(photo credit: AP [file])
After six years of debate, EU ministers are to vote Thursday on sweeping legislation to outlaw racism, xenophobia and the "denial of genocide," according to a spokesman for the European Council.
The measure is expected to pass, according to Friso Roscam Abbing, the spokesman for EU Commission Vice President Franco Frattini.
The legislation would criminalize the denial of genocide, but does not specify which historical events fall within that definition, according to a draft version. It does, however, use Holocaust denial as an example of how the law may be applied. There is some speculation that the final text will specifically outlaw Holocaust denial.
If approved at the EU council meeting of justice and home affairs ministers in Luxembourg, the legislation will set a common standard for all 27 EU member countries, according to a EU Council spokesman.
The proposal would make "public approval, denial or gross minimization of genocide" punishable by up to three years in prison, according to one draft version.
Abbing said the measure sent a "clear political signal" there was "no safe haven for racism and xenophobia" within the EU.
Known as a "Framework Decision," the legislation was initiated in 2001 but failed to pass the council in both 2003 and 2005, Abbing told The Jerusalem Post.
The vote's reflects a determination on the part of Germany, which took over the rotating EU presidency in January, to revive the legislation, according to Abbing.
Germany "feels that it has a historical obligation" to push the council to take a stand on this issue, Abbing said. He added that prior to 2007, passage had been problematic because a number of countries were concerned that the text impinged on the right of free speech.
This third time around, he said, the language had been "watered" down so that it could be broadly interpreted by the legislatures of the 27 EU countries that would need to insure their laws met the new standard. As a result, he said, it was likely to secure the ministers' approval.
While the proposal would require that racist or xenophobic agitation be defined as crimes, it stops short of outlawing symbols commonly associated with such activity, said Abbing.
Abbing said that the legislation would outlaw genocide denial in principle, but leaves countries room to interpret the implementation of the law.
The legislation has the support of the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, according to the director of its department for anti-Semitism, Aviva Raz Schechter. She said it was important to set a common standards across the EU, adding that government statements against racism and xenophobia were helpful in the fight against anti-Semitism.
A political consultant to the European Jewish Congress, Ilan Moss, said he and his organization supported the legislation because it would force countries to review existing laws and to debate the issue in their parliaments.
The legislation comes at a time when there has been an extraordinary rise in hate crimes and racist attacks on immigrants and Jews in Europe, said Moss.
It shows that the EU, which has been primarily seen as an economic union, is committed to fighting anti-Semitism and racism, said Moss.
There is symbolic importance to the proposal, which comes under the German presidency and in the year that marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the European Union.
But, he said, when it comes to practical impact, what is needed is improvement in enforcement of existing laws and better reporting of anti-Semitic incidents.