Opinion

The EU vote and Europe's overlooked minorities

27.01.14 @ 09:28

  1. By Michael Privot and Martin Demirovski

BRUSSELS - One of the key rights linked to EU citizenship is the right to vote and stand as a candidate in elections. Yet the democratic deficit between the European Union and its citizens is widening, as reflected in the steady decline in European Parliament elections’ turnout since 1979.

  • 'Ethnic and religious minority communities are largely overlooked by decision-makers' (Photo: Stephan Geyer)

As the next European elections draw closer, the focus is on far-right or other Eurosceptic parties and their candidates, which hope to benefit from the apathy of voters to get their candidates through - despite limited capacities for mass mobilisation.

In this context, EU citizens belonging to ethnic and religious minority communities can play a key role in reversing these trends in the upcoming European Parliament elections.

This particular but pivotal cluster of the electorate is largely overlooked by decision-makers and commentators, but they could be the last bastion against hard-core anti-EU nationalists as well as the king makers in many constituencies.

However, minority communities have so far been absent from most parties’ election tactics and voting lists, although they form a large cluster of the European population.

There are approximately 60 million ethnic and religious minorities in the EU, making up about 12 percent of the total European population.

In fact, they are much larger than all the far-right groups put together, and much more likely to support mainstream political parties on both the left and right, as long as the latter demonstrate an understanding of their concerns.

Although the EU, and hence the European Parliament, have important mandates in matters of equality, anti-

discrimination, employment and many social policies, most minority communities have not been actively involved in building their future, or even considered as communication targets for political campaigning in the first place.

This fact reveals how much the current “colour blind approach” to debates around European citizenship also fails to bring on board one of the fastest growing clusters of the electorate: ethnic minority people and mixed race people. Reinforcing their sense of ownership of a European Union that would be meaningful to them should be fully mainstreamed in the on-going debate about citizenship, and even more so during the upcoming European election campaigns.

In addition, the level of political representation of ethnic minorities at European level is regrettably low. In previous European Parliament elections, there were few ethnic minority representatives on the voting lists and even fewer were elected. There is a huge discrepancy between the number of minority politicians represented in the European Parliament and the proportion of the European population belonging to ethnic minority communities.

The fact that European Parliament elections suffer low levels of voter turnout and the current unhealthy media attention on the far right and Eurosceptics pushes the Europe-oriented constituencies into the corner and makes them look even more vulnerable. Therefore, a change of political strategy is a must. Mobilising specific interest groups could be one part of that strategy.

Due to the low levels of voter turnout in the European elections, many constituencies are indeed won by limited numbers of votes (often less than a 1000 votes).

Therefore, being able to mobilise specific interest groups will increasingly play a key role in places where the vote is close. Europe’s ethnic minorities constitute one of these specific interest groups and they are prepared to cast their votes to save the European project.

A number of organisations such as ENAR and UNITED Against Racism and their affiliates, have decided to raise awareness, within our constituencies, about the importance of the European Union and the need to mobilise for the EP elections, by actively calling to register for the elections, but also to vote meaningfully on D-Day.

This means not supporting lists or candidates that explicitly or implicitly promote xenophobic, racist, divisive and anti-social ideas and programmes.

We therefore call on political parties at European and national levels to keep away from pandering to far-right supposedly “quick-fix” solutions, and engage the European majority and ethnic minority communities in a common constructive debate about how to put the original European project back on progressive tracks - for the benefit of all.

Our so-called ‘minority constituencies’ are ready to contribute a great deal to Europe. The question is: is the mainstream ready to listen to them with respect and engage them actively? The clock is ticking.

Michael Privot is director and Martin Demirovski is an advocacy expert at the European Network Against Racism (ENAR).