Hate Crime and Hate Speech in the European Union

The European Union, an institution built on the foundation of equality for all and cooperation, tolerates a surprising amount of discrimination towards ethnic minorities, many of whom live in fear or exclusion from wider European society. Hate crimes are particularly important, as victims are selected based on prejudice, and the crime not only affects the victims themselves, but their entire community. Fear engendered through hate crime robs the individual, and others of the same characteristics or community of their sense of safety, dignity and well-being. What’s more alarming: no one really cares.

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: Image courtesy of Mashroms, ©2007, some rights reserved


While hate crime is touted as important, it is not a priority. Hate crimes deserve greater attention as their rise suggest something more alarming about European society and sets up a critical disparity: that we are becoming increasingly hateful of others, protectionist, and xenophobic in a time when we should be embracing differences, welcoming immigrants, and ushering in greater social acceptance and change.

There is regional agreement in Europe that crimes carried out based on prejudice are considered especially heinous, and legal ramifications should be set accordingly. These legal ramifications are however, rarely employed. There is no quick fix for hate crimes – an increase in arrests does not mean an increase in guilty verdicts – the mentality of police, judges, and everyday people play a part in discriminatory practices. In short, tackling hate crimes and hate speech is a ‘long haul’ plan, as areas of data collection, legislation, judiciary and police all need to be improved upon. Everyday attitudes need to change, and social acceptance and inclusiveness will be the only true cure.

Data Collection

The lack of data collected by authorities on hate crimes, and the issue of under-reporting by victims is a clear impediment. Insufficient statistics make it difficult to study and observe trends in hate speech and hate crime, and existing national crime statistics are conducted and reported differently, making comparisons across borders difficult. Countries lacking consistent data on hate crimes include Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, and Spain. Data needs to be collected nationally.

A lack of information also makes certain countries appear to have greater instances of hate crime, whilst others do not. France for example has virtually no data on anti-Semitism. Is this just not a problem in France? Hardly. Romania keeps no record whatsoever on hate crimes. Cross-border inconsistencies breed international misunderstanding on the issue.


Legislation on hate crimes exists in most countries (except Romania), but is scarcely implemented by the judiciary or police. The international human rights pieces of legislation pertaining to hate speech are: The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Articles 19 and 20; and The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). All European Union (EU) countries have ratified these agreements. They are simply not enforced.

Judiciary and Police

The lack of respect and proper conduct by police and judiciary towards hate crime victims as well as the lack of cooperation between the judiciary, civil society, and police forces clearly needs to be remedied. Internal racism has to be monitored, reported and acted upon. Equally vital is victim support to press charges and follow these through sentencing. Public confidence in the police is falling in many countries – notably Estonia, Lithuania, Greece, Hungary, and Romania. There is a serious need to shift attitudes towards transparency, cooperation, and accountability.

Police units need training in human rights and need to fully understand what hate crime is, how to give these cases special attention, and follow them through. The Special Prosecution Forces in Barcelona focusing on decreasing right wing extremist hate crimes is a perfect successful example of this.


The most obvious need is for education and awareness raising around both hate crimes and hate speech. The most important programs and elements to consider to combat hate crime are human rights educational programs for children starting early in schools, and increasing awareness around hate speech. Educational programs for adults, judiciary and police are also vital. The emphasis on education to stem hate speech relies on the idea that creating a counter movement to the current trend of hate speech is the best social mechanism to stem its growth, education as the best way to ‘inoculate’ against hate speech.

Building on this, politicians need to stop using derogatory language. The FRA has conducted various surveys, one which is particularly revealing in which LGBT respondents reveal that 44% feel politicians have used derogatory or discriminatory language concerning LGBT peoples. Monkey see, monkey do. Acceptance and understanding needs to be exemplified for people to change their own behavior. This needs to be taught.


The role of the media in hate crimes and hate speech is huge, and the media needs to realise their responsibilities, and also begin to contribute to a culture of tolerance and dialogue. Media outlets need to promote and foster cultural diversity and understanding- starting with their own organizations.

Speech can be censored here in Europe, under Articles 19 and 20 of the ICCPR, and, for issues such as hate speech, should be.  Any form of speech ‘inciting to violence’ can be restricted or banned. The media controls almost all of our intake of information, and the propagation of harmful stereotypes and use of derogatory language in print or on television needs to be controlled.

Focusing on more personal media: ´Counter speech´ needs to be promoted and increased. You see or hear something- you report it. Flagging hateful comments on Facebook or Youtube is just this. Except it should happen way faster. Reddit is a wonderful example of a community which engages in counter speech and regulates their online content against hate speech. This aware online community ‘police’ their own social news site, and have very little to no hateful content. This is extraordinary considering the content it garners and the huge amount of posts it receives. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YikYak all need to take a page out of that book and not hide behind excuses of having ‘too much content.’

This issue, like any issue, requires attention and social action in order to be addressed. People should feel outraged about hate crime, and need to start demanding action for change. The lack of social action currently happening is highly indicative. The increase in right wing candidates we have been seeing only mirrors this. The tides need to be turning away from discrimination, not further towards it- or the European social future looks dire indeed.