Calling time on racism and bigotry

We have entered a period where racism and bigotry is on the rise across the continent of Europe. This threatens more than Europe’s system of rights, values and principles.

It puts at risk the security of our communities. Citizens are taking into their own hands vigilante style mob rule spurred on by the hate speech voiced by right wing political leaders. The German Interior Ministry estimates that there were at least 10 hate attacks in Germany every day in 2016 against immigrants.

Hate crimes in the UK are at record levels following last year’s decision to leave the EU, with immigrants from Eastern Europe at particular risk. This is abhorrent.

Such problems are compounded by misleading statements by leaders of the far right, such as Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party, who said last week at a political conference in the USA that the “UK’s real friends spoke English” – conveniently ignoring the fact that England’s longest serving ally in the world, dating back to 1386 A.D. is in fact Portugal.

Marcelo and Theresa
Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, Portuguese President, with Theresa May, United Kingdom PM.

Opinion polls for the forthcoming elections in France and the Netherlands suggest that one in three voters in these countries support extreme right wing parties, whose leaders are making demagogic statements in support of their views which are likewise economical with the truth.

It is time for the moderates and the silent majority from all political parties and from all religious persuasions who believe in the human values of tolerance and respect to speak up and stand against these voices of extremism.

The motto of the European Union is “United in Diversity”, and we need to remember that the Union came together despite conflict, for the mutual benefit of all of the continents’ citizens.

The rights of the citizens are enshrined in the European Fundamental Charter of Rights, which has been adopted by all Member countries of the Union. But these rights cannot be taken for granted, they must be protected and improved on.

We say in Europe that we believe in democracy, transparency, and the rule of law. We say that we believe in the recognition and respect of human rights. We say that we believe in inclusion, and embracing diversity.

But in practice there exist some very grave discrepancies between the member countries of the EU that need to be addressed, to create a better Europe which will actually implement and ensure the proper observance of Europe’s charter of rights.

What is the point of having a charter if it does not give the protection to its citizens that it claims to provide?

If in Germany, a citizen must be charged after arrest and given a fair trial within 6 months of their arrest, how can it be tolerated that in Spain or Poland a suspect under criminal investigation can be kept in prison without being charged, or given a right to defend themselves in court for 7 years or longer?

Europe must take the high moral ground in the face of growing intolerance across the free Western world, and improve upon the existing structures that enshrine our rights and freedoms in order to make them safer for our future generations.

This has nothing to do with reacting to what is happening in Washington. It has everything to do with making our own structures better and fairer, so that we can genuinely cater for the integration, inclusion and diversity needed by our society and our economy to succeed.