While Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment keeps growing across the EU, lawmakers have called on the European Commission to quickly appoint the EU coordinator to fight anti-Muslim hatred and step up efforts to tackle discrimination across the Union.
Islamophobia continued to grow in 2021, according to a report by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). In the EU, most anti-Muslim hatred and Islamophobic incidents were recorded in France, which, together with Germany, hosts the highest number of European Muslims.
This growing trend was recently pointed out by the Council of Europe, the pan-European human rights organisation.
In a resolution adopted in October, it stressed the need to “address this phenomenon as a matter of priority” and condemned the “use of Islamophobic rhetoric in public and political discourse, particularly by populist and far-right movements”.
Islamophobia and the far-right
“Unfortunately, on a national level, very few member states are taking actions that go hand in hand with far-right parties gaining power,” Swedish MEP Evin Incir told EURACTIV, pointing to the cases of Sweden and Italy.
The Swedish MEP, rapporteur of an EU Parliament resolution on anti-racism, expressed concern over the growing anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe and its normalisation “within the political establishment of some countries”.
“When hatred against Muslims becomes normalised by words, then the distance between words and actions becomes smaller and we see that all across our member states.”
Asked by EURACTIV, the Commission did not say whether it was concerned about the impact of far-right governments in these countries on anti-Muslim rhetoric, but stressed that it was “fully committed to fighting all forms of discrimination, including anti-Muslim hatred and discrimination”.
In 2015, the Commission created the position of anti-Muslim hatred coordinator, together with the anti-Semitism coordinator, to tackle discrimination across member states and coordinate integration efforts with civil society organisations.
Yet, the anti-Muslim hatred coordinator post has been vacant since July 2021 and the EU executive is still in the process of finding “the right candidate,” a Commission official told EURACTIV.
In the anti-racism resolution adopted in November, the European Parliament called on the Commission to “swiftly appoint” the coordinator on combating anti-Muslim hatred.
“It is very serious that the coordinator hasn’t been appointed,” Incir told EURACTIV.
In her view, the slow progress on this post compared to the others is “part of a signal that is sent to Muslim people in our Union, that combatting other forms of racism seems for our institutions to be more important than combating this kind of racism”.
“This is unacceptable,” she said, adding that all these forms of racism “are rooted in the same kind of hatred” and should be addressed equally.
Asked why the coordinator post has not yet been assigned, the Commission official said the executive “has launched the respective internal procedures, which are now ongoing,” but it did not provide an indication of the expected timeline.
In the meantime, the tasks are carried out within the Commission’s DG Justice and Consumers, the official said, adding that combating anti-Muslim hatred and discrimination is also part of the 2020-2025 EU anti-racism action plan.
EU member states are expected to present their national plans to implement the anti-racism action plan by the end of 2022. However, not all governments have submitted their national plans.
According to Incir, although the action plan is “an important step, it is not enough”.
“We need real actions,” she said, adding that “one thing is to adopt [national plans], but the most important thing is to go from words to actions on the implementation.”
The Commission said it would report on the implementation of the national plans by the end of 2023.
Meanwhile, EU institutions are expected to continue working on the proposal to extend the current list of EU crimes to include hate crimes and hate speech. Once the proposal is approved by all EU institutions, the Commission will be able to propose EU laws to criminalise hate speech and hate crimes.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]