Sunday

5th Dec 2021

Column

'Brussels So White' needs action, not magical thinking

Listen to article

For an exhilarating moment last year, 'Brussels So White' seemed to be cracking under pressure.

As Black Lives Matter protests spread across European cities in summer 2020, the European Union finally appeared ready to accept rather than neglect the continent's vibrant racial, ethnic, religious and cultural mix.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen promised to create a Europe that was "more equal, more humane and more fair", called out institutional racism and insisted: "we must bring Europe's amazing diversity into our civil service".

The rhetoric was impressive, the promises fueled hope.

The commission has brought out multiple equality strategies. Last year's ambitious "anti-racism action plan" is being implemented with the help of a first-ever EU "anti-racism coordinator", Finland's Michaela Moua.

Another EU official is tasked with combating anti-Semitism and the search is on to appoint a new coordinator to fight anti-Muslim hatred.

A still-unpublished Commission staff survey earlier this year includes – for the first time - data on race and ethnicity.

Efforts are underway to re-evaluate EU recruitment policies and ensure stricter enforcement of the 21 year old race-equality directive including measures to strengthen the role of national equality bodies.

Silence of the think tanks

These steps represent progress but are not enough. Building a true Europe of Equality requires more than just feel-good "made in Brussels" policies.

Bias and discrimination are thriving across Europe -not just because of bigots, populists and far-right groups but because too many of the EU's liberal democratic leaders are also complicit.

Also still largely missing is the active engagement of academia, think tanks, consultancies, business and media.

EU governments and von der Leyen are – quite rightly - struggling to stop violations to the rule of law, attacks on the judiciary and erosion of media freedoms in Hungary and Poland.

However, this should not mean turning a blind eye to policies and actions which reinforce exclusion and prejudice in countries such as France, Austria, Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands. To name only a few.

The EU's current selective outrage consolidates equality hierarchies under which attacks on some values are considered more important than on others.

Allowing a ranking of rights also undermines the EU's anti-racism agenda, impacts on its global reputation and makes Europe vulnerable to allegations of double standards.

'Open season' on French Muslims

It's open season on Islam and Muslims as France gears up for next year's presidential election and French politicians encourage Islamophobia as an electoral strategy.

Muslim-bashing is no longer the preserve of the traditionally Islamophobic far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. Eric Zemmour has now joined the fray and president Emmanuel Macron's government is busy enforcing a spate of anti-Muslim policies, including an "anti-separatism bill" and the shutting down of the Collective Against Islamophobia (CCIF) which documents anti-Muslim hate crimes.

EU officials looked the other way as former Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz stepped up his fight against an undefined "political Islam" including through the launch of a much-criticised Islam Map website which showed the locations of more than 600 mosques and Muslim associations across the country and led to incidents of violence against Muslims.

The administration of Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen, who has dragged her Social Democrats toward the right on immigration policy, recently passed legislation allowing it to relocate asylum seekers to third countries outside the EU while their cases are reviewed.

In the Netherlands, a health benefits scandal that involved racial profiling remains unresolved.

Ethnic minorities continue to face discrimination in education, health, employment, social care and housing, according to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination which has also voiced special concern at ethnic profiling by police in stop and search, traffic control and border checks.

In Belgium, the death of Ibrahima Barrie, a young Black man who died in police detention, and the violent protests that followed offered further proof that embedded racism in many European police forces needs immediate attention. And so on.

Ignoring these realities is an affront to von der Leyen's pledge to have an honest EU conversation about race. In fact, she missed an important opportunity to do just that in last month's State of the Union address.

A commitment to fighting racism cannot go hand in hand with 'Fortress Europe' policies which demonise black, brown and Muslim refugees and migrants or with rights violations linked to Frontex pushbacks.

Despite evidence of widespread racism in Europe, many still insist the problem is an "American import". Such denials put the EU's credibility at stake.

Even as they condemn human rights abuses in far flung lands, MEPs must also scrutinise their own member states' discriminatory and xenophobic practices.

European political parties can help to ensure ethnic diversity in selecting candidates as they prepare for EU elections in 2024. And while waiting for new recruitment rules to come into force, European commissioners and European parliament members should start looking at ways of making their teams more inclusive.

Eurocentric attitudes, xenophobia and ethno-nationalist sentiments run too deep across Europe - and have seeped too much into the EU's institutions and their discourse and policies - to entertain any hope of overnight change.

EU leaders must take urgent action. Magical thinking will not rid Europe of systemic racism.

Author bio

Shada Islam is an independent EU analyst and commentator who runs her own strategy and advisory company New Horizons Project.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Column

Burkinis and 'soul caps' - policing Olympic women back in fashion

There are no fixed rules. Anyone can criticise, condone and codify women's apparel. The game is inclusive, bringing together an assorted collection of voyeurs, misogynists, racists, bigots, religious fanatics and culture warriors – but also feminists and other equality campaigners.

Column

Values? EU leaders must 'float like a butterfly, sting like a bee'

Neither Commission nor EU leaders have reacted to the Austrian government's amorphous fight against "political Islam". Their silence is deafening over French president Emmanuel Macron's controversial draft 'separatism' bill. Or Social Democrat-led Denmark's legislation relocating asylum seekers to third countries.

Column

Biden's 'democracy summit' is a risky venture

"America is back" may have soothed souls in the past but today's world is a 'mix and match' one where nations don't want a binary choice between aligning with the US, or becoming part of Beijing's orbit.

Covid: what Germany got right - and wrong

Objectively speaking, German politicians have earned a good report card for their management of the corona pandemic so far. Why then is there so much anger about the national coronavirus response?

News in Brief

  1. Covid: Belgium might close schools and cultural activities
  2. EU consumers can sue Facebook, judge advised
  3. French centre-right tilts toward Pécresse
  4. EU urged to blacklist Israeli spyware firm
  5. Austria's ex-chancellor Kurz quits politics
  6. EU agency: Omicron to be over half of infections 'within months'
  7. New German restrictions target the unvaccinated
  8. EU commission unveils proposal to digitalise justice systems

This 'Black Friday' is a turning point in corporate accountability

Much supply-chain abuse remains hidden from plain sight – not only to consumers but to the companies themselves, who have built increasingly longer, more complicated, and more opaque supply chains, which have become harder to monitor, control and account for.

The South China Sea should be of concern to Europe

If China is allowed unimpeded to break the law of the sea in the South China Sea, think about the repercussions elsewhere. It could ricochet into Europe's High North. In the Arctic, Nordic nations have overlapping claims with Russia.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew report reveals bad environmental habits
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersImproving the integration of young refugees
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNATO Secretary General guest at the Session of the Nordic Council
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCan you love whoever you want in care homes?
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals

Latest News

  1. Belgium tightens Covid rules as health system 'is cracking'
  2. EU and US tighten screw on Lukashenko
  3. Belgian impasse leaves asylum seekers on snowy streets
  4. EU 'missed chance' to set fossil-fuel subsidies deadline
  5. EU energy ministers clash amid gas price uncertainty
  6. ECJ told to dismiss Poland and Hungary rule-of-law challenge
  7. Covid: what Germany got right - and wrong
  8. Quick Take: Enrico Letta

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us