Racism kills in Europe too

The death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer in the United States sparked widespread anti-racism protests, but racism is a worldwide issue and we are far from blame-free in Europe, argues Hilde Vautmans. 
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By Hilde Vautmans

Hilde Vautmans (BE, RE) is a co-president of the European Parliament’s Anti-Racism and Diversity Intergroup

01 Apr 2021

The words of the European Parliament’s resolution of June last year on the antiracism protests following the death of George Floyd spell out a painful reality. “On 25 May 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old unarmed African American man, was arrested for allegedly using a counterfeit bill and was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota, after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for 8 minutes 46 seconds, whereas George Floyd repeatedly said he could not breathe.”

While the adoption of the George Floyd Resolution, initiated by the Renew Europe Group, was celebrated as a long-awaited reflection of the experiences of millions of people, it also revealed another uncomfortable reality: Europeans, including those in powerful positions, such as EU Commissioners, pointing fingers at the US and claiming that we in Europe do things better.

“We are far from reaching the ideal of a hate-free Europe… We must commit to freedom zones, and we must ask Member States to commit to them too and keep them accountable”

Heaven forbid any form of institutional racism. But racism kills in Europe too and this is why, in the wake of the first ever anti-racism summit organised by the European Commission on 19 March, we all must come forward and strongly declare that the EU can do much more than we think and the Commission should use its powers to the fullest.

While extremists kill, hate is also encouraged in a multitude of spaces. Hate must not be encouraged by anyone whatsoever. Speech is a powerful tool, more than a symbolic act, especially when it comes from heads of state, politicians and other public figures.

Let us recall January this year and consider the incendiary nature of former President Donald Trump’s speech to protesters that preceded their storming of the US Capitol. Public statements of influential people matter a lot. They are the ones who decide and encourage the political climate in our countries. The amount of hatred - be it towards LGBTQI people or racialised groups – that is channelled through new technologies, cannot even be quantified.

Therefore, declaring the EU a LGBTIQ+ Freedom zone, a place where everyone has the same rights and freedoms; countering hate speech; and adopting an EU-wide anti-racism policy focusing on structural racism, are all great recent initiatives, yet we are far from reaching the ideal of a hate-free Europe. While these certainly have an effect on how people think and act, we must commit to freedom zones, and we must ask Member States to commit to them too and keep them accountable.

Urgently needed measures do not only concern the development of laws and policies, but also sanctioning Member States for seriously breaching the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights. Hate crime and hate speech must also be added to the list of EU crimes under Article 83(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Hate crime and hate speech should be prosecuted and the mechanisms to report hate speech directed at certain groups should be facilitated by establishing more accessible and confidential hotlines and safe spaces, as proposed by Belgian Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne.

In 2008, the European Commission presented a proposal for a Council directive on implementing the principle of equal treatment outside the labour market, irrespective of age, disability, sexual orientation or religious belief, which aims to extend protection against discrimination through a horizontal approach. However, since unanimity has not yet been reached in the Council, the draft has remained blocked. How much more time will we give to Member States to unblock the Equal Treatment Directive? It is high time that the deadlock finally comes to an end and the Directive is adopted in order to ensure protection against discrimination in all areas of life.

“It is important to monitor the implementation of the EU Anti-Racism policy because it promises to address racism by police as well as strengthen the mandates of national equality bodies”

And even then, there will be gaps. It is important to monitor the implementation of the EU Anti-Racism policy because it promises to address racism by police as well as strengthen the mandates of national equality bodies - crucial for addressing various forms of discrimination. Moreover, it is crucial that the EU helps with the collection of data on hate crime, particularly data on racial injustice. This is due to the variety of contexts that differ from Member State to Member State and often prevent the collection of much-needed equality data.

The European Union can also encourage and support Member States to provide educational opportunities for children and youngsters so that they grow up in a supportive and non-discriminatory environment and ensure that they make EU fundamental values - namely the respect for human dignity, human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law - their own.

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