Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is an honour to be part of today’s conference on fighting antisemitism in Europe, and to follow the welcoming words of Chancellor Merkel in highlighting both the importance and the urgency of the matter.
[Intro – coronavirus context]
I would like to sincerely thank the German Presidency of the Council for its commitment to give new impetus to our collective efforts against antisemitism. When the Chancellor announced a year ago that combatting antisemitism would be a high priority for the German Presidency, no one could have anticipated the impact of the coronavirus pandemic that the world was about to face.
The pandemic has challenged the resilience and cohesion of our societies in many ways, revealing weaknesses and forcing us to take a self-critical look at how to deal with long-standing problems, including antisemitism. It has shown how quickly antisemitic conspiracy theories can grow in a climate of fear and insecurity, and can exploit an emergency situation. Old conspiracy myths die slowly.
How quickly antisemitic radicalisation can turn into hate crime and violence on the streets can unfortunately be witnessed across Europe. I was shocked to learn of the assault on Elie Rosen, Head of the Jewish community in Graz, this August. This was only days after we had seen the arson attack on a Jewish-owned bar in Berlin and an anti-Semitic assault in Paris.
Antisemitism is not just a Jewish problem. It is not just a local problem. It is a European, and a global issue.
As an immediate measure, we launched, together with UNESCO and the World Jewish Congress, a dedicated online campaign to debunk disinformation and encourage our citizens to think before sharing content online.
But it is clear that to address the issue in all its dimensions we need a comprehensive approach and increased coordination within and amongst our Member States.
The EU Fundamental Rights Agency has just published its annual overview on antisemitism. It is an essential tool for monitoring and evaluating progress and I want to thank the Director of the Agency, for the systematic work they have been doing over the past years to reinforce our knowledge base.
He will later outline the results in greater detail, but let me focus on three key takeaways from a political perspective:
[1. Data collection and analysis]
First, every policy to counter antisemitism must begin with measuring its manifestations.
We are still not able to compare antisemitic hate crime data across Europe, as methodologies and criteria differ from one Member State to another, and in many countries there is almost no overview of the problem.
It is imperative that we improve on this, because it means we are dealing with a threat the extent of which remains largely unknown.
I am glad that several countries have increased their efforts to better match police statistics with civil society and Jewish community data. The Commission stands ready to support such efforts with EU funding, investing this year almost EUR 8 million to this objective.
Together with Member States, we are holding a series of dedicated discussions amongst experts to improve the whole enforcement chain on hate crimes, including through police training, victim-support structures, and better data collection.
[2. IHRA definition]
Second, our measures must be firmly rooted in a common understanding of antisemitism. As I’ve said before, you can’t fight what you can’t define. The working definition of antisemitism by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance is the benchmark for developing a victim-centred approach.
18 EU Member States have already adopted the definition, which is great progress. I would urge all others to move in the same direction, in line with the commitment made in the 2018 Council declaration on the fight against antisemitism.
The Commission is working together with the IHRA to issue practical guidance on the use of the definition before the end of the year, highlighting best-practice examples.
[3. National Strategies – towards a comprehensive EU approach]
Third, and most important: antisemitism is a cross-cutting problem, so the solution cannot lie in piecemeal actions. We need a holistic approach, including on security, education and supporting Jewish life in Europe.
I warmly congratulate the seven EU Member States who have adopted or are in the process of adopting a self-standing strategy on antisemitism and the further seven countries that have introduced specific measures on antisemitism in general strategies on racism and extremism.
This is a commitment all Member States took in 2018, and remains as pressing as ever. Antisemitism affects every EU country, even the ones with small or no Jewish communities. Every other European believes that antisemitism is a problem in his or her country.
With the 2018 Council Declaration, the European Union has a solid common basis to develop a comprehensive approach and charter a path for a future free of antisemitism. Out Jewish fellow citizens should feel safe and free to lead their lives, work, study, practice and celebrate their faith like every other member of society. This is the essence of our European way of life.
Together with my friend, Federal Minister Horst Seehofer, we wish to keep the issue of antisemitism high up in the EU’s political agenda over the coming months. We will be reaching out to ministers responsible for combating antisemitism, to see how – together – we can accelerate progress towards the adoption of national strategies.
These overarching strategies need to factor in the expertise of Jewish communities and their implementation relies on close coordination with them. A dedicated contact person at national level for combating antisemitism is an important starting point. I welcome the fact that the United Nations has also created such a post recently.
From the side of the European Commission, we are currently reflecting on how to better mainstream the fight against antisemitism across policy areas, including in relation to our upcoming action plan against racism and in our ongoing work on strengthening victims’ rights. We will continue to evaluate where more support from the EU level could add value to Member States’ efforts.
This of course includes financial support. EU leaders have recently agreed on an ambitious Multi-Annual Financial Framework for the next seven years, the biggest in our Union’s history. We will make sure that actions on antisemitism are considered in this framework, including under our new Citizenship, Equality, Rights and Values programme.
Regional funds can support places of commemoration and Jewish cultural heritage, if Member States wish so. Erasmus funds can be invested in education against antisemitism and support learning about Jewish life and its contribution to Europe. The same goes for Research and Technology, where greater investments are needed to support academic research into antisemitism and the Holocaust.
In December, the Commission will host our 4th Working Group meeting on antisemitism, bringing together representatives of Member States and Jewish Communities. Two years after the adoption of the Council Declaration and with the fresh impetus brought by the German Presidency, this in my view would be the ideal moment to give Member States the centre stage to see how far we’ve come, and what more we need to do.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Antisemitism has no place in the European Union.
Together with the German Presidency of the Council, we are stepping up our efforts to ensure the safety of Jewish communities, counter the surge of antisemitic conspiracy myths online and invest in education, awareness-raising and research.
The fight for normality of Jewish life requires concerted efforts by all European Institutions and all Members States. It is a litmus test for Europe, in upholding our values and our diversity.
I thank you once again for making this virtual conference happen, and wish you a very constructive and fruitful debate.