues from the League of Polish Families and the Law and Justice Party. I have heard from them about the promotion of hatred, the promotion of discrimination, the promotion of evil. We have heard family and religion used as a reason or an excuse. There is no reason, and there is no excuse, for the promotion of hatred.
I have heard traditional values referred to. What value is there in diminishing the lives of ordinary human beings? There is none. This House was built on the ashes of the Second World War. When it was built we vowed that no minority would ever be scapegoated again. We stand by that. We will defend that.
I was in Warsaw on the march that your Government tried to ban. Let me say to you: the reception that we got from those decent, ordinary people confirmed to me that your two parties do not represent those decent ordinary men and women of Poland!
Sarah Ludford (ALDE). – Mr President, we have a huge and inexcusable gap in EU action. Our citizens must be very puzzled. On the one hand we have good laws and a new strategy to outlaw discrimination against people as employees and consumers.
However, the EU is failing to outlaw hate crimes against people as people. It is failing to delivery security from fear, even though we talk a lot about creating an area of freedom, security and justice. President Barroso enjoined us this morning to be proud of Europe and its values. So why is there a lack of action on hate crimes when Member States can agree criminal penalties for pollution crimes? Is it complacency? Is it ignorance? Is it a lack of political will?
I hope to avoid any more high-flown rhetoric about a Europe of values while our leaders refuse to act. MEPs are agreed, including, I am glad to say, Mr Gaubert for the PPE-DE Group, in demanding that action.
I would say to Mr Roszkowski that his mention of paedophiles in the context of sexual orientation is deeply misplaced and disgraceful. Nothing suggests that paedophilia is more prevalent among homosexuals proportionately – indeed it is probably the contrary.
Kader Arif (PSE). – (FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, we are here to draw up a joint response to the rise in racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic violence in our States, and to its consequence, the increasing expression of extreme-right views.
It is our duty to hammer home, day after day, this message that we must combat all forms of hate and discrimination on the grounds of ethnic, racial or religious origin or sexual orientation: a duty of tolerance, a duty to teach our children, a duty to remember our history. That would be proof of our complete commitment to human rights. Horror is never far away. Recent tragic events have shaken our consciences and our people. It was not so long ago that a world war founded upon hatred for others devastated our continent. We must always remember that Europe rose from those bitter ashes, on the basis of values of peace and tolerance.
We cannot allow any weakness or concession, including in this Parliament. We need strong responses, we must strengthen the legal instruments and rigorously apply those that already exist. It is essential to re-launch the work aimed at adopting the Council’s framework decision. We must stand firm and offer an example, since that is what our values require of us. In response to our Polish colleagues: it is possible to believe in God and not be homophobic.
Claude Moraes (PSE). – President-in-Office, if you have been subject to racial or homophobic violence you will never forget it. When my parents arrived in this European Union from India, we were not welcomed with open arms: we suffered regular racial abuse and violence. You never forget it once it happens.
What I would say to my Polish colleagues, and to anyone else who doubts that action can be taken here in this House today, is that we want action. The Council framework decision is at the heart of this resolution. I would say to those colleagues who disagree about whether we should name individuals, I have to agree with it, because it is a deeply personal tragedy which you will never forget.
However, I would say this to the Austrian Presidency: you can make this happen. It has been shelved so many times, but racist attacks can be solved, penalties can be increased, a political signal can be sent. Will it stop the hatred? No, it will not. But you mentioned leadership, and leadership is what we seek today, because this scar on Europe today in 2006 is greater than when my parents arrived in this European Union in the 1960s. That is a deep shame. Let us do something about it.
Hélène Goudin (IND/DEM). – (SV) Mr President, it is with some dismay that I have studied the news that has reached us recently from countries both within and outside the EU. It goes to show that there are very unpleasant and dangerous trends directed against homosexuals among the peoples of Europe. One of the fundamental principles of a democracy is freedom of assembly, which is also safeguarded in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. This freedom is not always respected. In Russia, the Gay Pride parade was refused permission to go ahead, something that quite clearly is not only a breach of the Convention but also an insult to those who wanted peacefully to exercise their democratic right.
We do not, however, need to look outside the EU in order to find similar examples. It is enough to take a look at Poland, where, from right across the political spectrum, there is an ever-renewed stream of homophobic statements directed against Gay Pride parades and the like. All this is entirely to be condemned. Religion is frequently used as an excuse. Certainly, freedom of religion too is one of the fundamental freedoms, but it should under no circumstances whatsoever be used as an excuse for oppressing others. That is something we cannot accept, either among people in the Member States or among our fellow MEPs here in Parliament.
If, irrespective of the country we come from, we are to call ourselves democrats, we must vigorously condemn what is happening right now and do everything in our power to bring the oppression to an end. The issue is so important, however, that it should be asked whether the European Parliament is the right forum in which to debate it. What should not under any circumstances happen is for the issue of homophobia to be addressed for the purpose of making cheap political points.
Hans Winkler, President-in-Office of the Council. (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, it is my firm conviction that we can only be successful in dealing with this important issue – so essential to our own credibility – if we hold firmly to the values of this European Union of ours. We must be reliable and speak out with a united voice. It seems important to me and even vital that the institutions of the European Union, above all the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission, are speaking the same language. Personally I do not believe that we will make progress if we try to accuse each other and reproach each other for failing, more or less, to observe the principles of respect and tolerance. We have to find a common language. I have heard a great deal today pointing in this direction, and for that I am most warmly appreciative.
Mrs Lambert referred to something which I believe to be of crucial importance: the role of the media. We had a EuroMed conference in Vienna ten days ago at which, amongst other things, we discussed the role of the media. The consensus was that you cannot censor the media, you cannot tell them what to do. We cannot aim for a code or law to regulate what the law should or should not do. However, the media should have self-control over what it does, because it plays a crucial role. As far as I am concerned, in a democracy the independent media plays probably the most important role in conveying everything that has been said here in favour of tolerance, in favour of the fight against racism. That is very important.
To Mrs in ‘t Veld, I would say that this is an Austrian matter. Ever since 2000 we have been working very vigorously on finding solutions for the Austrian Nazi victims. There is absolutely no doubt that victims of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation are considered victims of Nazism.
(DE) To Mr Agnoletto, who unfortunately is no longer here, I would like to say that I very emphatically reject - and I do this with some personal emotion, too - the accusation that the Austrian Presidency of the Council is guilty - precisely on this question - of inactivity. I think Mr Agnoletto has not really been following the events of the last six months of the Austrian Presidency.
I would particularly like to thank Mr Sonik for having emphasised the activity of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia in Vienna, and for having stressed the important potential role that the human rights agency could play in precisely this area. I call once again upon all Members to support the future Presidency of the Council in this issue, so that this European human rights agency can become a reality. It would play an important part in the fight against racism and for tolerance.
Vladimír Špidla, Member of the Commission. (CS) Ladies and gentlemen, the concept of equality and tolerance has been part of European political thinking for centuries. I recall a Papal bull from the beginning of the 10th century, which opens with the words: ‘Does the sun not shine equally on all?’ Despite the existence of this concept, Europe has very often endured times of brutal intolerance, which have led to millions of deaths and people’s destinies cut short, not to mention those who have not been physically destroyed but who have lived under circumstances of intolerance.
Ladies and gentlemen, some historical events have been mentioned, and I feel that the experience of history is of vital importance. It begins inconspicuously with gradual backsliding on standards of tolerance and equal opportunities. Such barely perceptible beginnings eventually give rise to movements with real political clout, with the disastrous results that they bring.
That was why Europe established equal opportunities, tolerance and anti-discrimination as a cornerstone of its political thinking and of its political construction. In my view this is the most important value that forms part of the European project, as all the others are rather instruments. It is up to us to adopt effective measures at all levels wherever possible. This fight is not only a matter for Europe, for the Member States or for the various levels. No, ladies and gentlemen, this fight is a matter for every one of us as individuals.
I therefore feel most encouraged by the ideas which have emerged in this debate, and which show that in Parliament there is a strong desire to support the effective, proactive implementation of the ideas of equal opportunities, tolerance and the fundamental rejection of racism, anti-Semitism and homophobia.
President. To wind up the debate, six motions for resolution(1) have been tabled under Rule 103(2) of the Rules of Procedure.
The debate is closed.
The vote will take place on Thursday at 12.30 p.m.