21 ideas against hatred

21. May 2024
European Commission

On 19 May 2024, the EU Citizens' Panel "Tackling Hatred in Society" adopted its recommendations. The plenary session thus provided answers to the question of what we can do to combat hate and how we can treat each other with greater respect. 150 randomly selected citizens from all 27 EU Member States came together in the Citizens' Panel to develop concrete proposals for the European Commission.

On 6 December 2023, the European Commission and the High Representative adopted a communication entitled "No place for hate in Europe". The communication is a call for action to all Europeans to stand up against hatred and speak up for tolerance and respect.

Rise in hate speech and hate crime

"There has been an alarming rise in hate speech and hate crime in Europe, and there is evidence that Jewish and Muslim communities are particularly affected," the communication states. With the communication, the Commission and the High Representative intensified their efforts to combat hate in all its forms by stepping up action in a wide range of policy areas, including security, digital, education, culture and sport.

President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen said: “Europe is a place where diverse cultural and religious identities are honored. Respect and tolerance are the founding values of our societies. Therefore we must stand up against antisemitism and anti-Muslim hatred, whenever we encounter it. The dignity and safety of each and every individual in our Union are paramount.”

Dialogue against hate

High Representative/Vice-President, Josep Borrell said: “Tragically, history repeats itself. Conflicts and disinformation worldwide are sowing the seeds of hatred. All persons must be protected and respected, no matter their religion or belief, nationality, gender, race or any other pretext misused to incite discrimination, hatred or violence. As we approach the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we cannot make the same mistakes of the past. I urge the international community to join us in upholding human rights for everyone, everywhere, and to fight intolerance and prejudice.”

The Communication “No Place for Hate” specifically calls for the creation of a pan-European space of dialogue, bringing together citizens from across the EU to discuss ways to move from hatred and division to the shared enjoyment of our European values of equality, respect for human rights and dignity. The European Citizens’ Panel on Tackling Hatred in Society was one of the answers to that call. The Panel aimed to identify possible policy actions and all relevant players that should be involved at different levels, including decision-makers, civil society, the private sector and citizens.

Various causes of hatred

According to the participants in the citizens' panel, the hatred that arises in society has various causes and driving forces, with emotional, social and economic aspects interacting. Historical conflicts, current conflicts and geopolitical tensions that have been played out over generations were named. "Without active efforts to address and heal these wounds, the hatred fuelled by conflict continues and threatens to perpetuate a cycle of hostility and division," says the Citizens' Panel.

Rapid social and cultural changes acted as important catalysts for feelings of loss and disadvantage, leading to the escalation of hatred. All politicians and public figures have a major responsibility to combat hate, but can also fuel hate themselves in various ways. The increasing attitude of "us against them" and hatred against various groups is exacerbated by traditional media and social networks.

Hate affects everyone

A fundamental aspect of human nature is the desire to belong to a social group or dynamic, to feel "like everyone else". This desire can sometimes be so strong that it leads to hatred and intolerance. A lack of education about different identities, cultures, tolerance, debates and communication as well as a lack of reliable online information can reinforce misunderstandings, perpetuate prejudices and lead to hatred.

Hate affects all parts of society. The forum participants from the 27 EU member states therefore believe that combating hate in Europe and around the world is an important task. The Citizens' Panel therefore recommends taking measures in various areas to protect fundamental rights, prevent discrimination, hatred and conflict, protect the most vulnerable and ultimately create a respectful and fair EU for all.

EU should launch awareness campaign

The Citizens' Panel proposes that the European Union should organise an awareness campaign on the dangers of hate, its causes and measures to combat it. At the same time, the EU should provide information about its various initiatives against hate and the available support channels and measures for victims. In addition, an EU-wide platform is to be created that brings together information, resources, measures and support systems on the topic of hate.

An EU card will guarantee safe surfing for children from the age of 8. This card will also be available in an adapted version for older age groups. With this card, children should acquire the skills they need to navigate the internet independently and safely and to deal with hate content online. Civil society organisations should impart the relevant knowledge in schools. Children's emotional and social skills should also be strengthened through activities such as theatre, art, non-violent communication and civic education.

Promoting non-violent communication

The EU should better publicise its existing training courses on hate crime, hate speech and non-violent communication and promote these to specific target groups. Non-violent communication should be made accessible to all generations in all EU member states through educational programmes.

The forum participants propose a communication strategy to raise awareness of the problem of hate, starting with text messages on mobile phones, online adverts, advertising at sporting events and the use of celebrities as ambassadors.

Demands on the media

The media should be required to work with independent fact-checking organisations, be transparent about their sources of funding, encourage citizens to check the information they receive and limit the political influence of the media. For example, the number of media outlets a person or company can own should be limited.

More citizen participation within the media is also recommended in order to give their content more backing and promote a shared culture of reciprocity and respect. Citizens' panels at local and national level should help to understand the wishes and needs of media users.

Prosecuting hate speech

Anonymity on the Internet should be regulated in such a way that authors of hate speech can be better tracked down, investigated and held accountable by the competent authorities. The EU Commission is to set up a working group to update and expand the common definition of "illegal hate speech" in order to better combat its dissemination. Artificial intelligence is to be used to curb the spread of hate speech on social media.

It is also proposed that social media operators be obliged to adapt their algorithms so that they display a broader spectrum of opinions. This is intended to prevent the dominance of individual opinions.

Code of conduct for MEPs

The Citizens' Panel also proposes setting up an independent committee of confidence to draw up a code of conduct for Members of the European Parliament and monitor hate speech and misinformation. New studies with more data on social inequality should also help to combat hate.

Independent bodies to combat hate are to be set up in every EU member state. There should be a clear and standardised procedure for reporting hate crimes across the EU.

European youth panels

For schools, the organisation of discussions modelled on the Citizens' Panel format is suggested. For example, a debate on food in the school canteen, taking into account the habits of different religions, would be an opportunity to initiate discussions on specific topics that affect children on a daily basis, whereby pupils could benefit from the expertise of canteen staff and chefs.

The panel participants also suggested the creation of European citizens' panels for young people between the ages of 16 and 25 to combat hatred. Participants should be selected at random, as in the existing European Citizens' Panels. The panels should address issues related to the challenges and opportunities of young people.

Finally, the Citizens' Panel recommends the development of local citizens' services. Voluntary participants should be able to take paid leave from work for this, and self-employed people should receive tax relief.

European Commission welcomes recommendations

The European Commission welcomes the Citizens' Panel recommendations: "We are witnessing an ever growing river of hateful messages, especially online. They further add to a growing polarisation of our societies and fracture democracy. In worse case scenarios, violent words can lead to violent actions. I welcome that the citizens, in the European Citizen Panel, have recognised the risks of hate speech and issued clear and ambitious recommendations to tackle hate speech," Věra Jourová, Vice-President for Values and Transparency, said.

Dubravka Šuica, Vice-President for Democracy and Demography, stated: "Hatred is a fundamental risk to our democracy. This European Citizens’ Panel brought together citizens of all generations, from every corner of the European Union. Together, in a safe transparent space, they have deliberated on this crucial issue and produced robust, relevant recommendations. These call for a wide range of actions, including in the areas of education, digital and media, awareness raising and tackling disinformation. I am proud to share them with President von der Leyen and my colleagues in the College of European Commissioners. Looking ahead to the European elections, our EU democracy leaves no space for hate".

Making politics better

Participants in the Citizens' Panel feel that they are taken seriously.: "I'm very happy to be here. You feel like you're part of something important," says a woman from the German city of Cologne with an Arab-Turkish background. Thomas, a young computer science student from Poland, has high hopes for the outcome: "I travelled over 1,000 kilometres here with the feeling that we can make a difference here. I don't know if there will be a good result, but we have to try." "I believe that in the end there will be something that politics can do better," says David, a musician from Belgium.

The recruitment of participants for the Citizens' Panel "Tackling hatred in society" was carried out by the European Commission's contractors, the research institutes Harris Interactive and Le Terrain. They found citizens as panel participants who reflect the diversity of the EU population.

European Citizens' Panels bring together randomly selected citizens from all 27 Member States to discuss important upcoming proposals at European level that affect all EU citizens.

Recommendations to the EU Commission

At the European Citizens' Panels, the participants work together in small groups (around twelve people) or all together (in plenary). They are supported by a moderation team. The participants' discussions result in recommendations that the European Commission should take into account when defining measures and initiatives.

Participants in the citizens' panels are selected at random. Candidates are called. Recruiters randomly dial valid telephone numbers (landline and mobile). In order to reflect the social and demographic composition of the EU population as accurately as possible, the process ensures that a diverse and representative group is addressed.

Data from the following sources are combined to obtain participants:

  • Eurobarometer, the annual European Union public opinion survey, and
  • Eurostat, the EU’s statistics office

Quotas for gender and young people

A quota system ensures a balanced gender ratio, which also sets the proportion of young people between the ages of 16 and 25 at one third. Other social and demographic characteristics taken into account:

  • Level of education
  • Place of origin
  • Occupation

Participants from the individual member states are selected in proportion to the country's population, ensuring a balanced representation of the various groups. In the case of smaller countries with few participants, these groups are divided between the individual forums so that these countries are also adequately represented. There is a separate selection procedure for each forum.

Citizens' Panel supports EU Commission

The Citizens' Panel against Hate took place over three weekends, starting on Friday afternoon and ending on Sunday lunchtime:

  • Session 1: 5 to 7 April, Brussels (EC premises)
  • Session 2: 26 to 28 April, online
  • Session 3: 17 to 19 May, Brussels (EC premises)

The recommendations of the mini-public will in particular support the future work of the European Commission to combat hate speech and hate crime. They will serve as a guide to help the EU and its Member States move away from hate and division and towards the common European values enshrined in the Treaty of the European Union.

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