Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to thank Daniel Schwammenthal, Director of AJC Transatlantic Institute for inviting me to open this conference on AJC strategy to combat anti-semitism.
The unacceptable dilemma
The recent terrorist attacks against the Jewish community in Brussels, Paris and Copenhagen have raised concerns that a new type of anti-semitism is taking root in Europe. For more and more Jews, Europe is no safe haven anymore. More and more Jews are earnestly reconsidering their future in Europe and the possibility of a new life in Israel.
"Staying or leaving": this heart-breaking dilemma faced by Jewish community 70 years ago cannot be faced again today…
It is a tragedy and a disgrace for Europe when such deep-rooted communities on our continent feel threatened, discriminated and insecure in our cities, in their places of worship and in their homes.
We are all in this together
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I want to make clear that we – Jewish Communities and the European Union together - are fighting for the same cause. When terrorists struck in Paris, Brussels and Copenhagen, they struck at the very heart of Europe and its citizens. They wanted to murder the foundation of our Union: our shared fundamental rights. We will not be intimidated! Europe is and will remain a place that unconditionally upholds non-discrimination, justice, and tolerance.
But mark my words: Europe will show no tolerance whatsoever for those who abuse our fundamental constitutional freedoms - such as the freedom of expression - to advocate hate speech, hate crime and deny such historical events as the Holocaust.
European Strategy against hate speech and hate crime
Now let me tell you how the Union and its Member States are fighting against hate crime and hate speech.
We have several legal instruments at EU level including the Framework Decision on combating the most serious forms of racist and xenophobic hate speech and hate crime by means of criminal law.
These rules require from Member States that they ban public calls to violence and hatred based on race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin as well as hate crimes based on racist or xenophobic motivation, including anti-Semitic motivation. That EU law also bans the denial of the Holocaust when it is done in a way to cause violence or hatred.
Obviously, the law on paper does not do much in itself. Member States must also apply it properly on the ground.
Exactly one year ago, the Commission reported that most Member States had transposed the rules into their national laws to crack down on racist violence and hatred, and tackle racially committed crimes. However, we have also observed that hate speech on negationism, including the Holocaust denial, in some cases still remained unaddressed.
As you all know, Member States and national courts are and will remain in charge of investigating and prosecuting individual cases of hate speech and hate crime. That said there are also a number of concrete actions that the Commission takes to increase the pressure. Let me take you through some of them:
First of all, the Commission ensures that Member States fully implement the Framework Decision on racism and xenophobia. Where Member States struggle to take proper action against hate speech and hate crime, the Commission assists them through best practice exchanges led, among others, by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency. We have also earmarked almost 6 million euro for actions aiming at combating racism and xenophobia in 2015.
However, where Member States plainly fail to implement the law, the Commission also has the power, since December 2014, to take them to the European Court of Justice where needed. Trust me - the Commission will be willing to make full use of this new competence if needed!
The second way we help is by monitoring harmful or illegal websites. We support the development of efficient monitoring and reporting mechanisms to deal with websites containing racist or xenophobic material. I can already announce that the decision to fund several such projects will be made shortly.
Thirdly, as tackling hate speech cannot be efficiently addressed through enforcement actions only, we also fight it through prevention and the spreading of counter-narratives. We already have developed some experience in the area of radicalisation.
Here again, we can exploit synergies with technology companies and see how and if similar means as those used in fighting terrorism could be adapted to online hate speech.
The recently announced European Security Agenda will also serve the purpose of increasing security and perception of individual safety in the EU, including for Jews. Among other actions, the Security agenda will help strengthen security through societal resilience, disrupting international criminal networks, preventing terrorism and addressing radicalization and recruitment, as well as raise levels of security for citizens.
Last but not least, First Vice President Frans Timmermans and I have decided to devote our first annual Conference on fundamental rights to the issue of promoting tolerance and respect in Europe. We will focus on how to raise European citizens' awareness against anti-semitism specifically, as well as other growing forms of hatred, such as Islamophobia. What we want to achieve is that these problems are no longer seen as 'minority issues'. These are major 'societal challenges' calling on well-intentioned citizens to come together as one, and calling for a joint strong political response across Europe.
The Commission of course also makes a point of officially marking Holocaust Remembrance Day on 27 January. In 2015, we organised our first ever training course on the Holocaust and Fundamental Rights for EU Commission officials. The second edition of this course is foreseen for 27 January 2016.
Finally, we will continue to organise high-level events to promote tolerance and combat racism and xenophobia, including anti-Semitism through dialogue with stakeholders. They include the annual Commission-Israel seminar on racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism, as well as regular EU dialogues with churches, religions, philosophical and non-confessional organisations.
Europe is and will remain diverse in the way its Member States tackle controversial issues. But we cannot and will not tolerate threats to our common values and fundamental rights. They are the bedrock on which Europe was built.
The European Union is the response to the tragic events that happened 70 years ago. It has risen to become the guardian of fundamental rights: a safe present and future for all its citizens.
Therefore, as European Commissioner for Justice, Consumer and Gender Equality, it is my mission to ensure that Europe lives up to the rightful expectations of all Europeans, including its Jewish communities. I intend to pursue that mission with passion and commitment throughout my mandate.