The EU should be a place where everyone can live in freedom and peace, no matter who we are, how we live, or who we love. This, and much more, is what we have promised our citizens through the EU Treaties. Unfortunately, it is not the case for all in Europe today.
This is why I warmly welcome the Commission’s initiative to add hate crime and hate speech to the list of EU crimes. It is a first step in introducing binding measures and harmonising Member States’ legal protection against hate crime and hate speech throughout Europe. All EU citizens have the right to safety at all times.
“Civil society organisations are crucial in the fight against the forces that try to limit our fundamental rights and freedoms. We simply cannot win without them”
The Commission has already made important commitments in the fight against all forms of discrimination and hatred, shifting towards an inclusive society under the leadership of President Ursula von der Leyen and Equality Commissioner Helena Dalli.
The Gender Equality Strategy released last year, which lays out strategic objectives on how to strengthen women’s rights and gender equality for the coming five years, is an important aspect of this work. Among young women in the EU, one in five has experienced sexual harassment online.
Adding hate crime and hate speech to the list of EU crimes would help millions of women feel safer. It is crucial that we take firm measures against threats and harassment, no matter whether they occur online or offline. This is a key priority for me and my political group in the European Parliament.
Another key aspect in the fight towards establishing a tolerant union, based on the EU values, is the LGBTIQ Strategy. Presented last year, it is the first strategy of its kind and sends a strong signal to those EU leaders who are currently leading campaigns against what they call the ‘gender ideology’.
They are using all possible measures to infringe on the fundamental human rights of people who do not fit within the average (male) norm. The mapping of LGBTIQ freedom and rights presented in the Strategy paints a bleak picture.
Nearly half of all LGBTIQ persons in Europe have experienced hate-motivated harassment for being LGBTI in the last 12 months. With this in mind, it is problematic that the quality of grounds covered in national hate crime laws vary when it comes to gender identity and sex characteristics.
“Among young women in the EU, one in five has experienced sexual harassment online. Adding hate crime and hate speech to the list of EU crimes would help millions of women feel safer”
At present, seven Member States do not explicitly include sexual orientation in hate speech and/or crime legislation as an aggravating factor.
Meanwhile, 15 Member States do not include gender identity and 25 do not cover sex characteristics. This is far from good enough in a Union founded on the principles of human rights, freedom and equality.
A few weeks ago, a gay man was brutally murdered here in Belgium. This created a sense of urgency and sparked major discussions on how to combat anti-LGBTIQ crimes. Rainbow flags were raised all over Belgium, and politicians expressed their grief and anger about the horrendous crime. We need to act now. Exchange of best practice and dialogues with national authorities and civil society organisations is important to improve national legislation.
However, harmonising legal standards is the key to achieving real progress. This is why I am optimistic about the Commission’s commitment to do more and to come forward with concrete legislation to combat hate crime and hate speech.
Finally, as a rapporteur for the Rights and Values programme, I am proud to have secured a near doubling of the EU funding for civil society and other stakeholders promoting our common EU values and defending the equal rights of all our citizens.
Within this programme, funding will be available for projects aimed at combating anti-LGBTIQ hate crime, hate speech and violence. Civil society organisations are crucial in the fight against the forces that try to limit our fundamental rights and freedoms. We simply cannot win without them. That is why I am convinced that this programme will make a real difference.