Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs II
With the rise of the far right and radicalism in Europe, discrimination against certain religious groups is on the rise. How can the European Union ensure that every religious belief can be freely exercised and peacefully coexist in the Member States?
Chairpersons : Tanguy Floch (FR) and Naira Nagervadze (GE)
European societies, according to Liz Fekete, are “increasingly divided between citizens, demi-citizens and non-citizens.”1 Some of them are no longer guaranteed certain fundamental rights, depending on their race, class, religion, immigration status and political beliefs. These people include immigrants, religious communities, and the poor — in fact anyone outside of the dominant ethnicity or the reigning political ideology.
European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA)2 surveys and research show an
increasing number of complaints on Muslim discrimination. It is estimated that over 39% of Muslims surveyed said they have felt discriminated against because of their ethnic or immigrant backgrounds at least five times a year.3
One of the discriminations that minorities do face in Europe and that is becoming more common is with regard to their dressing. Muslims are not allowed to dress up freely in certain countries (e.g. due to schools arguing that certain types of clothing hinder kids’ development). In October 2017, Germany introduced a ban bans on wearing the burqa or niqab in public spaces but it is not the only country introducing it.
A list of countries that have introduced bans is a long one: MPs in the Netherlands have voted to ban the burqa4 on public transport and in places such as government buildings, schools and hospitals. In France, which is the first country to bring this ban in Europe, the ban took effect in effect in April 2011 and made it illegal for Muslim women to leave their homes with their faces covered. Women can be fined for wearing a face veil, while anyone who uses threats and violence to force a woman to wear a veil risks a €30,000 fine and a year in prison. That ban was challenged, but in July 2014 the European Court of Human Rights upheld it. A number of French seaside towns have now also banned the burkini5. Belgium was the second European country after France to introduce a ban on full face veils, which outlawed the burka and niqab in public areas. Women who cover their faces in public places like streets and parks can be fined and sentenced to up to seven days in jail.
In Bulgaria, a new law banning women from wearing full-face veils in public, was driven by the nationalist Patriotic Front coalition. The party’s co-leader, Krasimir Karakachanov, highlighted the security rationale, adding that: “The burqa is more a uniform than a religious symbol.” A majority of the electorate in the Swiss region of Ticino voted in favour of a ban on face veils in public areas in 2013.6 The ban came into force in 2016. Muslim women who wear the veil in shops, restaurants or public buildings can be fined up to €9,200 (£7,890). Lombardy, the wealthiest region in Italy, approved a ban on women wearing the burka7 in hospitals and local government buildings in December 2015.
One very down-to-earth aspect of migrants’ impact on the EU is crucial to understanding why combating discrimination is in the Union’s best interest: no matter which side we’re looking from at the problem, our economy would not work the way it does without them: in the prosperous economies, migrants fill in the necessary gaps in the workforce. Even if a religious community as such hardly makes any noticeable impact (mosques and churches do not perform any significant economic activity), it is the ethnic community that is economically active and forms the backbone of certain sectors, such as construction.
An American experiment well demonstrates the scale of this dependence. In a response to US President Donald Trump’s comments on migrants, a “Day Without Immigrants” has been carried out in cities across the US on Thursday February 16, 2017 with the aim of demonstrating how heavily reliant the American economy is on migrants.8 Immigrants who joined the boycott ceased all economic activity for a day. On that day, businesses shutting down nationwide achieved the aim of demonstrating heavy reliance of a modern Western economy on immigrant workforce.
In the light of occurring terrorist attacks stemming from the processes of radicalisation and EU’s economy heavy reliance on workforce of many ethnic and religious backgrounds, EU has to find a way to sustain peaceful coexistence of different communities. This begs the question: what is the EU’s role and what actions it should undertake to ensure a brighter future for both European natives and migrants?
Far right is a term used to describe politics further on the right of the usual political spectrum. It applies particularly in terms of extreme nationalism, nativism ideologies and authoritarian tendencies. Often associated with Nazism, Fascism for example.
Radicalism: in political science, the term radicalism is the belief that society needs to be changed, and that these changes are only possible through revolutionary means. Most people think of leftwing politics when they use the noun radicalism, although people on both ends of the spectrum can be described as radical. The word radicalism comes from the Latin radicalis, “of or having roots,” which in turn arose from radix, or “root.” Both radical and radicalism came out of the idea that political change must “come from the root,” or the very basic source of society.
Religious community: a religious community gathers people who share common religious beliefs, practice, habits and ideologies
1. Max Holleran, The opportunities rise for Europe’s far right, New Republic, February 16, 2018, https://newrepublic.com/article/147102/opportunistic-rise-europes-far-right
2. The FRA is an EU body tasked with “collecting and analysing data on fundamental rights with reference to, in principle, all rights listed in the Charter”; however, it is intended to focus particularly on “the thematic areas within the scope of EU law”.
3. EU research shows increase in complaints of Muslim discrimination, September 21, 2017, https://www.rte.ie/news/2017/0921/906608-muslim-discrimination/
4. BURKA BAN: Dutch parliament vote in favour of banning face veils in public places, Sunday Express, November 30, 2016, https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/737915/Burka-ban-Dutch-parliament-votebanning-face-veils-public-places
5. R. Mcguinness, A. Foster, What is the burkini? Why have French towns banned the full-body swimsuit?, Sunday Express, August 18, 2016, https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/701626/Burkini-whatis-full-body-swimsuit-Muslim-swimmers-French-ban-towns-France-fine-burka
6. O. Smith, Switzerland overwhelmingly votes for burqa ban with £6,500 fine for Muslim women who rebel, Sunday Express, November 29, 2015, https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/622037/Switzerlandvotes-burqa-ban-fine-Muslim-women
7. R. Perring, Now Italy says ENOUGH: Lombardy bans the BURKA after Europe’s terror attacks, Sunday Express, December 14, 2015,
8. H. Yan, D. Williams, Nationwide ‘Day Without Immigrants’ shuts down businesses, CNN, February 17, 2017, https://edition.cnn.com/2017/02/16/us/day-without-immigrants-vignettes/index.html