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10th Dec 2022

EU anti-Muslim hatred post still vacant

  • EU Commission headquarters in Brussels (Photo: European Commission)
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An EU office for combatting anti-Muslim hatred has stood empty for over a year, in what risks smelling of neglect.

The last time the EU Commission had a "Coordinator on combating anti-Muslim hatred", back in spring 2021, he was chairing seminars with officials and academics, contributing to reports, and posting on social media to raise awareness of the problem.

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The anti-Muslim hatred envoy was meant to do the same thing as the Commission coordinator for combatting antisemitism and the one fighting racism.

The Commission's support for Europe's Jewish communities is still in full swing, led by Katherina von Schnurbein, a high-profile and highly active EU official. The anti-racism work is being done by Michaela Moua, a Finnish former basketball star and justice minister.

But the anti-Muslim hatred chair has stood empty since June 2021 and the Commission seems in no rush to fill it.

When asked by EUobserver how come the post has stayed vacant so long, it gave cryptic answers.

"The Commission has been examining the modalities for assigning this function to ensure that it will be effectively carried out," a spokeswoman said on Wednesday (26 October). "The Commission has launched the respective internal procedures, which are now ongoing," she said.

Replies to the same question in February 2022 were equally vague. "Work on assigning the function again is ongoing," a commission spokesman said at the time.

The fact there was no special envoy didn't mean lower-level commission officials weren't still fighting anti-Muslim hatred, the EU Commission insisted.

"The tasks of the [anti-Muslim hatred] Coordinator continue to be carried out within DG Justice and Consumers," the spokeswoman said on Wednesday, naming a commission department.

EU institutions bristle at the suggestion they might be giving more attention to one cause than another.

The spokeswoman voiced "commitment and engagement regarding the work on combating anti-Muslim hatred".

"Both the fight against anti-Muslim hatred and antisemitism are important issues for us," the spokesman said in February.

Allocations

But the history of EU spending on the various posts also tells an unequal story.

In 2020, for instance, the commission assigned three senior officials to "the antisemitism team", according to an internal document obtained via a freedom of information request. But in the same year, all its other "equality policies" apparently had to make do with just one senior official and one junior one.

The Commission also clarified the figures in a letter to EUobserver on Wednesday.

"Since 2020, the coordinator on combating antisemitism is supported by three staff members. The Coordinator on combatting racism, appointed in 2021, is supported by two additional staff members. The Coordinator combatting anti-Muslim hatred carried out the tasks without additional staff," Ilse Juhansone, the Commission secretary general, said.

Human resources aside, each of the coordinators was allocated about €180,000 a year to spend on workshops, meetings, and studies, the commission said.

The commission also paid extra for other initiatives in the field, such as €200,000 for two EU Anti-racism Summits in 2020 and 2021, the secretary general noted in her letter.

And it held ongoing "training activities offered to Commission staff to raise awareness on antisemitism and anti-Muslim hatred", Juhansone said.

Track record

It remains to be seen if civil society will accept her good will at face value.

EU institutions had a track record of failing "to seriously address the widespread structural and institutional discriminations against Muslim minorities in Europe", 41 NGOs from across Europe said in an open letter in June.

They pointed to the EU anti-Muslim hatred vacancy as a sore point.

The French EU presidency, which led the EU agenda for the first half of 2022, also faced criticism for headlining concern about Islamist terrorism, while doing nothing to recognise Islamophobia as a real threat in Europe.

"There are major forces within Europe, and especially countries like France, that are investing less in the fight against Islamophobia, and more — as the example of France reveals — into normalising Islamophobia," said the authors of a recent study on the subject, Enes Bayraklı, from the University of Vienna, and Farid Hafez, from Georgetown University in the US.

"The persistence of anti-Muslim racism has also to be seen against the backdrop of a general worrisome trend: the decline of liberal democracy in Europe," they added, citing worrisome trends in Croatia, Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia, as well as the Czech Republic, which took over from France as the EU presidency in July.

Opinion

Why Islamophobia in Europe is getting worse

The European Commission has not taken any initiative to restaff the position of a coordinator on combating anti-Muslim hatred, which has been void since July 2021 and starved of resources and a clear mandate.

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