Helena Dalli: United in diversity

The Black Lives Matter movement has shone a much-needed light on the insidious and ubiquitous nature of structural racism; now it’s time to get to work dismantling it, writes Helena Dalli.
Presentation of the first-ever EU action plan against racism with FIFA legends Mbo Mpenza and Aline Zeler in Molenbeek-Saint-Jean, Brussels

By Helena Dalli

Helena Dalli is European Commissioner for Equality

19 Mar 2021

The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is the opportune moment to reflect on the work that we must carry out before the European Union can dismantle structural racism and provide people from a minority racial or ethnic background a level playing field in our societies.

Over the last year, we have seen protests against racism all over Europe. People are taking a stand against racial discrimination, be it in the workplace, in sport, in justice systems, in education or health. The global Black Lives Matter movement has drawn our attention to the multifaceted, insidious, and ubiquitous nature of structural racism, where it exists both consciously and unconsciously. It has shown that this is not a sudden crisis and has evidenced how deeply rooted inequalities and racism are in our societies.

“The action plan incorporates all forms of racism, to all racialised minorities, and addresses both individual and structural dimensions of racism”

The European Commission has vowed to tackle this head-on. Addressing the European Parliament in June 2020, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said, “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. I am glad to live in a society that condemns racism. But we should not stop there. The motto of our European Union is: ‘United in diversity’. Our task is to live up to these words, and to fulfill their meaning.”

This kick-started an internal process that lead to the September 2020 launch of the EU Anti-Racism Action Plan 2020-2025 - the very first initiative of its kind. “It is not enough to be against racism. We have to be active against it”. These are the opening words of the Action Plan, a clear expression of our resolute commitment to make a racism- free EU a reality.

The Action Plan incorporates all forms of racism, to all racialised minorities, and addresses both the individual and structural dimensions of racism. It emphasises how structural forms of racism need to be addressed at all levels: from law enforcement to social attitudes; from stereotypes to economic concerns. It also targets prejudice based on racial or ethnic motives. Through this plan we require all Member States to develop national Action Plans to combat racism within their borders and to tackle country-specific historical and cultural racism. These national Action Plans will be key for Member States to offer an effective response to racism and racial discrimination and EU countries will need to work together to collect better data on racism and discrimination to produce a more accurate picture.

“This dialogue has to be open, honest, and continuous. This is the precondition to making concrete progress and will be central to ensuring that the perspectives of people with different racial or ethnic backgrounds are heard and mainstreamed into all our policies”

Moreover, the Commission will closely monitor whether its existing tools, the Racial Equality Directive and the Framework Decision on Combating Racism and Xenophobia - are working. On the premise of the Action Plan, EU Institutions, Member States, civil society organisations, equality bodies, and many others will need to work together and speak to each other. In particular we, as policymakers, will need a fresh approach on how we engage with civil society and all stakeholders. This dialogue has to be open, honest, and continuous.

This is the precondition to making concrete progress and will be central to ensuring that the perspectives of people with different racial or ethnic backgrounds are heard and mainstreamed into all our policies. As part of this approach, the Commission will soon have its first-ever anti-racism coordinator.

The coordinator will play an essential role in liaising closely with all stakeholders and relaying their concerns back to the Commission. On 19 March, alongside the Portuguese EU Council Presidency, we will host the first European Anti-Racism Summit. This summit, which will gather Member State representatives, MEPs, and a series of other stakeholders, will highlight that the fight against racism in the EU attracts the highest political attention. For the first time, the Commission, Member States representatives and members of civil society will also gather to discuss common guiding principles for the national action plans against racism.

A follow up, and broader Summit, will follow in 2022. This is our chance to advance towards a true Union of Equality, one that tackles racism in all sectors. We look to this Action Plan as a concrete basis with sound measures towards this vision. We understand that the level of change we need in our societies is not going to happen overnight - the road ahead is long, and we must persevere. Anti-racism must become a mindset for all of us, in order to achieve the aim of becoming a union of equality.

Read the most recent articles written by Helena Dalli - European diversity: the strength of our union

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