Move to criminalise hate speech, hate crimes at EU level

The European Commission has presented an initiative to criminalise hate speech and hate crime at EU level.

“Hate speech and hate crime have seen a sharp rise across Europe and have become a particularly serious and worrying phenomenon – offline and online. Common EU action is needed to tackle this EU-wide challenge,” the Commission said on December 9.

“However, currently there is no legal basis to criminalise hate speech and hate crime at EU level.”

The existing list of EU crimes in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) needs to be extended to ensure minimum common rules on how to define criminal offences and sanctions applicable in all EU member states, the Commission said.

An external study published on December 9 confirms the scale and worrying trend of hate speech and hate crimes.

The increase in the level of hatred manifested against for example of Roma, Jews, Muslims and persons of Asian origin, or those perceived to be of such origin, including racist attacks and beatings, violent bullying, threats and racist abuse has increased during the pandemic.

Sources found that 52 per cent of young women and girls have experienced online violence, including threats and sexual harassment, while persons with disabilities are more at risk of being victims of violent crimes, including hate crimes, than other persons, and to face harassment.

The December 9 initiative is the first step in the process of extending the list of EU crimes. The next step would be for EU countries to approve the initiative, before the Commission can present a legislative proposal. 

Today’s initiative sets out evidence for extending the list of EU crimes to hate speech and hate crime in the light of the criteria laid down in Article 83(1) of the Treaty.

It points out the cross-border dimension of hate speech and hate crime: Online hate speech spreads fast and is accessible to everybody anywhere. The ideologies behind hate speech and hate crime can be developed internationally and can be rapidly shared online. Hate crimes can be committed by networks with members from several countries.

Hate speech and hate crime as an area of crime: The Commission considers that hate speech and hate crime are an area of crime as they share an intrinsic special feature, i.e. ‘hatred’ targeting persons or groups of persons sharing (or perceived as sharing) the same protected characteristics.

Hate speech and hate crime as an area of particularly serious crime: Hate speech and hate crime are particularly serious crimes as they undermine the EU common values and fundamental rights, as enshrined in Articles 2 and 6 Treaty on European Union, as well as in the Charter. They have harmful impacts on the individuals, their communities and on society at large, the Commission said.

There has been a steady increase in the two phenomena due to various economic, social and technological changes and developments. The Covid-19 pandemic has been one of the factors contributing to this increase, the Commission said.

The Commission noted that hate speech and hate crime are criminalised to a varying degree in the EU member states.

“Only the extension of the list of EU crimes to hate speech and hate crime can enable an effective and comprehensive criminal law approach to these phenomena at EU level, along with a consistent protection of the victims of such acts,” it said.

(Photo, taken in Lithuania in 2005: Beny Shlevich)

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