SHAFAQNA – The EU Commission warned on Thursday (1 October) that the “age-old monster” of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are on the rise in Europe amid the refugee crisis and vowed to fight them, albeit with a limited legal arsenal.
Frans Timmermans, Commission Vice President responsible for rule of law, said that because of the influx of migrants, it is “no surprise” that there are fears of terrorism and fear of the new in European societies.
He added that it is the responsibility of the politicians is to “put that into perspective,” and stop singling out whole communities as a threat.
“The overwhelming majority of Muslim communities in Europe are absolutely not a threat, but render our societies stronger than we were before,” he told press before the start of a gathering of religious leaders, civil society and other stakeholders on the issue, called Annual Colloquium on Fundamental Rights.
“We have a responsibility to dismantle that fear, and there is no need to put a whole community in a position of being accused of being a danger to the rest of society,” he added.
The Dutch Commissioner said Islamophobia is new in European societies, but it is related to anti-Semitism, as they have similar consequences of hatred and discrimination.
“We Europeans, whenever we are in trouble, we have a tendency to look for other people to blame,” Timmermans said, adding that anti-Semitism is, “an age-old monster come up again in Europe” in last few years.
An Eurobarometer survey showed that Muslims are least accepted in European societies among religious groups, with only 61 percent of respondents saying they would be fully comfortable with a colleague at work being Muslim.
Only 43 percent said they would be fully comfortable if their adult children had a relationship with a Muslim person.
The refugee crisis is clearly fuelling fears, with the German Ministry of Interior recording as many as 202 attacks on housing for asylum-seekers in the first half of 2015 alone.
A survey by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency on Wednesday suggested rising anti-Semitism in Europe, as 73 percent of respondents felt that online anti-Semitism has worsened over the last five years.
But there is little the Commission can do to effectively address this issue.
Vera Jourova, EU commissioner for Justice, told press that only 13 member states had translated into national law the EU’s framework decision to penalise hate speech, public incitement and hate crimes that have racist or xenophobic motivation.
Hate crimes remain under-reported, and she stressed that trust in authorities must be improved.
Jourova said she will meet on Friday with IT companies to discuss how to tackle hate speech, which technically means taking down hate speech sites and sending out counter-narratives.
“We are on thin ice, there is a thin line between freedom of expression and combatting hate speech,” she said, adding that Friday’s meeting will lead to a series of discussions with IT companies.
On combatting radicalisation, a conference is scheduled to take place with the Luxembourgish presidency on the 19 October, focusing on radicalisation in prisons and IT platforms.
Jourova reminded that rules on victim’s rights will have to be transposed by member states into national legislation by this November, which will strengthen the victim’s assistance and protection.
An EU rule about race equality should also help combat discrimination in employment, social protection, health care, education and housing, the Commission said.
The Commission is also in talks to update the directive on media services that says that internet service providers have to remove content in case of incitement to hatred, but the process is too slow.