Concluding six years of talks, the European Union (EU) has decided to make incitement to racism a crime in all 27 member states. But it rejected an attempt to also make Holocaust denial and Nazi symbols illegal throughout Europe.
The agreement, which criminalizes incitement of hatred or violence against a group or person based on color, race, national or ethnic origin, was a disappointment to anti-racist groups. The European Network Against Racism said that most states already had similar incitement laws and predicted that little would change. The new law also allows states to limit prosecution to cases likely to disturb public order.
Some EU members will have to submit the agreement to their national parliaments for approval before it becomes final, and every member state will have two years to bring its laws into compliance with the new European statute. Violators of the new law would face at least a year in prison.
Germany had sought to convince fellow EU members to adopt a Europe-wide law banning the use of Nazi symbols and Holocaust denial, but eventually had to drop those proposals in the face of opposition from countries concerned about the right to free speech. Officials said the new law had been carefully drafted to avoid infringing artistic expression in movies or plays concerned with genocide.
The debate over Germany's proposals came in the context of rising anti-Semitism in Europe and elsewhere. In April, Israel's Tel Aviv University reported that the worldwide number of attacks on Jews had doubled since 2005.
The following month, the Anti-Defamation League released a survey that found negative stereotypes about Jews had risen in France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain.