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30th Jan 2023

EU close to agreement on hate crime law

After six years of heated political debate, EU member states are set to agree on a common anti-racism law, under which offenders will face up to three years in jail for stirring-up racial hatred or denying acts of genocide, such as the Holocaust.

One diplomat in Brussels confirmed to EUobserver that the controversial piece of law is in its final-tuning phase and is likely to gain EU blessing at a justice and interior ministers meeting in Luxembourg on Thursday (19 April).

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The latest draft – cited by the Reuters news agency - foresees an EU-wide jail sentence of at least one to three years for "publicly inciting to violence or hatred, directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin."

The same rules would also apply to people "publicly condoning, denying, or grossly trivialising crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes" as defined by international crime courts.

According to the Financial Times, such wording has been carefully chosen to only include denial of the Holocaust during the second world war, as well as the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, but would not criminalise denying mass killings of Armenians during the Ottoman empire in 1915, something that Turkey strongly opposes labelling as genocide.

The draft of the legislation is "the lowest common denominator," an EU diplomat told EUobserver, as the differences in national legal systems relating to freedom of expression also had to be respected.

For example, denial of the Holocaust is already illegal in Germany and Austria, while for example in the UK it is allowed under freedom of speech rules, unless it specifically incites racial hatred.

Stalinism – a final stumbling block

However, an ultimate breakthrough is highly dependent on a demand voiced by four new member states.

Poland and the Baltic countries - all carrying the burden of a repressive communist past - continue to hold on to their demand that "crimes under the Stalin regime in the former Soviet Union" become part of the bill's scope.

"We believe Stalinist acts of genocide should be condemned in this document. It would put them on an equal footing with Nazi crimes in an international forum," an Estonian diplomat was cited as saying by the Polish daily Rzeczpospolita.

On top of this, Warsaw would like to attach a unilateral declaration condemning "distortions" of the past, namely the use of the phrase "Polish death camps" to talk about Nazi death camps on Polish territory.

However, "very, very many people are against this [to put Stalinism into the main body of the hate crimes text]," a German diplomat said, according to Rzeczpospolita.

According to an EU diplomat speaking to EUobserver, it is more likely that the law would see "a reference to the crimes of totalitarian regimes," with a final proposal to be tabled today.

If a deal is struck on Thursday (19 April), it would be a major success for Germany, currently sitting at the EU helm, which sees an EU-wide law combating racism and xenophobia as a moral obligation due to its historical background.

The proposal has been stuck in the legislative pipelines since 2003.

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