EU becoming less tolerant, NGO says

23.01.12 @ 10:52

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - Racist mobs in Greece and Hungary, mistreatment of Roma, Arab migrants and Muslim terrorist suspects and a feeble reaction by EU institutions point to a worrying right-wing shift inside the European Union, according to US-based NGO Human Rights Watch.

  • Tunisian migrants in Italy - not the welcome the Arab Spring refugees had expected (Photo: Valentina Pop)

The most shocking racist attack in Europe last year saw Norwegian Anders Breivik kill 77 people in what he called a campaign to stop the continent being taken over by Islam.

In less-well documented incidents, a far-right mob in Greece in May stormed a Pakistani suburb hospitalising 25 people, some with stab wounds. In April in Hungary, the Red Cross evacuated 277 Roma because right-wing vigilantes held military-type drills beside their homes.

The Human Rights Watch report pulls no punches in linking the extreme cases to bad leadership by EU governments.

It said the Breivik attack "[echoed] what has increasingly become mainstream debate in Europe" and "highlighted the dangers of unchecked intolerance" in countries such as France, which banned the Muslim veil, and the Netherlands, whose courts gave far-right politician Geert Wilders special "latitude" to voice anti-Islamic ideas.

The report named and shamed nine EU member states - France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and the UK - as displaying a swing toward right-wing politics on issues ranging from asylum seekers to gay rights.

France and Italy continued to expel Roma in a campaign of "discriminatory targeting" accompanied by "racist and xenophobic political discourse."

Greece and Italy failed on several counts in their reaction to the sharp increase in mostly African and Arab migrants.

Greece is still holding "migrants and asylum seekers, including women and families with children ... in inhumane conditions" and has done little to clear a backlog of 38,000 asylum appeals. Italy kicked out some 60 percent of the Tunisians who came to seek shelter from the Arab Spring. In once incident the Italian navy intercepted a boat carrying 100 people and put them back on a Tunisian vessel "in what appeared to be an unlawful pushback."

The NGO also raised the alarm over the culture of policing inside the Union.

It noted reports of "excessive and indiscriminate police" violence in Greece and Spain's handling of anti-austerity protests and in Spain's dispersal of an anti-Vatican rally. It also highlighted the way France, Germany, Spain and the UK hold mostly Muslim terrorist suspects without trial, deny them normal access to lawyers and send or try to send them back to countries where they risk torture.

It accused the EU institutions of not doing enough to stop the trend.

"The European Commission failed to pursue vigorously its duty to enforce fundamental rights, dropping proceedings against Hungary over its media law and France over Roma expulsions, and suspending proceedings against Greece on its dysfunctional asylum and migration system despite continuing problems," it said.

"Unless the commission finds more courage, the downward slide on rights inside the EU looks set to continue," the NGO's Benjamin Ward added in a statement.

"The net result of human rights developments in Europe causes great concern ... Without concerted government action, the next generation of Europeans may see human rights as an optional extra rather than a core value."