Will the Irish EU presidency get serious about political extremism in Europe?

We’ve all heard of Silvio Berlusconi’s recent praise for Benito Mussolini on Holocaust Memorial Day. But he’s not alone. The European Commission observes that political parties across Europe are seeking to win voters from extremist movements by borrowing their hate-filled language and imagery.

And we know that these movements are growing. Have a look at this report on ethnic scape-goating in Europe, and at this comprehensive database on extremist movements active across Europe.

Even national parliaments are now affected: “Not since World War II have extreme and populist forces had so much influence on the national parliaments as they have today. In some countries even neo-nazis have been elected,” said EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom on 24 January.

Why have we heard nothing about this from the new Irish EU presidency? As Malmstrom said, “we need European leaders to express opposition to this racism and extremism.” Irish justice minister Alan Shatter was reportedly present at the same forum where Malmstrom spoke, yet there is no public record that he took a stand.

Shatter did host an informal meeting of EU justice and home affairs ministers on 17-18 January, where a working lunch was devoted to a ‘discussion paper’ on ‘Protecting-EU-citizens-fundamental-rights—action-to-counter-hate-crime-and-intolerance‘. Among the four questions proposed for discussion was one that speaks directly to the problem discussed above: “How can we ensure that persons in a position of leadership, including political leadership, actively uphold European values and foster a climate of mutual respect for and inclusion of persons of different religious or ethnic background or sexual orientation?”

The Irish presidency must make this a real priority.

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