The EU pretends to be about “freedoms”. Yet it is the freedom of expression it hates most.
What have teachers been telling students in citizenship, politics and economics classrooms over the past two decade? They’ve been teaching that the EU is about the Four Freedoms. What they forget to mention is a freedom that is more fundamental and was enjoyed in this country long before the EU began: freedom of expression.
In the UK this concept has been built up over many hundreds of years. From the printing presses, the coffee houses and now the internet, freedom of speech and expression has been seen as a fundamental of British society. However, this is not another post about press regulation in the UK: it’s about the EU’s fundamental fear of the people of Europe.
This week saw the banal sounding “European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation” (ECTR) have its long running proposal, the European Framework National Statute for the Promotion of Tolerance presented to the European Parliament.
The proposal looks for a Europe-wide law – or “Model Statute” – on Tolerance to be part of a new “Equal Treatment Directive”. All pretty vanilla, if taken at face value. But what does this mean in practice? In an excellent article that appeared earlier this week on the New York based Gatestone Institute‘s blog, Soeren Kern outlines the problems in minute detail: his piece is well worth reading. However, what it comes down to is this: if this proposal goes through, the EU could “establish a right to a freedom from hurt feelings at the expense of the freedom of speech and expression.”
This is something that we should fear: not because it will undermine tolerance, but because it will breed intolerance. Freedom of speech allows for an open debate and exchange of ideas. Close that down, police it, and all you will achieve is the persecution of the minority; all you will achieve is handing more power to appointed elites to close down debate and infect society with more hatred; all you will achieve is the death of debate.
In stopping the free exchange of ideas, the consequence of this proposal would be to drive debate underground, and behind closed doors. It will marginalise both individuals and groups and lead to further distrust across society as people withdraw from the mainstream political discussion. It would turn off people who could otherwise make a contribution that finds new and innovative solutions to the problems faced by individuals and communities.
What is needed is for the EU to grow up. Creating a “freedom from hurt feelings” is creating a right for state control of thought. It is also going against one of its own favourite catchphrases: united through diversity.
Why is it the EU’s right to set the standards for people across Europe? Yes, it’s a Directive (therefore can be interpreted to an extent), but it nonetheless could never appreciate the different challenges facing the different communities – let along states – across Europe.
It strikes me that this is just another attempt by the EU to standardise, regularise and penalise difference – the competition of ideas. In doing so it could stop dissent from the ‘norm’, cutting up individualism and change in its way. Indeed, it opens the door to more powers to come in further down the road in a (seemingly) never ending quest towards this utopian ‘perfect union’.
Of course, this so-called perfect union can never be possible with the current structures of the EU. And the EU seemingly knows this. Why else would this proposal, which was launched in November 2008 and has received heavy lobbying ever since, find its way to the committee rooms of the EU at this time?
The EU is scared, that’s why. EU Parliamentarians are frightened of the rise of Euroscepticism across the EU. As acknowledged even on the BBC recently, the Europe of Freedom and Democracy Group that UKIP belongs to expects a rise in numbers after the 2014 European Parliament elections. It is therefore now or never for those Eurocrats and Europhiles in the Parliament and institutions to shut down the debate, and insist that the people singing from a different and more personal hymn sheet change their tune. It is wrong, and it is illiberal. It is certainly not what British values – as partly formed in the late 19th century coffee shops – would support. If it continues through the Parliament it will bring a shadow over Europe and is something that the Better Off Out campaign and The Freedom Association will campaign against at every opportunity. I hope UKIP supporters, the party and others around the country, will agree: freedom of speech is worth shouting about.