European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI)

10 years of combating racism

Palais de l’Europe, Room 1
Strasbourg, Thursday 18 March 2004

Exploitation of racism and xenophobia in politics

In recent years, political parties that resort to racist and xenophobic discourse have been increasingly active in the European political arena. A number of these parties have experienced dramatic electoral breakthroughs, and some have even entered party coalitions governing certain member States of the Council of Europe.

ECRI has expressed deep concern at the existence and success of parties that resort to racist and xenophobic discourse. Of deep concern to ECRI, however, is also the influence that such parties exercise on mainstream political parties. This, in ECRI’s opinion, has favoured the adoption of restrictive legislation and measures, notably concerning immigrants and asylum seekers, which often do not guarantee the full respect of human rights.

Racist and xenophobic discourse includes openly racist material and statements, but also propaganda that typically targets minority groups, notably immigrants. Such propaganda may take the form of written material, but also of oral expressions. An example of this is the public statements made by mayors and other elected representatives. In most cases, racist and xenophobic political discourse refers to the target groups in a way that is stereotyped, stigmatising and humiliating. However, in some instances it has also taken the form of public incitement to violent or discriminatory behaviour against the members of the target groups.

Reflecting the different forms that this propaganda can take, ECRI has suggested different types of possible institutional reactions to political parties that resort to racist or xenophobic discourse. These include: (1) the effective implementation of the ordinary criminal law provisions against racist offences and racial discrimination, which are applicable to all individuals (and not specifically to organisations or political parties); (2) the adoption and implementation of provisions penalising the leadership of a group that promotes racism, as well as support for such a group and participation in its activities ; (3) and the establishment of an obligation to suppress public financing of organisations which promote racism, including public financing of political parties, where such a system is in place. This corresponds to the experience of certain member States of the Council of Europe. For instance, in Belgium the law establishes that a complaint can be lodged before the State Council by five or more members of the supervisory committee on electoral expenditures and public financing of political parties. In the Netherlands, a 1999 law on Subsidisation of political parties authorises the withdrawal of subsidies and floor time in the media from parties convicted of criminal offences.

In addition to legal measures, ECRI supports self-regulatory measures that can be taken by political parties or national parliaments. An illustration of this type of measure, the Charter of European Political Parties for a Non-racist Society, sets out guidelines for acting responsibly when dealing with issues related to “race”, ethnic and national origin and religion. The Charter also encourages political parties to work towards representation of minority groups within and at all levels of their party system. The Charter is open to signature by political parties of any European State, and has already been signed by political parties from over 25 member States of the Council of Europe. ECRI and the EU Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) were among the driving forces behind the re-launch of the Charter in 2003 and therefore warmly welcomed the Joint Declaration of the Presidents of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and the European Parliament (EP) on the Charter at the last PACE/EP meeting of 25 September 2003.