The European Union has passed a resolution to combat homophobia on the continent which would see sentences handed down for homophobic, anti Semitic, and Islamophobic offences.

The European Parliament debated the increase in racist and homophobic incidents yesterday, with many MEPs pointing to the increase of violence in some member states such as Poland and Latvia.

Hans Winkler State Secretary in the Federal Ministry for Foreign Affairs said that the Presidency gave particular importance to the combating of discrimination. The entire security of the EU was threatened and undermined by such violence and discrimination and it needed to be addressed urgently.

He recalled that since the Amsterdam Treaty entered into force, the EU had adopted anti discrimination equal opportunities legislation which was passed in 2000. Discrimination on the grounds of gender, belief age and ability was forbidden. Mr Winkler drew attention to the work of the European Agency monitoring xenophobia and racism, but said it was important that the EU create a new agency on fundamental rights which he said, citizens both want and need. Mr Winkler that national governments were taking measures but where education was insufficient, national criminal law should apply.

Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities Commissioner Vladimir Spidla told MEPs that the Commission condemns all forms of homophobia, which he said flew in the face of the principles on which Europe was built. He pointed out that the Charter of Fundamental Rights prohibits any discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. In addition to legislative measures, he said, must be accompanied by other measures to stamp out discrimination and denigrating behaviour. “We are firmly convinced that the EU must be a model of the fight against racism, xenophobia and homophobia,” he said..

Polish MEPs defended their countries record, Wojciech Roszkwowski said that justice requires a level-headed approach and one needs to be very careful when generalising about certain actions. He continued that there were too many contradictions within the resolution as well as equalisation on racism and homophobia with ideological differences. He attacked the Netherlands with regards to their “paedophilic party” and said that the other countries ought to look at their own countries before harassing others.

Bogdan Pek said that this was very significant day for the European Parliament as it could set a new trend in the legislative fight against racism and for minorities. But he believed that his debate was turning into another fight between the political left and the political right. He said that it was unacceptable for Poland to have to be grotesquely slandered by the Left.

Maciej Marian Giertych said that it would be useful for various MEPs to check their facts before presenting them in the debate. He continued that the former Communists gave the homosexual community protecting. However, the present government is a government of law and order, and order includes moral order.

Former EastEnder turned Labour MEP and president on the EU’s Intergroup on Lesbian and Gay Rights, Michael Cashman, said he was saddened by the comments of Polish MEPs from the League of Polish Families and the Law and Justice Party. Religion or family values, he said, represented no excuse for the promotion of hatred, discrimination and evil. “What value is there in diminishing the lives of ordinary human beings? There is none,” he said.

Having taken part in the Gay Pride march in Warsaw, he said that the decent reception it had received from ordinary people there had shown that the two parties he mentioned did not represent the decent, ordinary people of Poland.

Speaking for the EPP-ED group, Patrick Gaubert said: “The EU is founded on a community based on indivisible and universal rights of human dignity, freedom and solidarity. We see on daily basis that struggle against intolerance is far from over. It is upsetting to have to recall that racism is unacceptable in our societies. As Members of Parliament we must firm and roundly condemn it.”

He said that governments should adopt the framework decision on racism and xenophobia. He regretted, however, that Parliament was missing an opportunity to speak with one voice on these issues. This was not a left or right wing struggle, he said, adding that he understood why his group had not signed the joint resolution.

Socialist group leader Martin Schulz said that when he joined the European Parliament twelve years ago, he would not have thought it possible that such a debate would be needed again. “Racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and hatred of minorities is horrifying. It should set alarm bells ringing.” All democratic political forces of left and right had joined to created the EU to resolve the conflicts of 20th century, and to abandon movements based on hatred of minorities and those who did not conform. “The idea was to form a community based on fundamental rights for all regardless of belief, nationality, skin colour, origin and how they want to live… we want to organise a society where all have their place.”

People riding roughshod over minorities for political benefit had happened before, he said, and this was not just in the new Member States or in one country: “This is not criticism of any nations, but against the intellectual bankruptcy of people promoting such ideas. They don’t belong in any society, and certainly not in this Parliament.”

For the Alde group, Sophia In ‘t Veld said that it was “unfortunate” that it was still necessary to debate this issue. People were still being killed just because of the colour of their skin or their sexual orientation which she described as “barbarian”. She welcomed the recent equality marches including the one in Warsaw which she took part in. Subsidiarity was an excuse for national governments not to act and this issue should be discussed at EU level. The EU should aim to be “the world champion” in the defence of fundamental rights.

The UK Green Party’s Jean Lambert welcomed the strong statements and expressed her wish for other politicians to be as clear and forthright. She said that “it is clear that no European Union Member State is free from this hatred”. “We have to be clear that we won’t tolerate this in our Member States”, she added. Ms Lambert was disappointed that it took several deaths, even in her own country, for awareness to be raised. A main problem is the media, she said.

MEPs will call on the EU representatives at the upcoming G8 Summit to raise the issue of human rights with Russia as a matter of urgency, in particular the right to demonstrate peacefully. The House will also call on the institutions of the European Union, the Member States and all European democratic political parties to condemn all acts of intolerance and of incitement to racial hatred, as well as all acts of harassment or racist violence.

The House will call on the Member States to give proper attention to the fight against racism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia both in their relations with each other and in their bilateral relations with third countries. MEPs will call on the Commission to continue developing an anti-discrimination policy alongside its emerging policy on integration.

The resolution passed this morning with 301 votes in favour, 161 votes against and 102 abstentions.

West Midlands MEP Mr Cashman said after the result, “This is a brilliant result and shows that the European Parliament is standing up for our citizens’ rights.

“It’s an important political message which will serve as a clear warning to all Member States that they must fight actively to stop racism, xenophobia and homophobia.

“To stand by and let human rights be abused in any Member State is to renege on EU laws and principals. We in the European Parliament will do all we can to ensure all violent acts against any minority are condemned and measures are taken to stop such actions occurring.”