Council of Europe: Financial crisis increases risk of intolerance and strengthens extremism
A report just released by the European Commission on Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), which is part of the Council of Europe, shows that in many European countries, intolerance and racism are being strengthened by the economic and financial crises. Extremist voices are said to be growing stronger, such as those demanding restrictions on immigration, and intolerance of national minorities is rising too.
The ECRI study, published today (3 May), reports that the strict savings measures used by the European Union to fight the ongoing economic and financial crises are resulting in support for the growth of intolerance and racism against immigrants and national minorities. In many European countries, welfare cuts and high unemployment are responsible for a rise in the number of cases of violence being committed against immigrants and national minorities. ECRI monitors the upholding of human rights within the framework of the Council of Europe.
"The public associates immigration with a sense of uncertainty and the conviction that asylum seekers, migrants, and refugees are taking scarce jobs or abusing the welfare state. Muslims are perceived as incapable of integrating into western society," the study says. Moreover, governments are said to be exploiting the economic decline as an excuse to reduce the amount of funding allocated to the defense of human rights and the fight against discrimination.
ECRI also cites the fact that in some EU Member States, voices are beginning to call for the reintroduction of border controls within the Schengen area. "Political representatives must, whatever the cost, fight not only prejudice, but also baseless concerns of a 'loss of European values' or ungrounded fears of 'terrorism'," the report says.
The justice ministers of France and Germany sent a letter to the Danish Presidency of the Council of the EU at the end of April raising demands for a change to the Schengen area rules. In their view, the Member States should have more freedom to introduce border controls. At the start of March, French President Nicolas Sarkozy threatened that if the Schengen rules are not reformed within 12 months, France will take the radical step of unilaterally leaving the open-border zone.
Experts also expect that as a result of the parliamentary elections taking place this coming weekend in Greece, the extremist political party Golden Dawn will win a minimum of 10 seats. That group is demanding, among other measures, the installation of land mines along the border with Turkey. High numbers of immigrants access Greece through that border.
In the Netherlands, the ultra-right Party for Freedom, led by Geert Wilders, launched a website in February exhorting citizens to report immigrants from Eastern Europe who are working on the black market to the authorities. A similar website was launched in mid-April in Belgium by the extremist Flemish Interest party.
According to ECRI, the crisis has also negatively touched the Romani minority, Europe's largest ethnic minority. The Czech Statewide Association of Roma also recently warned of this, saying that the crisis is increasing the risk of intolerance, which is said to play into the extremists' hands.
ECRI also warned that only 18 out of the 47 member states of the Council of Europe have ratified Protocol 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights, which bans discrimination. Of those 18 states, only seven are EU members: Cyprus, Finland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Romania, Slovakia and Spain.