Taking racism to task

In Europe’s first Anti-Racism and Diversity Week, a cross-party group of MEPs and campaigners has urged the new von der Leyen Commission to prioritise race equality.
credit: Adobe Stock

By Rajnish Singh

Rajnish Singh is Political Engagement Manager at Dods

11 Oct 2019

In late September, the European Parliament held its first AntiRacism and Diversity Week. The three-day conference brought together deputies and activists from around Europe, calling on the new Commission to make tackling racism and promoting equality for people from minority backgrounds one of the EU’s top priorities.

European Network Against Racism (ENAR) director Michaël Privot told this magazine, “Over 60 deputies have pledged their support to tackling racism in the next EU mandate and to joining the Anti-Racism and Diversity Intergroup (ARDI), to ensure that MEPs maintain a focus on racial equality.”

He said that during the conference, “experiences and recommendations were shared, highlighting that we need solidarity across all communities to ensure safety, equality and inclusion for all people across Europe, no matter their race”.


Newly-elected German Greens deputy and speaker at the conference Romeo Franz, pointed out that despite EU efforts, “racism remains an everyday challenge to millions of people living in the EU. It is sad to see people ignored, beaten or even killed just because the colour of their skin or their religion.” 

Franz pointed out that it was diversity within European society, in terms of cultures, traditions and identities, which made the EU so special. But he also stressed that “more effort is needed to unblock the anti-discrimination Directive in the Council and relaunch this Directive by all political means available.”

The EU was founded on the principles of liberty, democracy and respect for human rights and freedoms. These are principles shared by Member States and refl ected in both EU anti-discrimination legislation and policies.

"Racism remains an everyday challenge to millions of people living in the EU. It is sad to see people ignored, beaten or even killed just because of the colour of their skin or their religion"

Slovakian EPP deputy Peter Pollák said of the principles, “Effective implementation is lacking,” adding, “It is increasingly important to address this challenge, otherwise inequality and discriminatory attitudes will aff ect the whole of society,  not only those who are in need of protection.” 

Deputies also highlighted that fighting racism was not only an important fundamental rights issue, but also had positive economic benefits. Germans Greens deputy Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana said that promoting anti-racism is “integral to the prosperity of the EU. Without a clear, coherent, non-discrimination policy, the full potential of the European project cannot be realised.”

In stark contrast to the political controversy surrounding the newly-created European Commission portfolio, ‘Protecting our European Way of Life’, which was mocked by many non-white deputies, Herzberger-Fofana said “I was happy to see the creation of a Commissioner for Equality and the reflection of all forms of diversity in the mission letter.”

She also highlighted that people from minority backgrounds often face different types of discrimination. “My hope is that Commissionerdesignate [for Equality], Helena Dalli, prioritises race equality in her portfolio. People lead complex lives and unfortunately, face multiple forms of discrimination. That is why it is so important that Commissioner Dalli takes an intersectional approach to her work.”

She said she wanted Dalli to acknowledge that women of colour face discrimination on various levels, adding, “she must work to ensure that all barriers, not only those relating to gender, are dismantled”

"We now need MEPs and EU decision makers to show leadership to actually put laws and policies in place to end structural racism."

UK deputy Julie Ward also agreed with the Herberger-Fofana that the Commission should take an intersectional approach, to deal with the “scourge of multiple discrimination.”

The S&D member said, “We already know that women face more discrimination than men, but a black woman or Roma woman, for example, faces even more discrimination, and a black lesbian or trans woman is discriminated against even further.”

She added, “If we truly want to get rid of inequality we must understand the complex and multiple identities that citizens often hold and to take this into account when making policy, writing legislation and allocating resources.”

For policymakers to understand how to deal with the issue of intersectional discrimination, Ward wanted them to undergo training, so they were better prepared to promote more inclusive, fair and equal societies.

She also stressed the economic benefit saying, “It must be understood that diverse communities are the most successful economically, so we will ultimately all benefit from an intersectional approach.”

For her part, Delara Burkhard highlighted the lack of diversity within the EU institutions themselves. The newly-elected German S&D deputy pointed out that although Europe’s society was diverse, its intuitions were not.

“Representation is the key to showing European diversity in all institutions. Only if we work hard to refl ect all of European society can we be more relatable.” 

She added that political groups also needed to be more diverse, saying, “A huge task awaits European parties. We must empower people to join and make their voices heard.”

UK Greens deputy Magid Magid believed that the EU’s first Anti-Racism week was a “great initiative” and one to be celebrated and repeated. But he stressed, “the EU must learn to feel with its every fi bre that Anti-Racism and Diversity week isn’t just an afterthought. It is the means by which we secure human dignity.”

He also credited campaigners who attended the conference saying, “The activists across Europe who joined us are heroes, but they shouldn’t feel unsupported in what is our collective responsibility.”

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