'Tolerance trumps hate' conference speech

Constantinos Manolopoulos, FRA interim Director, speaks at the conference entitled ‘Tolerance Trumps Hate’, organised by the Belgium Presidency of the Council of Europe, Brussels, 8 May 2015.

Mr Chairman, Secretary General, Ministers, Distinguished Guests,

Good afternoon. To begin with, allow me to express my deep gratitude to the Belgian presidency for this very important event. It is a great pleasure and honour to be able to address you and contribute to this important session on behalf of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights.

We highly appreciate the important work the Council of Europe has done, and continues to do, on the issue of combating racism and hate speech. We welcome the close and very successful cooperation between our two organisations over the past years.

We value the Council of Europe’s work, in particular the efforts of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) to monitor racism, xenophobia, antisemitism, intolerance and related discrimination in the member states of the Council of Europe, by sharing evidence and data. We also engage ECRI actively in our own projects on racism, hate crime and discrimination.

A number of very important points were raised and discussed today, for example, the vital role both the traditional and social media can play in countering hate speech. In this context, it is essential that politicians, opinion makers and journalists across Europe all send a clear message that there is zero tolerance for hate speech and hate crime. In this connection, I was very happy to hear from the FIFA representative here today that it also implements a policy of zero tolerance on this issue.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The flip side to hate and intolerance is respect and inclusion; these are the key to developing a society based on the principles of democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights. A society that recognises and rewards talent, skill and experience, regardless of religion or ethnic origin.

In order to achieve this, we need to take steps to address practices that risk alienating those people who were often born in the EU, but are nonetheless made to feel as though they are not part of European society. There are numerous international studies, including the OECD’s PISA, which demonstrate that the children of migrant descent from minority ethnic groups are underperforming. FRA’s own surveys of Roma in the EU show that they are all too often excluded from education.

There are a number of national studies showing that a job applicant called Ali or Mohammed is less likely to get the job than someone called George or Paul. In one of this morning’s breakout sessions, I heard the comment – and I quote – “you always expect not to be welcome – in school, at work, and in sport.” And this from someone who has lived in Belgium for 14 years. Ladies and gentlemen, this sense of exclusion is something we need to combat with all the means at our disposal.

And as our own large-scale survey from 2008 of minorities living in the EU show, high levels of discrimination are a reality:

-    1 in 3 Muslims experiencing discrimination in the 12 months before the survey, and

-    Up to 39% of Roma saying that they were stopped by the police, simply because they were Roma

Our Agency is now repeating this survey to identify trends over time, to see what the real impact of legal and policy measures taken over the past seven years has been.

Ladies and gentlemen,

There is good reason to be concerned about the situation today. But we should not forget that past efforts have been significant. In the European Union, we have had a solid legal framework to counter discrimination and promote equality since 2000, from the Equality Directives and the Framework Decision on Racism and Xenophobia through to the Victims’ Directive, which is a big step forward in assisting victims of crime. The European Commission has funded and continues to fund a multitude of civil society projects to combat hate crime and hate speech in many and often innovative ways.

FRA has built up a large body of work on racism and hate crime over the years, and of course is continuing its projects in this area. We are also stepping up our awareness-raising efforts. For example, in close cooperation with the European Commission we have already developed training on Fundamental Rights and Holocaust Remembrance for EU officials. Now we are exploring the possibility of developing more educational and training material building on our past work, such as our handbook for teachers on Holocaust education. Furthermore, we continue the production of handbooks on different areas of human rights, together with the European Court of Human Rights. These handbooks, on subjects such as European anti-discrimination law, are proving very popular and useful for practitioners in the area of justice. This also shows the synergies that we have developed with the Council of Europe’s work.

In parallel, we are working with Member States, ECRI, the OSCE and the European Commission in the context of a Working Party that seeks to identify practical ways of improving reporting and recording of hate crime incidents.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Without the events in Toulouse, in Brussels, in Paris, in Copenhagen and elsewhere, this conference and many others may not have taken place – would not need to have taken place. It is clear to us all that we in the EU and beyond need to combat radicalisation and violent extremism. And in order to do this effectively we need to tackle their root cause: intolerance and prejudice.

In this way we will be acting to prevent such events, rather than just reacting to them.

There are many challenges ahead of us, and today’s discussions have provided much food for thought and for action. I and my colleagues at FRA are ready to increase our cooperation and further contribute to the short and long term objectives this Conference aspires to achieve.

Thank you.