The European Commission has presented on 9 December 2021 a Communication on: A more inclusive and protective Europe: extending the list of EU crimes to hate speech and hate crime (COM (2021) 777 final) with the aim to bring forward an extension of the list of areas of EU crimes, to include all forms of hate speech and hate crime; whether because of race, religion, gender or sexuality. For the EC, establishing hate speech as a crime is necessary to protect the rights and freedoms of others and genuinely meets objectives of general interest recognised by the Union. The Communication, which is not a legislative initiative, relates to the first step. This first step is that the Council unanimously adopts, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament, a decision identifying hate speech and hate crime as another area of EU crime that meets the criteria set out in Article 83(1) of the TFEU. After this, as a second step, the Commission will have the competence to propose a Directive in order to establishing minimum rules to harmonise the definition of and penalties for hate speech and hate crime to be adopted by the European Parliament and the Council in line with the ordinary legislative procedure.
The Committee of the region underline the fact that hate speech, hate crime, fake news, disinformation and conspiracy theories are phenomena that need to be strongly addressed ; it is affecting not only the individual victims (affecting their fundamental rights and freedoms), but also society at large; authority figures – persons holding electoral mandates or exerting public responsibilities, and institutions – are increasingly often the victims of hate speech and hate crime, in particular when defending the rights of refugees, migrants or LGBTIQ+ persons. As there is currently no Treaty basis for a common Europe-wide criminal law response to tackle all forms of hate speech and hate crime, it is important to extend the list of EU offences under Article 83(1) of the TFEU by setting common minimum standards for the relevant national criminal provision in full respect of the subsidiarity principle.
The EC take consideration of the Opinion of the CoR in this particular fields:
-the importance to reinforce, within the framework of the Digital Services Act (DSA), the incentive towards the large platforms service providers to contribute on the fight against hate speech: the EC remind that the current tool created to fight against disinformation is the currently voluntary (not legally binding) Code of Practice on Disinformation signed by major online platforms. -Regarding the need to establish a minimum rules at EU level concerning sanctions of hate speech and hate crime, the EC will propose EU legislation establishing minimum rules on the definitions and sanctions, as soon as the Council decision extending the list of EU crimes to hate speech and hate crime will be adopted.
-Regarding the need to improve the methods for recording,collecting data on hate crime and the exchange of practices between Member States, and also the importance to involve social institutions and organisations: the EC underline the role of the EU High Level Group on combating hate speech and hate crime which produce guidance and support to national, regional and local authorities, involving various EU agencies and international organisations and civil society organisations. The Citizens, Equality, Rights and Values (CERV) EU programme provide also financial support to national authorities and civil society organisations through a dedicated priority focused on combating hate speech and hate crime.
-Regarding the need to have a better protection of victims of hate speech and hate crimes, the EC is working on the revision of the Victims’ Rights Directive3 with a particular focus on the most vulnerable ones, including victims of hate crime and persons with disabilities. Under the High level Group, a specific working group is working since 2022 to develop standards and share good practices on protection of victims of hate crime.
THE EUROPEAN COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS
warmly welcomes the European Commission proposal for a Council Decision on adding hate speech and hate crime to the areas of crime laid down in Article 83(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, annexed to the Communication of December 2021 on A more inclusive and protective Europe: extending the list of EU crimes to hate speech and hate crime;
believes that politicians and public authorities are particularly capable of influencing public opinion and discourse, and therefore calls on political leaders at all levels to refrain from using language that may give rise to hate speech or hate crimes against specific groups;
stresses that mayors and other regional and local leaders are in a crucial position and can play a key role in identifying early signs of such incidents in their communities; calls for specialised recommendations to be drawn up for regional and local authorities on how to effectively prevent this phenomenon within local communities; also believes that local and regional authorities should be encouraged to take preventive action on the basis of their local circumstances; calls for harmonious cooperation with law enforcement bodies, which are expected to consistently and effectively fight against hate speech and hate crime;
recommends introducing legislation on combating hate speech in digital services so that social media do not contribute to spreading and amplifying the impact of both hate speech and crimes. The current rules are not sufficient to ensure that internet service providers contribute to effectively combating and preventing hate speech in the services they provide. Research shows that digital services providers and platforms often do not enforce or do not have the capacity to enforce their own community guidelines;
points out that the only response to hate speech and hate crime is to create a comprehensive legal strategy for countering, reporting and consistent prosecution;
notes that there is a fine line between combating hate speech and censorship. The right to freedom of expression should be guaranteed when developing legal solutions to combat hate speech and hate crime;