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Organisers of NatCon conference launch free speech campaign with fresh legal action over attempted cancellation of conference

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The attempts by several district mayors in Brussels to stop the National Conservative Conference going ahead have handed the organisers opportunity to position themselves as the defenders of free speech. Two venues cancelled the bookings after political pressure from what MCC Brussels calls ‘the Brussels political elite’ and when a third venue owner refused to back down, police were sent to close the meeting down until the Belgium’s highest civil court overturned the order from the mayor, who is now facing legal action himself, writes Political Editor Nick Powell.

The lawsuit brought against Emir Kir, mayor of Saint-Josse-ten-Noode, seeks to prevent any repeat of his action against the National Conservative Conference, which was widely condemned, from the Belgian Prime Minister down. Yohann Rimokh, the lawyer filing the case, said “alas, this is not the first-time free speech has been in the crosshairs in Brussels or Belgium, and there is a shameful history of cases that should concern any person, regardless of political persuasion, who believes in the right to free speech and assembly.

“However, this is the first time that we saw an attempt to cancel a conference by an administrative police order where the Prime Minister of a Member State's visit was announced [by Viktor Orbán of Hungary]; this is the first time the Belgian Prime Minster is compelled to tweet his concerns, the first time we saw international leaders echo those concerns and the first time we have seen the sort of global spotlight this case put on the bad practice that has become the norm at the heart of the European Union”.

The MCC sees what happened to the conference as “not a one-off attack on free speech in Europe. It fits the pattern of decades of policies emanating from the EU that aim to control the political narrative, along with numerous examples in Brussels of events being cancelled. It has now launched a report by its technology expert, Norman Lewis Hate speech versus Free Speech: The Future of European Democracy aims to provide a counterpoint to “the Brussels hate speech narrative”, exploring “how the EU has progressively sought to control more and more of what can be said”.

MCC points to the EU's digital agenda, which it sees as “a concerted effort to give EU elites the power to determine acceptable speech and remove anything they deem politically dangerous. Hiding in plain sight is the attempt to set up an unprecedented system of political interference in what can and cannot be said online”. 

MCC argues that “instead of trying to convince their political opponents, EU elites increasingly try to silence them”. It has summarised the report as follows”

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The issue of free speech has always been a contest about who decides what can be said, heard or thought in society. The European Union’s focus on curbing what it calls ‘hate speech’ and ‘disinformation’ is the latest form of this struggle. Under the guise of upholding civilised norms of behaviour, the EU is institutionalising laws against hate speech and disinformation which represent a fundamental attack on free speech and democracy in Europe. 

A package of laws, regulations and agreements between EU institutions and Big Tech represent an attempt but EU elites to determine what Europe’s 484 million people can or cannot say online. Further sweeping regulations on online speech are planned. The justification they give is the need to protect European democracy from hate speech and misinformation. But behind these invocations of democracy in fact lies a profoundly anti-Democratic attitude towards European citizens. 

Rather than Europe being under attack from “hate speech”, European citizens are under attack from the hateful attitude of EU elites. The powers-that-be look down on European citizens as infants easily susceptible to manipulation who need to be insulated from harmful speech and ideas. 

This report aims to challenge the Brussels ‘hate speech’ narrative. 

The policing of speech to attempt to socially engineer political outcomes has become the modus operandi of the EU’s fragile technocratic oligarchy, who fear any open and unpredictable debate that may raise fundamental questions about their right to rule and the legitimacy of Brussels policies on key issues from the green deal to mass migration. This fear has become heightened in the run-up to the June elections to the European Parliament, which are predicted to see a surge in support for national parties opposed to centralised EU control.

This challenge to the ruling EU orthodoxy has led to demands for ever-more intervention in European debate. This is why the censorship operating system – the panoply of laws, unaccountable NGOs and Big Tech – outlined in this report is only set to expand. The censorious crusade against free speech is not a temporary phenomenon but is at the core of how the EU and its institutions now operate.

The report has four key points:

• First, the hate speech narrative is not about good manners or a system of government that elevates civilised behaviour to protect citizens. It is a politically motivated crusade to institutionalise an EU ‘Ministry of Truth’ whose goal is to protect the EU and its central institutions from free speech. 

• Second, since the EU came into existence, the evolution of hate speech laws has been driven by anti-democratic impulses. The EU elite are perpetually fearful of the views and opinions of European citizens. Since the end of the Second World War, European elites have seen their mission as protecting Europe from the “dangers” of untrammelled democracy. Brussels has thus become institutionally afraid of the open-ended unpredictability of free speech and elections. This has only intensified in recent years, as, across the EU, political forces are on the rise that view European culture and history differently and question the status quo. 

• Third, this censorious dynamic can only increase in the future as it becomes automated and automatic. This crusade without an end is about to be boosted by the automation of hate speech detection online, through the application of Artificial Intelligence. Curiously, this is one area where the EU’s default risk-aversion and precautionary approach to innovation does not apply. Weaponising AI to advance the policing of speech represents a real and present danger to the future of European democracy. 

• Fourth, the battle with the Eurocrats over the narrative about hate speech and disinformation is one that we cannot afford to lose. It is a battle that has to be won by those who understand how central free speech remains to democratic rights and freedom. More speech, not freedom from speech, is our best defence not only against hateful speech but against an increasingly authoritarian EU oligarchy which is happy to sacrifice free speech and democracy if it leaves the status quo intact.

As the report concludes, the stakes are very high. The malicious and hateful prejudice of the EU elite that ordinary people are too ignorant, stupid and prone to easy manipulation by demagogues needs to be forcefully countered. 

During the coming elections, the goal should be to expose every attempt to muzzle views and speech deemed out of order by Brussels and their Big Tech minions. 

By spreading its disinformation narrative, the Brussels elite can itself be accused of propagating ‘disinformation’ or ‘fake news’. The real threat to the EU elections and the future of European democracy is the EU’s crusade against hate speech and disinformation. The real issue is who controls what can or cannot be said or thought in Europe.

The best defence for democracy is always free speech. Rather than those who wish for less speech or controlled speech, we advocate for more speech and freer speech. More speech conducted openly in the court of public opinion is the only long-term foundation for protecting democracy in Europe. 

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