The European Union agreed on Thursday on a watered-down anti-racism law, reflecting wide divergences among the bloc’s 27 states on how to tackle racial prejudice and genocide denial.
The bloc struggled for almost six years over proposals for EU-wide legislation, agonising over the limit between freedom of expression and the desire of many to crack down on Holocaust denial, Nazi symbols and attacks on religion.
Justice ministers agreed to punish incitement to hatred or violence against a group or a person based on colour, race, national or ethnic origin by one to three years in jail.
”We agreed on the framework decision on combating racism and xenophobia,” German Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries, chairing the talks, told a news conference.
Baltic states and Poland, which had demanded an explicit reference to ”Stalinist crimes” alongside genocide, dropped their opposition after EU ministers agreed on a declaration pledging to take their interests into account, she said.
EU Justice and Security Commissioner Franco Frattini said the European Commission had agreed to stage public hearings in one of the Baltic states and Slovenia on ”the horrible crimes of the 20th century”.
”That’s the political response to our friends that suffered profoundly from the dictatorial regimes,” he said.
Under the weakened text adopted, member states can choose to limit punishment to those cases likely to disturb public order, and individual countries’ rules on freedom of expression can always take precedence over it.
Those EU countries that have national legislation outlawing Holocaust denial will retain it, diplomats said.
While some states such as France forbid any claim that the massacre of Jews by Nazi Germany never took place, the EU law establishes a requirement to punish Holocaust denial only when it is likely to incite violence or hatred.
There will also be no EU-wide ban on Nazi symbols.
Before becoming final, the deal must be confirmed by the Parliaments of several member states, Zypries said.
The publication by a Danish newspaper of 12 caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad sparked protests in the Middle East and elsewhere last year, highlighting divisions in Europe about how far freedom of expression can go. — Reuters