Europe Considers Unifying Anti-Prejudice Legislation

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The Council of Europe will consider over the next few years a new convention meant to standardize and unify anti-prejudice legislation throughout the council’s member states. The European Framework Convention on Promoting Tolerance and Combating Intolerance was presented in the European Parliament last week at a formal gathering commemorating 70 years since Kristallnacht. Its architects hope it will be adopted by the 47-member Council of Europe, a body that advocates for human rights and democracy, within four years.

The convention was developed by the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation, a group formed at the initiative of the European Jewish Congress that includes many ex-heads of state, including its chairman former Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski and former Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar.

The ECTR conceived of the convention because of a serious gap in European law, explained Dr. Ireneusz Bil, the secretary-general of the group and the architect of the draft version. “The legal basis for tolerance is very dispersed. Europe still lacks technical legal definitions for tolerance, discrimination, anti-Semitism and xenophobia,” Bil said.

In a world where each state has different and often incompatible legislation on tolerance and intolerance, while borders are porous and filtering of objectionable or illegal content is nigh impossible, efforts to fight xenophobic and anti-Semitic groups are severely crippled.

The convention aims to change that reality, creating a process of careful examination that its architects hope will culminate in unified Europe-wide legislation outlawing many of the forms of intolerance that plague Europe’s minorities today.

“The draft [presented last week] is just the first step of coordination,” Bil said. The final result will be “a binding agreement for member states,” who would be required to adopt appropriate national legislation to be part of the convention.

European Parliament President Dr. Hans-Gert Pottering has agreed to bring the convention to the parliament as a “citizens’ proposal.” In parallel, Luis Maria de Puch, president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, will bring it to the council.

Pottering’s and de Puch’s endorsements are seen as promising early signs, say the campaigners for the initiative, focusing political attention on the document.

That sort of attention even brought ambassadors from Muslim and Arab countries to the parliamentary commemoration of Kristallnacht – though none but the Egyptian representatives spoke to the Israeli press.