EU leaders accused of ‘failing to act’ to combat institutional and structural racism

The condemnation, from a leading NGO, comes in the wake of an official complaint by black MEP Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana who said she had been a victim of alleged police violence by officers in Brussels.
Photo credit: Press Association

By Martin Banks

23 Jun 2020

Herzberger-Fofana recounted her recent experience with Belgian police in a speech last week to the European parliament during a debate on anti-racism protests following the death of George Floyd.

The incident is currently being investigated by the Belgian authorities.

On Friday (19 June), MEPs adopted a resolution which says, “there is no place for racism and discrimination in our societies.”


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The resolution also urges the EU to take a “strong and decisive stand” against “racism, violence and injustice.”

Its adoption coincides with Karen Taylor, chair of the European Network Against Racism (ENAR), a Brussels-based rights NGO, raising “serious concerns” about the “lack of real reaction” on the issue of race by EU leaders.

“The bare minimum that EU leaders should do is acknowledge the existence of and publicly condemn discriminatory and violent police practices, in particular when it results in death. But most European political leaders were not even able to do that” Karen Taylor, ENAR Chair

Taylor points to a study by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, which claims that one quarter of all persons of African descent surveyed were stopped by the police in the five years before the survey.

Among these, 41 percent characterised the most recent stop as racial profiling. In France, young men perceived as black or Arab are said to be 20 times more likely be controlled by police than others.

In the UK, data shows that the proportion of black and ethnic minority deaths in custody as a result of use of force or restraint by the police, is over two times greater than it is in other deaths in custody.

Taylor said, “The bare minimum that EU leaders should do is acknowledge the existence of and publicly condemn discriminatory and violent police practices, in particular when it results in death. But most European political leaders were not even able to do that.”

“Twenty years ago, the EU was at the forefront of the fight against racial discrimination when it adopted landmark laws to prohibit discrimination based on race or ethnic origin. In a time of rising racist violence, persistent discrimination and racial inequality, the European Commission must have a stronger, more public commitment to address police violence and structural racism in Europe,” she added.

Taylor’s comments come in an open letter signed by ENAR and over 150 other organisations which was sent to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

The parliamentary resolution, adopted by a large majority last Friday, “strongly condemns the appalling death of George Floyd” in the US, as well as similar killings elsewhere in the world.

MEPs call on the US authorities to address “structural racism and inequalities,” criticise the police crackdowns on peaceful protesters and journalists and President Trump’s threat to deploy the army as well as his “inflammatory rhetoric.”

The resolution, which won cross-party support, states that racist and xenophobic speech is “not covered” by freedom of expression and that the EU institutions and Member States “should officially acknowledge past injustices and crimes against humanity committed against black people, people of colour and Roma.”

The text calls for the EU and its Member States to end racial and ethnic profiling in criminal law enforcement, counter-terrorism measures and immigration controls.

“Let us look around us, here, in this very hemicycle. The diversity of our society is not represented. And I will be the first to admit, things are not better in the College of Commissioners, nor among the European Commission staff” Ursula von der Leyen, Commission President

Speaking at last Wednesday’s plenary, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that the executive will have a “structured debate on racism” later this week.

She also suggested the Parliament and other EU institutions, including the Commission, carefully consider what they do directly to improve the number of people from ethnic minorities working for them.

She told MEPs, “Let us look around us, here, in this very hemicycle. The diversity of our society is not represented. And I will be the first to admit, things are not better in the College of Commissioners, nor among the European Commission staff.”

She added, “We have cooperation tools involving experts from all Member States, a High Level Group on combating racism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance, and a European Network of Equality bodies. Here again, to name just a few. And we have European funds. But we need to try harder.”

“I am glad to live in a society that condemns racism. But we should not stop there.”

She continued, “If we encounter it, we must sound the alarm and act immediately. And we must be aware that vigilance and awareness begin on a small scale. This is why I say: we need to talk about racism. And we need to act. It is always possible to change direction if there is a will to do so. We need to talk about racism with an open mind.”

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