Presentation at the Ministerial Conference on the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Totalitarian Regimes

We cannot fight terrorism without confronting its ideological support base with a strong and determined human rights-based counter-narrative reflecting the universal values of tolerance, respect for diversity, and solidarity; supported by all major political forces; and permeating related mainstream media discourses.
 
Deputy Prime Minister, Commissioner, Excellences, ladies and gentlemen
 
Today, on August 23rd, anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, we commemorate the European Day of Remembrance for victims of all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, with dignity and impartiality. This anniversary reminds us of the defeat of racism, antisemitism and intolerance as official state ideologies; it reminds us of the very reason for the existence of our Union: the consolidation of peace, democracy, the rule of law and human rights in our continent; achievements that we protect today through a robust institutional human rights framework, which includes national, European and international human rights bodies, Ombuds institutions, data protection mechanisms and political procedures to safeguard the rule of law.
 
Almost a generation after the fall of the Berlin Wall Europe faces new challenges: the terror of random murder of innocent victims; intolerance of the growing cultural and religious diversity; the continuing impact of the economic and demographic crisis. These provide fertile ground for the growth of narratives of fear and hate that fuel extremist and xenophobic discourses, question the usefulness of the European project, and influence political responses that seek to legally muzzle dissenting or controversial views.
 
The European institutions have acknowledged that the European Union finds itself at a defining moment. They are therefore stepping up their actions across areas of their competence, since as the title of the European Commission’s Work Programme for 2016 says: “this no time for business as usual”. However, the primary responsibility for many core issues lies at the national, regional or even local level. It is therefore essential that this sense of urgency is reflected in the policies and actions of all levels of governance, national, regional and local, to address two parallel and interconnected phenomena: a rise in the popular appeal of elements of extremist ideologies, in particular intolerance, and, in parallel, a gradual slide of mainstream political support for actions targeting in particular Muslim communities that can potentially alienate them and endanger core fundamental rights, such as freedom of expression, a prerequisite for democracy and human rights fulfilment.
 
In this respect, our Agency has repeatedly stressed that law enforcement and counter-radicalisation measures must be proportional and legitimate. This can help limit potentially adverse effects of security measures on the rights of individuals and reduce the risk of alienating communities with measures that could be perceived as discriminatory. It would also help ensure the full compliance of security measures with fundamental rights – a core principle of the European Agenda for Security.
 
Ladies and gentlemen,
 
At the same time we also need to “walk the talk”: we must respond to the extremist and populist arguments about our own failures to uphold fundamental rights, such as the right to equal treatment, through concrete and measurable actions that can bring about tangible change in people’s lives, raise future aspirations and allay insecurities and fears. Such actions should strengthen the capacity of our schools to respond to the needs of our diverse and often disillusioned youth; provide adequate resources to human rights bodies and institutions to improve rights awareness and access to redress; support civil society to amplify individual voices and improve transparency and government accountability; empower faith communities to enhance mutual understanding; instill hope in those most disadvantaged by reducing economic and social disparities.
 
On our part we remain committed to continue and strengthen our efforts to help Member States and European Institutions develop and enact more effective ways of recording and reporting hate crime and discrimination; to continue collecting robust evidence and reporting on these phenomena; and to promote the respect and protection of fundamental rights in the European Union.
 
Thank you for your attention