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PV 15/02/2006 - 2
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Verbatim report of proceedings
Wednesday, 15 February 2006 - Strasbourg OJ edition

2. Right to freedom of expression and respect for religious beliefs (debate)

  President. The next item is the Council and Commission statements on the right to freedom of expression and respect for religious beliefs.


  Hans Winkler, President-in-Office of the Council.(DE) Mr President, Mr President of the Commission, ladies and gentlemen, the controversy we have seen in recent weeks over the caricatures that appeared in a Danish newspaper undoubtedly represents a most regrettable development, in that it touches on something the EU Member States and the EU itself have been striving for over many years: mutual trust and constructive cooperation among the various religious communities in our countries.

The trust and goodwill seen in all the Member States and also expressed by the institutions of the European Union in recent years seem to have been badly shaken. We have seen violent demonstrations that have even claimed lives. EU representations and other Member State institutions in various countries have been attacked and damaged. Threats have been issued and boycotts imposed.

This is a deeply regrettable development, which must prompt us to ask ourselves what has gone wrong and what can be done to prevent such events in future. A number of principles of our co-existence are at stake and should be discussed in conjunction with this issue.

Firstly, there is a consensus that any form of violence, any violent reaction by militant groups, is to be condemned, as the Council Presidency has explicitly done from the outset.

We also expect the governments responsible to be aware of their responsibilities, including under international law, and to take appropriate preventive measures.

It is now important to help calm and defuse any violence or violent confrontations. The Council Presidency has been exercising its own political responsibility since the very start of these events. As early as 30 January, the Council assured Denmark, Sweden and all the other countries concerned of its complete solidarity, whilst the Ministers for Foreign Affairs in the Council also emphasised the importance of freedom of the press and freedom of expression, which represent a cornerstone of the values championed by the European Union. Freedom of expression is an important asset, one we must defend and, indeed, for which we have fought long in our societies throughout European history. At the same time, however, the exercise of the right of free expression, as of any right, entails a great deal of responsibility, on the part of both individuals and institutions.

Early on, the EU, and also the United Nations and other organisations, a notable example being the Organization of the Islamic Conference, issued statements attempting to clarify the principles that must be adhered to in the course of this debate. The joint statement by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the Secretary General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy of 7 February was very important in this regard, putting particular emphasis on responsible conduct where people’s religious convictions are concerned as well as on freedom of expression, which entails responsibility – a personal responsibility – on the part of the press. Our societies do not permit governments to dictate what the independent press may say or may not say, provided it is within the limits set by the legal systems; which is a good thing. These legal systems must conform to international standards, in particular to the principles of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The statement of 7 February I referred to also rejects and condemns violent attacks and calls for dialogue. On 8 February, Ursula Plassnik, Austrian Minister for Foreign Affairs and President of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, had a telephone conversation with Abdullah Gül, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs. Our involvement of Turkey in the endeavours to calm the situation has been a conscious decision, as that country is particularly well placed to play a very active, constructive role in promoting dialogue between Europe and the Islamic world. Austria has also, therefore, invited the High Level Group on the alliance of civilisations – which is under the auspices of the United Nations – to hold its next meeting in Austria.

Austrian Chancellor Schüssel, President of the European Council, issued a statement, also on 8 February, expressing his consternation at images on the website of an Islamic emigrants’ organisation in Antwerp and at the call by the Iranian newspaper Hamshahri for a Holocaust-cartoon contest. We must also take a clear position condemning and rejecting such initiatives and calls.

As you know, the High Representative for the CFSP, Javier Solana, is currently in the Middle East. On 13 February, he met with the Secretary General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, to discuss the possibility of a targeted dialogue between Europe and the Islamic world. The Secretary General and the High Representative will continue this discussion with the Secretary General of the League of Arab States and with representatives of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and Israel.

The Council, and also individual Member States, will actively promote the dialogue with the Islamic world and continue along this path of dialogue between civilisations, and between religious communities. Finnish Minister for Foreign Affairs Tuomioja, too, has already announced that dialogue will be a key preoccupation of the Finnish Presidency.

Our Presidency will also take further steps to help calm the situation. The possibility of enhanced dialogue between the EU and the Islamic world will be an important topic at the next General Affairs and External Relations Council on 27 and 28 February.

The present crisis calls for leadership on the part of the elected political representatives of the EU. Of course, this leadership cannot and should not consist in attempts by the state to impose a code of conduct on the media. I have already emphasised the importance to EU values of freedom of expression and freedom of the press, and on no account should this hard-won freedom from censorship be put at risk. As the European Court of Human Rights has made clear in very many fundamental rulings, this freedom also extends to permitting new, controversial ideas and any kind of discussion, and also entails the freedom to both make mistakes and sharply criticise the mistakes of others. As the European Court of Human Rights stated in a fundamental ruling 20 years ago, freedom of expression also extends to potentially offensive or irritating material. The Court has also stated, however, that this freedom of expression must of course be subject to limits; that is, where the feelings – particularly religious feelings – of others could be offended.

The EU’s political leadership must now take the form of our conveying credibly that freedom of expression and respect for other cultures and religions do not contradict each other, but rather complement and are compatible with each other. We believe that the response to the present crisis should not be less freedom of expression, but rather credible commitment by a democratic, pluralist Europe to dialogue between cultures and civilisations. We must convey to the world’s Muslim communities that we wish to continue to work alongside them in developing a relationship built on trust. We must communicate to our Muslim fellow citizens in the EU that this Union is a good place, where they and the adherents of other religions are respected and can feel at home, and where they have the opportunity of democratic participation. It is important that our response to this challenge be based, in particular, on the trust that has been successfully built up in all Member States in the past years, both among religious communities and between politicians and religious communities.

I should like to draw the House’s attention to a number of activities that have taken place in my own country, Austria, as this situation very much calls for Member States, too, to assume their responsibilities; and, of course, the Council is also dependent on the activities of the individual Member States in its role as spokesperson on its own behalf and that of the EU as a whole.

One of the most important conversations Austria’s leading representatives have held in recent days in an attempt to defuse the situation is the one that took place on 7 February between Foreign Minister Plassnik and Anas Schakfeh, President of the Islamic Communities of Austria. This emphasised the importance of peaceful co-existence among the various religious communities in our countries and stated that the important thing now is to stand side by side and ensure that our ongoing discussions, which have proved valuable in practice, are also outwardly visible. This is a culture of dialogue that Austria, like all other Member States, has built up over the years, and which now has to prove itself in a crisis.

In recent months, Austria has seen some very important events, such as a major conference on the subject of ‘Islam in a pluralist society’, attended by large numbers of religious and political leaders: the President of Afghanistan, the President of Iraq, the former President of Iran, religious dignitaries from all religious communities. Two days ago, the Austrian Chancellor invited all the leaders of the large state-recognised religious communities in Austria to a meeting, at which all participants were unanimous in emphasising that peaceful coexistence, and peaceful – including critical – dialogue, is the only way to prevent developments of the kind seen in recent weeks. It is important to continue this dialogue, therefore; but also to defend our values, such as the right of free expression.



  José Manuel Barroso, President of the Commission. Mr President, the publication of cartoons in Danish and other European newspapers and the reactions to this have revealed sensitive and fundamental issues. The cartoons have aggrieved many Muslims all over the world. We must respect these sensitivities and the expression of them through peaceful protest, which is a fundamental right in any open society.

I share the views expressed by Prime Minister Rasmussen, where he made clear that his government respects Islam as one of the world’s major religions and that it has no intention of insulting Muslims and does not support activities in this sense. Today, I should like personally to emphasise my deep respect for Islamic civilisation and the contribution it has made and continues to make to Europe.

The Commission’s concern is not with the peaceful response of the majority to the cartoons. It is with the violent reactions of a minority; reactions which have been disowned by many Muslims. Therefore the Commission condemns, in the strongest possible terms, the violence perpetrated against our office in Gaza, and against the missions of the Member States, in particular those of Denmark. It is ironic that the aim of these missions is to bring real benefits to the lives of the people of their host countries.

A trade boycott is not an appropriate way of addressing the issue, either: it would hurt the economic interests of all parties and could damage the growing trading links between the European Union and the countries concerned. Trade, and the greater interconnections it brings, is a means to promote mutual understanding. Let us be clear: a boycott of Danish goods is by definition a boycott of European goods.


I have spoken with the Prime Minister of Denmark and expressed the solidarity of the Commission. I want here today to send my solidarity to the people of Denmark as well; a people who rightly enjoy the reputation of being amongst the most open and tolerant not just in Europe, but in the world. I welcome here today their representatives in the form of a delegation from the Danish Parliament.


I have also spoken with the President-in-Office of the Council, Chancellor Schüssel. The Commission will continue to work with the Austrian Presidency and all parties to resolve the problem peacefully and efficiently.

This issue raises wider themes. Our European society is based on respect for the individual person’s life and freedom, equality of rights between men and women, freedom of speech, and a clear distinction between politics and religion. Our point of departure is that as human beings we are free, independent, equal and responsible. We must safeguard these principles.

Freedom of speech is part of Europe’s values and traditions. Let me be clear: freedom of speech is not negotiable. Like all freedoms, its preservation depends on responsible use by individuals.


We all condemn all forms of prejudice and discrimination wherever and whenever they are expressed. But governments or other public authorities do not prescribe or authorise the opinions expressed by individuals. Conversely, the opinions expressed by individuals engage these individuals, and only them. They do not engage a country, a people, a religion and we should not allow others to pretend that they do.


Freedom of speech and freedom of the press is the basis not only of the possibility to publish an opinion or a cartoon, but also to criticise it. Freedom of speech cuts both ways.

Freedom of speech has limits as well. These must be respected. They are defined and enforced by the law and legal systems of the Member States of the European Union. It is self-evidently unacceptable to go outside the law that is decided by democratic institutions.

Freedom of religion is not negotiable either. Just as Europe respects freedom of speech, so it must – and does – respect freedom of religion. Religious freedom is a fundamental right of individuals and communities; it entails respect for the integrity of all religious convictions and all ways in which they are exercised. Muslims are and must be able to practise their faith in the same way as the adherents of other religions and convictions practise theirs.

The European Union and its Member States have for a long time promoted dialogue between different communities both within the European Union and with neighbouring Muslim countries, and in other parts of the world. It is through a vigorous but peaceful dialogue under the protection of freedom of expression that mutual understanding can be deepened and mutual respect can be built. I am fostering and will continue to foster dialogue between cultures and with religions. This dialogue must be based on tolerance, not prejudice, and on freedom of expression and religion and the values connected with them.

Violence is the enemy of dialogue. We must not allow the minority of extremists to win. Let the best of our values win against the worst of prejudices.



  Hans-Gert Poettering, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – (DE) Mr President, Mr President of the Commission, Mr President-in-Office of the Council, ladies and gentlemen, the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats is following the controversy over the caricatures with great concern. One thing is crystal clear to us, however, and this forms our guiding principle. We shall defend freedom of the press, and we shall protect the feelings of believers, irrespective of their religion, and also the symbols that are important to them. We shall defend human rights and the achievements of the Enlightenment, and we shall uphold the right to profess one’s faith, to be different and to be respected. It is only possible to achieve all this at the same time if all parties first remain calm and level-headed. Therefore, our plea today goes out, in particular, to representatives of the media in Europe, in Iran, in other Islamic countries; it goes out to those who seek to inflate the caricature row to a matter of political principle. Meeting polemic with polemic, aggression with aggression, and insensitivity with insensitivity, is not the way to a good future. We want an order that defends freedom of expression as one of the supreme human rights, whilst also being aware of its limits, which are to be found in the freedom and dignity of others. This order must show respect for the beliefs and religious sensitivities of others, whilst at the same time enabling a peaceful, constructive dialogue on the things that divide us both superficially and deep down at the heart of our being, of our values, experiences and feelings.

It follows from this that violence as a means of agitating or inciting outrage at differing opinions can never be accepted. We condemn all the instigators of the violent reactions in various countries across the world, for this was no spontaneous reaction – it did not take place until several months after the event – but was organised in part by regimes that do not value freedom of expression, but rather repress their people. This, too, must be made quite clear.


We oppose all forms of violence; not only against people, but also against objects – flags or buildings – and we condemn them in the strongest terms. It is important to now add to this a rather more specific approach, as merely pledging ourselves to dialogue between cultures is not sufficient. I should like to make two very specific proposals; imperfect ones, admittedly, but food for thought nevertheless. Firstly, because we need to start with the young people, we should set up a committee of experts to examine school books in Europe and in the Islamic world to see the kind of words and values that are being attributed to each other and disseminated by this means. This committee should be under the joint auspices of the EU and the Organization of the Islamic Conference and, to make it most effective, the UN Secretary-General should be involved in the choice of experts.

We, or rather the Islamic world, have become agitated over a number of caricatures in a European – Danish – newspaper and other newspapers; but this is only one instance of hundreds – not to say thousands – of caricatures, including those in the Islamic world making fun of our – Christian – values and our convictions. This has to stop: both here and in the countries of the Islamic world.


Secondly, I was among those Members who participated in the Euro-Mediterranean Conference in Barcelona. We should use the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly to bring together elected politicians and representatives of civil society from Europe and our partner countries for regular dialogue and targeted discussions within the framework of the Barcelona process. The Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly could thus be a pivotal forum for the dialogue between cultures.

Allow me to make one personal remark. From 1999 to this year, 2006, I have visited 16 Arab and Islamic countries. I recall a conversation with a very committed, credible senior cleric in Saudi Arabia, which was, all in all, a wonderful conversation. He then asked me how Muslims were treated in Europe. I replied that we should often like to see better integration, but that Muslims could practise their faith freely. I then asked a question in return: is it true that, in Saudi Arabia, the law requires that any Muslim wishing to convert to Christianity be punished with death? I did not receive an answer.

Tolerance is important; but it is a two-way process. Tolerance, reconciliation and understanding must be based on the truth, and that is what we advocate. I emphatically welcome what the President of the Commission said: an attack on one Member State is an attack on us all. In this sense, we of course stand in solidarity with Denmark, and this debate should send out a signal of tolerance and understanding, albeit based on reciprocity and recognition of the truth. Only then will we be on the path towards a good future based on dialogue between cultures.

(Applause from the right and the centre)


  Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, on behalf of the PSE Group.(DA) Mr President; Mr President-in-Office of the Council; Mr Barroso, President of the Commission; Mr Schulz, our group chairman, has asked me to talk today on behalf of the Socialist Group in the European Parliament, and that is something that I am pleased to do where this matter is concerned. It has been terrible and shocking to see people killed, my own country’s and other countries’ flags burned, ambassadors attacked and boycotts implemented, causing large numbers of innocent people to lose their jobs. It has been doubly depressing, given that our countries’ history has also been about tolerance of other peoples and about understanding and respect for them. We have led the way in international solidarity and in economic and political aid to poor peoples around the world. We have always fought for justice and for peoples’ right to their own independent states characterised by peaceful co-existence, especially in Palestine.

It is absolutely crucial that the violence we see should not get completely out of hand. That violence must stop now, and I should like, personally and on behalf of my country, to thank Mr Barroso for the clear signal he has sent out today in Parliament and for the solidarity he has shown with my country and with all those countries that have been attacked. An attack on one Member State is an attack on the European Union as a whole.

It is also important to emphasise, however, that the European Union stands for the opposite of xenophobia and intolerance. European values are based on respect for peoples and religions. The whole of our bloody history has taught us the wisdom of mutual understanding, dignity and co-existence. The first thing I should therefore like to say today to the whole of the Muslim world and to everyone in Europe is that freedom of expression is not something on which we are able to compromise. No government or ordinary citizen can put a question mark over that freedom. Freedom of expression does not, however, exist in a vacuum. It must and will be exercised with responsibility. Nor can we compromise on respect for other peoples and religions. This is also fundamental to the human rights on which Europe and the UN are based. Freedom of expression must therefore go hand in hand with respect for other peoples. That is the way things have to be.

I should like to use my freedom of expression today to criticise and clearly repudiate the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad that appeared in a Danish newspaper a few months ago. Publishing them was arrogant and disrespectful and reflected a total lack of knowledge of Islam. I should like to emphasise that the cartoons do not reflect the attitudes of ordinary Danes. We are well aware, both in Denmark and elsewhere in Europe, that the love of our own country, dignity and religion does not require us to criticise others or talk down to them when what is in question is something they regard as holy. I also know that many people in Europe cannot understand why the Danish Prime Minister refused to meet ambassadors from the Arab world. That is something that I too fail to understand. We cannot, however, change what has happened. Most important of all is the fact that the Danish Government subsequently used its freedom of expression clearly to express respect for other peoples and their religions, not least Islam. We must now look forward.

We want to send a clear signal today: we are determined to ignore new provocations, which cannot be used by extremists in Europe and in the Muslim world to inflame violence and intolerance and create new myths about each other.

We have seen it so many times before from xenophobic and populist parties in Europe and from the extremist movements in the Muslim world. We say ‘no’ to those who claim it is ‘them against us’. For much too long, extremists on both sides have been allowed to play their false tune. Worst of all, they have inflamed hatred and fear and they have gained an audience for their views. It is time for moderate and responsible voices to set a new agenda, as Mr Barroso said, a new agenda which clearly and unambiguously shows that there is another way.

We in Europe do not want to add fuel to the extremists’ fire. Here, in the European Parliament, we have a clear message: we want to unite all forces in a new and far stronger dialogue with the Islamic world, building on unconditional respect – a respect extending beyond borders and applying to all people and religions. We know that we live in a globalised world. That gives us a special responsibility. In this globalised world it is not ‘them against us’: we are one. And no, it is not a clash between religions or civilisations.

What we have witnessed are ignorant acts creating humiliation and insult. This was used by extremists to inflame hatred and violence. However, trying to understand the broader reactions, those cartoons, together with manipulation from extremists, were the last straw. Let us not forget the many years of social and economic frustrations in many Muslim societies. Let us now realise what humiliation and arrogance from those with power and wealth can result in.

Let us not fall prey to short-sighted sanctions but, instead, stand by our economic and political cooperation. Let us put behind us what the cartoons initiated. Let it be the last thing to cause provocation, and let the next step unite us to build a stronger dialogue – critical, open, permanent and constructive.



  Karin Riis-Jørgensen, on behalf of the ALDE Group. Mr President, today the core message from Liberals and Democrats is to safeguard and defend freedom of speech, not only in Europe but also in Kabul and Tehran. It is totally unacceptable for violent protests, attacks on embassies, burnings of flags and boycotting of goods to replace dialogue. That we have seen examples of a European company boycotting Danish goods is unfortunate and not a sign of European solidarity.

We have all been shocked and saddened by the terrible circumstances of the last 14 days, and no one has been more shocked than me and my fellow Danes. However, Muslims should recognise that the global tensions have merely increased support for far-right, anti-immigration parties and have been abused by extremists in and outside Europe.

Europeans from all communities must now exercise personal responsibility to quell this rising tide of anger. We must not let extremists triumph at the expense of the moderate majority, and we must stand together in respect for Article 11 of the Treaty to condemn violence and intimidation against Member States. When the Danish flag and other European flags are burned, the EU should show solidarity, as we have seen today, and reject demands that governments should apologise on behalf of independent media ...


... especially since Section 77 of the Constitutional Act of Denmark clearly states: ‘Any person shall be at liberty to publish his ideas in print, in writing and in speech, subject to his being held responsible in a court of law. Censorship and other preventive measures shall never again be introduced’.

It should also rebuff efforts by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and the Arab League to seek a UN resolution, backed by possible sanctions, to ban attacks on religious beliefs. Such a move would contravene the constitutional basis of many liberal democracies and is an invitation to criminalise freedom of thought on a global scale.


Nobody is denying that Muslims have a right to feel offended by these drawings, just as Sikhs, Jews, Christians or believers of any sort have a right to take umbrage at the press. However, complaints must be handled through the appropriate legal channels. In a civilised society, offence can never be grounds for violence. In a secular, democratic society such as our own, freedom of the press must remain paramount, for it is this freedom that reinforces the principles of democracy and pluralism on which our Union is founded and which are universally acknowledged in international conventions. As such, all believers should stand up for those values, which ensure that anyone in Europe can practise their religion freely and openly, but also accept the right to be a non-believer.

This is not to say that freedom of the press should mean total freedom to cause offence. It is self-evident that, after 9/11 and the bombings in Madrid and London, greater care must be taken to ensure that relations between different communities remain as harmonious as possible. However, Liberals and Democrats are convinced that the current situation cannot be resolved by the ‘thought police’, but only through dialogue. From that perspective, we support the Alliance of Civilisations initiative proposed by the UN Secretary-General, and we applaud Justice Commissioner Frattini for organising a round table with media bosses, journalists and religious leaders. But, Mr Frattini, we draw the line at supporting your proposed code of conduct for the press, and we encourage Mr Solana to draw exactly the same line. That way lies greater distrust and mutual antagonism, because if communities cannot discuss issues on their cultural fault lines, how will they ever grow into acceptance?

Before I close in Danish, I just want to thank personally the President of the Commission, Mr Barroso, and my colleagues here in this Chamber for showing their solidarity.

(DA) Freedom of expression is a right, but not necessarily a duty. It is, however, a right that must be neither called into question nor compromised. If we begin to compromise our freedom of expression and, at the same time, suspend our right to subject all religions to critical analysis, the fundamental right to think and to express ourselves freely will be restricted.


  Daniel Marc Cohn-Bendit, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, Hannah Arendt described freedom as being disturbing and painful, saying that men may even flee from it, as it can sometimes be difficult and unpleasant. I believe that there is one thing that we, as politically minded people and politicians, must not do, and that is to attempt to define boundaries for the press, for example. That is something that politicians cannot and must not do; only society knows what is common sense. We politicians can of course discuss those actions of ours that are causing offence – for example where, as in Denmark, legislation on foreign nationals has been passed that offends and fails to respect immigrants. That can be criticised here, as the Council of Europe did in Denmark’s case. We can also express criticism where, for example, a questionnaire for Muslims has been drawn up by German Länder that shows Muslims a quite blatant lack of respect. Politicians can by all means criticise and discuss such things.

Ladies and gentlemen, this whole discussion on limits is a matter for society. Commissioner Barroso is right: people are entitled to publish caricatures poking fun at us politicians, at me, at Mr Poettering or anyone else. In society, we are entitled to express disapproval. Muslims are entitled to hold demonstrations in protest – we respect that – in the same way as members of the Jewish community demonstrated against a play by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. This is a debate that should be held within society. We cannot draw up a code of conduct for the press; either the press does that itself or it does not – it is not our job.

In the international debate, it is always pointed out that religions are to be respected. That may be so, but religions are in the public domain, and as such will be the subject of blasphemous caricatures. That is as integral to religion and democracy as air is to breathing; it is just the way things are. It does not mean that one has to approve of these caricatures or consider them to be in good taste. Freedom is not a matter of good or poor taste. Freedom is something we have fought for, and no civilisation has yet fallen on account of too much freedom, but always on account of too little; much too little.

I can tell you, therefore, that I do not sympathise with the caricatures. I can tell you which ones made me smile, which ones made me laugh, which ones I found repellent. I do sympathise with all those who have fallen victim to violence in this dispute. I think it dreadful what, for example, large European enterprises such as Carrefour and Nestlé have done, running advertisements in Saudi Arabia with the slogan ‘We are not Danish, we are French’. That is in bad taste, that is a legitimate target for our criticism. I ask that we all refrain from self-righteousness.

Let us not exempt religion from the social debate, as religions, too, have the right to say what is right or wrong. We are not supposed to caricature them when they talk nonsense on the issues of abortion or homosexuality; yet we have the freedom to do so, and this is a freedom that we wish to defend.

If we were to show immigrants more respect in this world, if our laws were to show them more respect, they would have the opportunity to discuss our freedoms differently. Give them the freedoms that we claim for ourselves, and they will use them responsibly.

(Applause from the Verts/ALE Group)


  Francis Wurtz, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (FR) Mr President, of all the peremptory judgments expressed so far with regard to the cartoons of Mohammed, there are few I find very convincing. This issue lends itself to all kinds of oversimplification and I believe that this is a trap that we must avoid at all costs. It is urgent that we reflect on the various facets of the problems we are facing calmly and in depth.

First of all, there is the issue of freedom of expression, clearly the touchstone of democracy and also the touchstone of the existence of a secular public space to which we quite rightly attach great importance. In this space, a critical spirit, a personal relationship to one’s faith and tolerance are supposed to prevail. These principles must not be compromised, but at the same time let us agree that the defence of these principles must not allow for insults, generalisations or stigmatisation, let alone justify them. We are constantly saying that we all live in the same world, a world that is getting smaller, in which everything is interdependent and of which neither Europe, the West in general, or any other region, is the centre. We must draw every possible conclusion from this. We are constantly being watched by the whole of humanity. We must therefore strive to create a kind of global public spirit. Everybody must exercise their freedom while respecting everybody else.

On the other hand, what should we make of the entirely disproportionate reactions of certain Arab States to these incidents, which are surely intended above all to restore the rather tarnished reputation of their leaders amongst their populations, resulting from their submission to a great power that is far more blameworthy than peaceful Denmark? Elsewhere, the Islamic radicals compete with the European far right to exploit this kind of issue to galvanise their respective troops and to silence the reasonable, courageous and progressive voices with whom they are battling. The worst thing would therefore be inadvertently to fuel their cause, rather than doing everything possible to break this vicious circle.

We must look beyond this current unrest and the entirely unacceptable excesses that it has generated, and consider the absolutely essential issue that lies behind it, that is to say the heightened expressions of identities wounded by a profound sense of injustice, domination and humiliation, for which the West, from Palestine to Iraq in particular, is responsible.

As the great Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish, stresses in a more general sense: 'Arabs and Muslims have the impression of being pushed outside of history'. It is here that I believe Europe could play an essential role: building bridges between civilisations. But in order for that ambition to be credible, it means being fully liberated from those who, while behaving like the masters of the world, are in reality leading it – we see this a little more every day – to the brink of a clash. That also means applying the same international law to all States without exception, in order in particular to put an end to the open wound in the Middle East, which is an endless source of the poison of despair. The unfortunate cartoons affair should serve to illustrate the strategic options that we are facing!

(Applause from the left)


  Jens-Peter Bonde, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. – Good morning, little EU! Globalisation has indeed arrived. I never thought that other people could burn the Danish flag with such passion. On freedom of expression we will never give in. Freedom of expression and freedom of religion both need to be respected.

The editor of Jyllands-Posten has apologised for the feelings raised. He would not have published the cartoons today. Some Danish imams have distributed the cartoons they do not like. Why feel so offended by cartoons you spread to as many as possible?

The Danish Prime Minister has rightly refused to take responsibility for the content in our newspapers, but when 11 Arab ambassadors ask for a meeting, it is a duty for a prime minister to meet them. He should have explained that freedom of expression is limited by the Danish courts, not by the government. He should have advised on how to write to the special press authority to have its judgement.

Blasphemy is a crime under the Danish penal code. Every local editor must show global responsibility. Cartoons in a newspaper can spread via the internet and global media like wildfire. Several people have been killed.

The Danish Foreign Minister had an excellent press conference when the Danish embassies were burning. He talked of dialogue and generosity instead of animosity. People could be put in jail in Denmark for burning the Koran. I could not agree more: generosity instead of animosity. We must learn to respect and cooperate with Muslims, even if we will never surrender freedom of speech.

My group warned against making fundamental rights a part of EU law. Sensitive judgements on freedom of expression and religious rights must be decided locally under international frameworks decided by the United Nations and the European Convention on Human Rights. We can offer dialogue in the new joint Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly. We can amend our exchange programmes to allow Europeans to visit the Arab world and young Arabs to visit us. We can open our markets more to their products, make peace and prosperity in the Middle East a priority, but state-sponsored trade boycotts against Danish products must be raised by the EU in the WTO.

Islam is not about the Danish Constitution. Danish imams have no right to appeal to other nations. Muslims may use the Danish courts in the same way as all other citizens. If it is not enough, go to the European Court of Human Rights here in Strasbourg. Indeed, globalisation has arrived. We all need to open our minds. There is no easy one-way ticket back. We will all have to change a bit to live in a global village. A third world war can be started by a little cartoon, as the First World War was started when a young student shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. A student’s shot – or a satirical cartoon – may not be the reason, but let us take the message. We must all live together on this globe. We have no other globe available yet.

It is on this planet that we must all live.


  Brian Crowley, on behalf of the UEN Group. – Mr President, when discussing the right to freedom and freedom of expression, one of the Supreme Court judges in the United States, Oliver Wendell Holmes, said that there are no absolute rights; rights can be restricted. The example he gave was that you do not have a right to shout ‘fire’ in a crowded cinema, unless there is a fire.

One of the difficulties we face in our discussions is the justifiable desire to ensure that the press and media in Europe have freedom of expression, the freedom to poke fun, the freedom to satirise, the freedom, in some cases, to insult people. A democracy, by its very nature, needs the safety valve of humour and offence in order to operate properly. I do not think anybody in this house could in any way condone the violent reaction in certain countries in the Middle East to the publication of those cartoons and caricatures.

Unfortunately, what has been forgotten in the debate, discussion and media coverage, is that there were also many peaceful protests, where Muslims and non-Muslims came together because they found the cartoons and the images they represented offensive, not to their religious belief per se, but to them as human beings. Respect for human dignity is as important a right in any democracy as the right to freedom of expression.

One of the greatest challenges facing us in the European Union today is to ensure that we do not have a knee-jerk reaction to every horror or outrage. For me, coming from a small country like Ireland, it was shocking to see a Danish embassy burned and the flag of a country that has stood up for freedom and against intolerance burned in public. Likewise, I found it particularly distasteful and very hard to watch the media coverage of a minority element at some of those demonstrations who were inflicting pain on themselves, especially young people. There is an old saying in the media that if it bleeds, it leads; the more dramatic the image, the better chance it has of making the headlines.

How can Europe respond? President Barroso rightly said that Europe stands in solidarity with our Danish colleagues, because a boycott of Danish goods is a boycott of all European goods. We must ensure that we can help our colleagues in the Danish Government withstand the pressure they are being put under by voices in the media to go back on their present position. Even if we are critical of the politics of the Danish Government and its exercise of tact and skill, Prime Minister Rasmussen did stand up for one principle. He said that he would not be backing down on the question of government or parliament controlling the media. In 50 years’ time he will be feted for that; it is one of the bulwarks of democracy.

My last point is that some people on both sides of this argument will try and present it as a clash of civilisations or religions or cultures. Respect and tolerance are needed more than anything else now. We must respect differences and give a proper and meaningful role to the different religions in the European Union, but we expect mutual recognition.

Freedom can never be given away. It can be taken from you, but the freedom that allows us to have the passions that burn in our hearts and souls must always be preserved and protected.



  Frank Vanhecke (NI). – (NL) Mr President, all in all, I think it is a disgrace how little solidarity most European governments have shown towards Denmark in this situation. It is equally shameful how today again, in a grovelling and cowardly fashion, the most carefully chosen words of solidarity are immediately followed by all kinds of caveats so as not to offend the Islamofanatics.

We should all feel Danish, because the criminal campaigns mounted against embassies, the boycott of Danish products, the threats and violent demonstrations are, in fact, directed against freedom and against the West as a whole. Anyone who responds to this threat with a scantily disguised appeal for self-censorship becomes, in fact, an ally of terror.

Can I, in fact, repeat in this Chamber the question for which the editor-in-chief of a Jordanian newspaper was arrested and put behind bars? What would cause more prejudice against Islam – the publication of a few caricatures, or images of Islamic hostage takers who cut the throats of their victims in front of the camera? Can I also ask the question whether anywhere in the world, there is one Islamic country where atheists or people adhering to other faiths are given the respect that Muslims demand from us?

To ask the question is to answer it, and it is therefore high time we stopped beating about the bush and asked Muslims who live in Europe and who, by the way, enjoy freedom of religion, the free expression of opinion and all the blessings of social security, quite rightly so, to take themselves less seriously and to realise that democracy is about differences of opinion and sometimes clashing viewpoints.

Anyone who cannot live with this would do well to use their freedom to move to one of the many countries where the inflexible and often very cruel laws of Islam already apply.

I would like to quote the Danish Queen Margarethe II, with whom I am in complete agreement and who appears to be much more spirited than most European leaders put together: ‘These days, we are being challenged by Islam nationally and internationally. We have left this issue unaddressed for far too long, because we were tolerant or even perhaps complacent. We must show our opposition to Islam and accept the risk of being given unfavourable labels at times’.

Let us therefore defend, tooth and nail, the free expression of opinion. Let the European countries where laws inimical to liberty are already in place to curb the free expression of political opinion – Belgium for example – take the initiative to abolish these laws which muzzle people and thereby send a strong message to anyone who combats freedom.

We should also draw lessons from this for the negotiations with Turkey, because Turkey can never become a European Member State, simply because it is not a European country, and also because the basic principles of Islam are incompatible with the European values of freedom, separation of church and state and gender equality. It is time we mustered the courage to say this, certainly now Prime Minister Erdogan has been arrogant enough to seek to impose restrictions on the free expression of opinion.

On a final note about this Danish issue, I should like to add an impressive quote from Mrs Doornaert’s column in the Flemish newspaper De Standaard: ‘Europe appears to be unable to shake off its tendency for appeasement. It should have learnt by now that it is impossible to appease a totalitarian monster. The more you feed it, the more insolent it becomes’. Mrs Doornaert and her newspaper certainly do not think along the same political lines as I do, but those are prophetic words and we would do well to ponder them very carefully.


  Hans Winkler, President-in-Office of the Council.(DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, it is not my place, of course, to comment on a debate in this House, but I should like to express my most sincere thanks on behalf of the Council for the strong message that has been sent out today: one of commitment to our values, but also to tolerant dialogue with other civilisations and religions.

I should also like to emphasise that the Council naturally considers it very important that all the institutions of the EU – the Commission and Parliament as well as the Council – agree on this and speak the same language; I consider that most important. The debate that we have held here today will also make the Council’s job easier in future.

On behalf of the Council, I wish to reiterate what I said in my introductory statement – which has also been said by the President of the Commission and also very many speakers: any attack on a Member State of the EU, any boycott against a Member State of the EU, is an attack on the EU, and we of course stand in solidarity with Denmark. This I say also on behalf of the Council.

A number of very interesting ideas have been put forward here, which the Council will be happy to take up. I agree with Mr Poettering that it is important to reach out also – or particularly – to the young people: in schools, and also at home, as their education naturally begins at home. I also agree with Mr Poettering that it is important to avoid stereotypes and clichés in school books, too, and so I think that the idea of examining these is a good one.

I could not agree more with Mr Rasmussen on the importance of dialogue between civilisations and on the need for the dialogue to be open, critical and respectful: that seems to me to be most important. Indeed, extremists must not be allowed to triumph: this is a fundamental statement that must be made here. It goes without saying that no benefit should induce us to bow down to extremists: we must show solidarity and unity on this. I could not agree more with Mr Cohn-Bendit, and I also said in my statement that I, too, am of the opinion that the responsibility of the press is a personal one, and that governments should not tell it what it can or cannot do.

I am aware that, over the years and decades, institutions such as the Council of Europe have made repeated attempts to draw up a code of conduct; all of which have failed. I believe that this is a personal responsibility; that is very important.

In the same spirit shown by today’s debate, the Council will continue to work on improving understanding between civilisations and between religious communities, but will also speak in plain terms when it comes to rejecting violence, and when it comes to condemning the use of violence or boycotts against Member States of the EU. We must show solidarity on this.



  President. To end the debate, I have received six motions for resolutions(1) in accordance with Rule 103(2) of the Rules of Procedure.

The debate is closed.

The vote will take place tomorrow, Thursday, at 10 a.m.


  Ana Maria Gomes (PSE).(PT) I voted in favour of this resolution because I defend freedom of speech as a European and universal value and because I condemn violence as an expression of indignation, regardless of its target, and that includes European interests and embassies.

I also voted in favour because the second paragraph of the resolution condemns incitement to religious hatred and the dissemination of racist and xenophobic attitudes.

That being said, I feel that the resolution as a whole is unbalanced, because it focuses primarily on freedom of expression and not on the islamophobic intentions behind the cartoons published by an extreme right-wing, racist and xenophobic newspaper in Denmark.

If it is to promote freedom of expression and the most basic human rights, Parliament must categorically distance itself from islamophobia and must condemn any attempts to correlate Islam and its believers with terrorism.

My vote for this resolution was also an expression of my solidarity with the people of Denmark. I do not, however, approve of the complacent, arrogant attitude of the Fogh Rassmussen Government, which I hold jointly responsible for the fact that extremist reactionary forces, both in the West and in the Islamic world, have made capital from the incident by invoking the ‘clash of civilisations’.


(1) See Minutes.

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