A representative of the European Commission presented the EU’s ‘comprehensive policy’ to tackle racism, xenophobia and discrimination (including religious intolerance), including via a Working Paper on ‘Countering racism and xenophobia in the EU,’ and an EU Code of Conduct on countering illegal hate speech online. There are clear signs, she said, that intolerance, racism, xenophobia and discrimination are on the rise in Europe. Hate speech, discrimination and intolerance have terrible consequences for individual victims, and also challenge the founding values of the EU.

As part of that effort, in March 2019 it published a Staff working document entitled ‘Countering racism and xenophobia in the EU: fostering a society where pluralism, tolerance and non discrimination prevail.’ It outlines a ‘comprehensive policy approach to foster equality and non-discrimination, as well as to prevent and fight against all forms of racism and xenophobia.’ This includes both ‘horizontal measures’ to address the underlying issues associated with discrimination and intolerance, as well as policy responses to the specific challenges faced by particular groups or communities.

Regarding hate speech, and specifically hate speech online, the speaker presented the European Commission’s work to ensure that the Internet remains a free, safe and tolerant space where EU laws are enforced, in full respect of the right to freedom of expression. In particular, steps have been taken to counter the proliferation of illegal hate speech online, as defined by national laws implementing the EU’s Framework Decision on Racism and Xenophobia.

A major flagship initiative in this area is the ‘Code of Conduct on countering illegal hate speech online,’ presented together with Facebook, Microsoft, Google (YouTube) and Twitter in May 2016. The Code’s main objective is to ensure that illegal hate speech is expeditiously assessed and, where necessary, removed. The impact of the Code of Conduct has been regularly monitored and the most recent results show a very positive trend. Two and a half years after adoption of the Code, evaluations show that technology companies respond to notices within 24 hours in the majority of cases and remove, on average, 72% of content notified to them, compared to 59% in 2017 and only 28% in 2016. The positive results of the work under the Code of Conduct has also attracted the attention of other IT companies. Since 2018, Instagram, Google+, Snapchat and others have announced their intention to join, and the Code now covers approximately 86% of the EU market share of social media platforms.