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Public Presentation on the use of racist, antisemitic and xenophobic arguments in political discourse

on the occasion of the International Day
for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

PARIS - Council of Europe Office
21 March 2005

BRIEFING PAPER

On the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on 21 March 2005, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) is organising a high-level panel meeting on the use of racist, antisemitic and xenophobic elements in political discourse, with the participation of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Mr Terry DAVIS, the Chair of ECRI, Mr Michael HEAD and members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

Deeply concerned by the increasing use of racist, antisemitic and xenophobic elements in political discourse, including by mainstream political parties, ECRI adopted on 17 March 2005 a Declaration condemning this alarming trend which has been observed in many Member States of the Council of Europe.

This trend, which is well documented in ECRI’s country monitoring work, was further substantiated by an independent study commissioned by ECRI in order to investigate this dangerous phenomenon in more depth. This study, carried out by the political scientist Jean-Yves CAMUS, provides shocking evidence of numerous cases in which European or national elections have given rise to the use of racist, antisemitic and xenophobic rhetoric, or other discourse which have an impact on racism and xenophobia in public opinion in many Council of Europe Member States.

Immigrants and refugees, especially those from Muslim countries, are primary targets of politicians who exploit feelings of insecurity in an increasingly complex and multicultural world. Most worryingly, the theory of a so-called “clash of civilisations” is gaining ground. At the same time, antisemitism also continues to be encouraged either openly or in a coded manner by certain political leaders and parties.

According to ECRI, institutional responses to political parties that resort to racist or xenophobic discourse should include:

In addition to legal measures, ECRI supports self-regulatory measures which can be taken by political parties or national parliaments, such as the Charter of European Political Parties for a Non-Racist Society, which sets out guidelines for acting responsibly when dealing with issues related to ethnic or national origin and religion and encourages political parties to work towards fair representation of ethnic, national and religious minorities within and at all levels of their party system.

There is no doubt that political leadership can play a crucial role in combating racism and influencing public opinion in a positive way. It is therefore of the utmost importance that political parties be involved as much as possible in the fight against racism and intolerance as led by ECRI and other national and international actors in this field. This high-level panel meeting, which will bring together parliamentarians, representatives of intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations, research centres and academics working on the issue, is therefore an important opportunity for bringing this issue to the forefront of national and international debate.