Confronting Extremism in the European Parliament

With the parliamentary elections approaching, parties such as the neofascist Golden Dawn are expected to win seats.

On March 14, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on “strengthening the fight against racism, xenophobia, and hate crime.” The statement stressed the importance of remembering racially motivated atrocities, called for more effective measures to fight hate crime, and warned against extremist discourse.

But at the same time there is a danger of an increase in intolerant speech inside the European Parliament itself. With the parliamentary elections approaching, parties such as the neofascist Golden Dawn, which has risen in Greece since the elections in 2009, are expected to win seats. Though some of the new members of the European Parliament (MEPs) from these parties may have fewer opportunities to speak compared to MEPs from the mainstream parties, their voices will still be heard at the plenary sessions of the next parliament.

Last week Counterpoint released Conflicted Politicians, a new report studying how populist radical right politicians behave in the European Parliament—an institution they often oppose. Using data from VoteWatch Europe, we focused on the two groups in which most of these members are found: non-attached MEPs and the eurosceptic Europe of Freedom and Democracy group.

On one hand, we found that these MEPs were significantly less active at drafting reports at the committee stage than members of the other political groups. On the other hand, they were much more likely to give speeches and ask questions at the plenary sittings. This suggests that populist radical right MEPs focus their efforts on communications rather than the Parliament’s committee work—meaning that what they say is of particular importance.

Although populist radical right MEPs tend to refrain from discriminatory speech at plenary, sometimes their rhetoric does cross a line. In a 2011 debate about Roma inclusion, for example, British MEP Andrew Brons stated, “I think we should find a particular member of the Roma, preferably with disabilities and conflicting sexualities. We could then make this person president of the Commission. He would start by selling this place off and nobody would dare to complain.”

If representatives of groups like Golden Dawn enter the Parliament next year, this rhetoric could get worse. What can MEPs and advocacy groups who work to challenge racism and xenophobia do about it? The report points to three main recommendations.

  • MEPs need to be held accountable for what they say. This means that their speeches and questions need careful, regular monitoring and that clearly discriminatory statements need to be exposed and challenged. The monitoring should be thorough and systematic, and the results should be presented in a clear and usable way.
  • Monitoring needs to be done carefully. One of the challenges here is that populist radical right politicians sometimes use code words or phrases instead of direct abuse, gesturing at stereotypes and hinting at generalizations. But it is important not to fall into a populist trap; a populist radical right politician loves nothing more than to tell the public that they are being stigmatized for a comment the majority perceive as harmless and open-minded. A clear line should be drawn between rhetoric that is controversial but legitimate and rhetoric that is discriminatory.
  • MEPs need to challenge discriminatory statements when appropriate. The research indicated that some members were cautious about responding to the populist radical right’s rhetoric head-on at plenary sittings. But the report also suggests that some populist radical right MEPs tend to see speaking time as a publicity opportunity. When discriminatory rhetoric is used, it is essential to show potential viewers that other politicians will not stand for it.

It is hard to tell what political changes the next European Parliament elections will bring. But if the Parliament wants to send a message to the member states about racism, xenophobia, and hate crime, part of that message could be building ways to address these issues within the Parliament itself. This would provide added weight to its March resolution.

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the challenge of all these issues could be resolved with the adequate political changes within the constitution itself
as all laws are backed by the constitution of the country....
even the parliament itself is obliged to respect the constitution.......

I support your concerns. If there is something I can do, please let me know.

Fabricated xenophobia in order to gain votes i.e. France,Netherlands,Norway,Sweden (social democrats are there equally 'nationalistic'),Greece,Spain,Italy,Germany,Switzerland (French influence Marie Le Pen), (German influence Neonazis),(Italian influence Fascismo)then the fourth language Rhetoromanian (Allegra mainz) is influenced by all three others in Suisse,Svitzeria- aka Helvetia.,Belgium,Denmark,Great Britain,Ireland,Hungary,Austria,etc. (EU-27) and more dominantly in EA-17.One you see the unemployment numbers for 26.552 million (EU-27)and 19.340 million of those in EA-17- and youth unemployment in May 2013 5.525 million under 25 in EU-27 (3.555 million in EA-17) the tendency to blame 'foreigners' i.e. refugees (getting overall help in resettling); 'EU's taxation system pro rata (EA-17)for new bailouts,etc.,Migrant refugees via Turkey,North Africa to resettle in EU- while EU's own citizens (Roma)are being systematically railroaded in getting housing,employment, schooling., healthcare, food. Extreme right parties are popping up like mushrooms after rain- they were dormant for a while - but were resurrected with people experiencing financial difficulties in eurozone- and euroarea's stringent controls (not in food inspections..E-coli EHEC killed Spain's organic farming based on rush to blame Germans on produce bought from Spain- when it was the seeds for sprouts imported via GB from Egypt).Earthquake in Italy destroying besides centuries old buildings/tourism also destroyed their cheeses (Parmesan and x). German old living nazis and neonazis (from former East Germany) are commemorating all things Nazi- (old Adolf's paper with newsreels)- then all over Europe there are Nazi stories.. at least almost 3 years by now. Eric Hoffer's 'The True Believer ' is a good guidance how easy it is to lure disenchanted,financially ruined people ,unemployed,veterans,nativists etc. A Communist can become a Nazi and vice versa- or anything- they are following The Pied Piper o Hammeln (?) or the Oracles of Hate. When European Parliament members are voted in- then it is too late. Nowadays everything adverse has to be seen not read to have an impact. (A picture is worth thousand words) Looked up or reerence (unemployment). When it comes to Roma- Germany owes them reparation payments with interest.

Bigotry and racism is not something which will ever be erradicated. A racist can say what he or she likes in the privacy of their own home. But there must be a distinction between what is is said privately and what is uttered publicly, in public places.

So hate-talk legislation supported by immediate and firm penalties, as well as naming and shaming the perpetrators of far-right racist ideologies, is the only way to insure that such views are not aired in public and that it is not acceptable in a civilized society.

I have done this on a personal level repeatedly, in Hungary, such as by confronting groups of young men when they were singing anti-gypsy songs on a public tram, where there were gypsy chldren on board, and where not a single passenger said a word to the louts!

As a small felmale pensioner, I did not care if they got bolshy with me, while even grown men on the tram just sat and said nothing!

The gypsy children looked scared but not a single person protected them!
I confronted the louts who were singing, and at first they argued with me but then got off at the next stop.
All it took was once person saying "I object!"

In Hungary, a notoriously racist, antisemitic anti-gypsy society, no one ever says anything. But all it takes is a small elderly woman to scold them like naughty children, to stop them behaving loutishly.

So it is a good idea for the EP to do the same like a strict parent with their wayward child.
Please also note what Hungary's Jobbik (ghastly neo-Nazis) get up to in the EP?

Ms Jutka Fischer

I really liked your article above and i wish i could contribute some to your cause.
It is true - at least in Greece where i live - that the neo- fascism party called the Golden Dawn is gaining ground month by month, just because of the current and political situation in the country. The coalition of Greece nowadays is the most - at least to me- indifferent towards human rights and racism as well as dangerous due to the fact that the conservative party - New Democracy, the major part of the coalition- has embraced in its ranks some of the most fashist and conservative ministers and MPs the country has ever seen since the country" s liberation from the military Junta in 1974.
One can feel the increasing power of the Golden Dawn by starting a conversation with the people- especially in the countryside where i have been for a while- about the current situation in the country. The most of them are illiterate, disillusioned people who voted for years the two mainstream political parties, Pasok and New Democracy. The youth - those who have not yet emigrated - have put the hopes for a better future on the Golden Dawn, because they, generally speaking, promise work for them without saying how they would provide work vacancies and blaming for the situation the old, corrupted political system and the immigrants.
Shortly, as long as the current regime of Greece remains in power nothing will change and the neo-fashist party of Golden Dawn will be continuing to gain ground, by presenting itself as the only solution for getting the country out of that misery. On the other hand, the opposition ( Syriza ) should try a bit more harder so as to make its rhetoric more convincing and clear- especially regarding the issue of an eventual Greece"s exit of the eurozone and its consenvencies. The only hope for Greece are general elections ( high probably in autumn ) and the strengthening of the opposition party.

Thanks very much for your comment - yes, I'm sorry to hear of the rise in support for Golden Dawn. It is sad to think that parties like Golden Dawn gain ground by depicting themselves as the only solution to a country's problems when they offer no solutions at all. I agree, clear and convincing rhetoric is essential for challenging them.

Rather than wring our hands over the base attitudes of some of the international elected officials who have voices in other people's lives, why not help the persecuted find a voice for themselves? Stateless and unregistered individuals have no protection against the deep-seated animosity and prejudice of some elected and entitled individuals. Instead of worrying about those close-minded individuals, would we not be better suited to helping the victims of discrimination find their own voice? We need to stop focusing on the political landscape and focus on the people who are victims of ineffectual reform. Or are they not a priority???

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