BUDAPEST (Reuters) - German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told Jewish leaders on Monday that the European Union needed better legal means to fight racism in member states.
Speaking amid growing racism against Jews and Roma in Hungary, he told the World Jewish Congress (WJC) assembly that the EU’s legal options to curb violations of democratic norms were either as weak as toothpicks or as strong as bazookas.
“Between the toothpick and the big bazooka, there is not an instrument we can (use) if concerning developments start in a government or in a country,” he told WJC leaders, who held their assembly in Budapest to highlight rising anti-Semitism here.
“Tolerance is wise,” he said the four-yearly assembly, but “tolerance in the face of intolerance is historic foolishness”.
About half a million Hungarian Jews died in the Holocaust, the German mass murder of 6 million Jews during World War Two.
Four EU members: Denmark, Finland, Germany and Netherlands, have proposed the European Commission should be able to take action when fundamental rights are violated, without having to go through the complicated steps that now exist for such cases.
But the proposal, which Westerwelle said was supported by about three quarters of all EU foreign ministers, names no countries causing concern and puts forward no concrete plans.
Brussels has threatened to take legal action to overturn recent constitutional changes that limit the powers of Hungary’s top court. Prime Minister Viktor Orban has also clashed with Brussels over legislation on the media and the central bank.
Westerwelle mentioned far-right Jobbik, which has 43 of 386 seats in parliament and whose leaders addressed several hundred nationalists at a protest in Budapest on Saturday.
Anti-semitism had no place “in Berlin nor in Budapest nor anywhere else in Europe or in the world”, Westerwelle said.
He spoke as the surviving member of a German neo-Nazi cell went on trial in Munich for a series of racist murders that scandalised Germany and exposed the authorities’ inability or reluctance to recognise right-wing hate crime.
He did not mention the trial but the standing ovation he received after his speech indicated the delegates from about 100 countries around the world did not interpret this as a bid to avoid the issue, contrary to their reaction to Orban.
The WJC stated its disappointment on Sunday evening after conservative Orban avoided mentioning Jobbik when he delivered a strong denunciation of anti-Semitism in his opening address.
While the government has taken steps against anti-Semitism, critics say it does not draw a clear enough line against Jobbik, which competes with it for votes of nationalist Hungarians frustrated by the deepening economic crisis.
Jobbik is particularly effective at raising support among young people through social media, opinion polls show.
Orban’s Fidesz party opposes anti-Semitism but has taken controversial stands, such as adding literary texts by known anti-Semites to the school curriculum, as it competes with Jobbik for the votes of Hungarian nationalists.
The WJC’s three-day meeting plans to issue a study focusing on the growth of right-wing extremism in Europe, especially in Hungary, Greece and Germany.
Editing by Louise Ireland