3 April 2001
Threat posed to democracy by extremist parties and movements in Europe
Recommendation 1438 (2000)
Reply from the Committee of Ministers
adopted at the 747th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies (28 March 2001)
The Committee of Ministers has carefully considered Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1438 (2000) on the threat posed to democracy by extremist parties and movements in Europe and it shares the Assembly’s concerns regarding the danger they represent.
At the outset, the Committee of Ministers wishes to stress that it is fundamental to prevent breeding grounds for extremist parties and movements from developing. States should pay particular attention to the areas mentioned in paragraph 7 of the Recommendation. The various activities of the Council of Europe contribute directly or indirectly to this aim. Some indicative examples can be given: the activities carried out in the youth sector, the democratic leadership programme, the activities regarding education for democratic citizenship, European legal co-operation in the criminal field, contributions to training activities for media professionals, activities to promote social cohesion, in-country assistance and co-operation activities in the human rights field, etc.
The Assembly recommendation focuses on extremist movements and parties that encourage intolerance, xenophobia and racism. The Committee of Ministers strongly emphasises that in a democratic society the use in politics of racist and xenophobic propaganda cannot be tolerated. Not only do these parties and movements advocate ideologies that threaten the fundamental values and principles defended by the Council of Europe, but they also create a hostile climate in society.
The Committee of Ministers is aware of the link that may exist between such statements, the hostile climate which they create, and the manifestations of racist violence as well as the phenomena of “organised racism”. This link may not always be directly visible because the extremist parties and movements do not necessarily and openly incite to violence. Nevertheless, it exists: these movements create a climate in which racism can develop and find expression in acts of violence, as has unfortunately occurred recently in member states.
The Committee of Ministers invited the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), the principal organ of the Council of Europe for fighting racism and intolerance, to give its opinion on Recommendation 1438. The Committee of Ministers endorses the content of the ECRI’s opinion. It shares in particular the view that the entire body politic should be aware of its responsibility in this respect. This entails not only denouncing racism and xenophobia but also stressing the value of cultural diversity in society.
The Committee of Ministers recalls that the Council of Europe played a major role in the preparation of the European contribution to the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and related Intolerance. The European Conference against Racism, “All different, all equal: from theory to practice” (Strasbourg, 11-13 October 2000) extensively discussed the essential role that politicians and the political parties can play in the fight against these phenomena.
The Committee of Ministers draws attention to the Political Declaration adopted at this Conference which echoes the concerns expressed in the Assembly Recommendation. In the context of the follow-up to the Conference, ECRI intends to prepare a draft general policy recommendation on combating racism and intolerance in politics
The Committee of Ministers also recalls that in addition to ECRI, several other sectors of the Organisation actively contribute to the achievement of this aim and carry out activities which have a direct or indirect link with the concerns expressed by the Parliamentary Assembly in its Recommendation 1438.
On the normative level, the Committee of Ministers wishes to recall that conventions such as the European Convention on Human Rights, the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the Convention on the Participation of Foreigners in Public Life at Local Level, each make their own contribution to remedying the problems exposed in the recommendation.
The Committee of Ministers also points out that extremist movements often propagate discriminatory ideas and attitudes. It is therefore appropriate to emphasize that European legal safeguards against discrimination in general have been significantly strengthened recently by the adoption of Protocol No. 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights, which has to date been signed by 26 member States.
The Committee of Ministers is also of the opinion that certain aspects of its Recommendation R (97) 20 on “Hate Speech” answer several of the concerns expressed in Recommendation 1438.
Finally, the Committee of Ministers is of the view that the work of the Parliamentary Assembly itself is of fundamental importance in the field concerned. Indeed, the Assembly has a particular responsibility with regard to this question; it is for the Assembly to show the way in the search for political and legal answers to deal with the threat which extremist parties and movements pose for democracy in Europe.
In reply to the various recommendations which are directly addressed to it by the Assembly in paragraph 16 of the text of Recommendation 1438, the Committee of Ministers:
- item (i): fully supports the work of the ECRI. Following the European Ministerial Conference on Human Rights (Rome, 3-4 November 2000), the Committee of Ministers invited the ECRI to give its opinion on how to reinforce its action;
- item (ii): recalls that history and the teaching of history have always enjoyed a special status among the activities of the Council of Europe in the field of education. A “project on History Teaching in the New Europe” was carried out from 1994 to 1996, and a resolution on the teaching of history in Europe was adopted during the 19th session of the Standing Conference of European Ministers of Education (Kristiansand, Norway, June 1997). The Council for Cultural Co-operation (CDCC) is currently working on a new project entitled “Learning and teaching about the history of Europe in the 20th century”, and teaching materials for history which use various means of communication are being developed. They will form a European package to be distributed within the member states of CDCC and integrated in educational training programmes;
- item (iii): recalls that under ECRI’s country-by-country procedure and working methods, it is foreseen that member states provide ECRI with information on the follow-up given to its recommendations; ECRI might wish to provide, in a form which it considers appropriate, the Parliamentary Assembly with information in this respect on an annual basis.
- item (iv): recalls, with regard to a standard-setting instrument on racist, xenophobic and antisemitic offences committed via the internet, that various possibilities are being considered and that the general policy recommendation N° 6 of the ECRI on combating the dissemination of racist, xenophobic and antisemitic materiel via the internet (adopted on 15 December 2000) contains a certain number of guidelines to prevent the use of the internet to this end. The Committee of Ministers will keep the Assembly informed of relevant developments on the question of a legal instrument in this area;
- item (v): informs the Assembly that it has retained the theme of non-discrimination, with emphasis on the fight against intolerance and racism, in the context of its monitoring activity.