A proposed Framework National Statute for the Promotion of Tolerance was presented to members of the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) on the 17th of September. It called for direct surveillance of supposedly intolerant behavior of individual citizens and groups by Governmental bodies. Put forward by an NGO, the ideas contained in the policy proposal would not only create double standards on the issue of tolerance but would severely limit freedom of speech and expression. It is part of a broader trend of such ideas becoming official EU policy.

A prominent 45-minute slot was given to the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation (ECTR), to present their policy proposal at a recent meeting of LIBE this week. The ECTR is an international NGO established in October 2008 by Aleksander Kwasniewski, formerPresident of Poland and Moshe Kantor, President of the European Jewish Congress. Unfortunately, their understanding of tolerance turns out to be a highly problematic mixture of vaguely defined terms (such as tolerance), double standards (regarding to whom this tolerance should apply), and a radical call for public control of citizens and private groups.

According to Section 4(f) of the document: “There is no need to be tolerant to the intolerant (….) especially (…) as far as freedom of expression is concerned”. And in Section 1, it broadly defines “tolerance” as “respect for and acceptance of the expression, preservation and development of the distinct identity of a group”.

Further, the draft statute goes on to say that “defamatory comments made in public and aimed against a group (…) with a view to (…) slandering the group, holding it to ridicule or subjecting it to the false charges” may be considered group libel and, therefore, may be treated like acts of intolerance — as well as hate crimes. Conspicuously absent, however, is any mention of balancing this with freedom of speech, which undoubtedly is one of the EU’s fundamental freedoms.

The authors of the document — a so-called Group of Experts composed of Yoram Dinstein, Ugo Genesio, Rein Müllerson, Daniel Thürer and Rüdiger Wolfrum — go even further by declaring that “tolerance must be practiced not only by Governmental bodies but equally by individuals”. They call this approach to ensuring tolerance a horizontal relationship, which refers to group-to-group or person-to-person relationships. This is in contrast to the more traditional vertical relationship between Government and individuals. The draft statute then firmly stipulates: “It is the obligation of the Government to ensure that intolerance is not practiced either in vertical or in horizontal relationships”.

The extent to which this thinking has already found its way into EU policy becomes apparent with the proposed 5th Equal Treatment Directive. This proposal has been the subject of negotiations in the European Council for more than three years without finding a way forward, precisely because of all the controversial claims made in it. In an analysis of that draft Directive published by European Dignity Watch, the same push for “horizontal control” of each and every citizen by Governmental bodies is one of the main concerns.

Clearly such language could lead to situations in which vague or unwarranted accusations are leveled against individuals and groups. Faith-based groups and schools, adherents of a particular religion or even just parents who want to teach their children certain moral values would all be put under general suspicion of being intolerant.

Even worse, if enshrined as EU policy, such language also could lead to the possibility that charges are brought on unclear or even without legal grounds. The chilling result of this would be the dramatic diminution (and possible disappearance) of the fundamental freedom of expression – individuals and groups would censor themselves, afraid that they might be prosecuted for expressing their own personal moral views.

The authors of this proposed statute — under the aegis of an international NGO for tolerance and reconciliation — have invited the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee to endorse it as a legal project. But not only would an adoption of this statute at the national level of the European states be a significant step backward, but the supra-national surveillance that it would imply would certainly be a dark day for European democracy.