Thursday

15th Apr 2021

'Black Lives Matter' protests spread in corona-hit EU

  • Brussels, Sunday 7 June. Most demonstrators were wearing face masks - although the density of the crowd in many big cities made social distancing almost impossible (Photo: EUobserver)

Protests against racism and police brutality have spread throughout Europe following the US police brutal killing of 46-year-old African American George Floyd.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic and related restrictions, a large number of people at the weekend took the streets of EU countries like the UK, Hungary, Spain, Belgium, Denmark and Italy to support the Black Lives Matter movement.

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

"The current protests that are spreading across the continent highlight that discrimination and violence against black people is not only a problem of one country - it is commonplace," the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights told EUobserver on Monday (8 June).

In the UK, protesters in London defaced on Sunday the statue of the former British prime minister Winston Churchill, spraying "...was a racist" underneath his name.

While a statue of the 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston was pulled down and thrown it into the harbour in Bristol - itself a former slave-trading port..

Thousands gathered in Brussels on Sunday to speak out against racial discrimination in a largely-peaceful protest, followed by some disruptions and clashes between police and protesters.

Meanwhile, statues of the Belgian colonial-era King Leopold II were defaced in several cities.

Last week, more than 20,000 people marched in Paris to remember the black 24-year-old, Adama Traore, who died in police custody in 2016.

The sister of Traore, Assa Traoré, told protesters last Tuesday that "what's happening in the US has shone a light on what's happening in France".

Similarly, Spanish protested remembered the deaths of Senegalese Mame Mbaye and Mor Sylla when marching on the streets of Barcelona and Madrid on Sunday.

Meanwhile, a black protester in Denmark told local media how her family and herself still experience racism after 23 years living in the Scandinavian country.

Most people at the EU demonstrations appeared to be wearing face masks, although the density of the crowds in many big cities made social distancing almost impossible - drawing criticism from public health authorities who worry about potential new coronavirus outbreaks.

"If racism did not exist, 10,000 people would not have had to remind Brussels that we are all equal," the virologist Emmanuel André tweeted, regarding the Belgian protests.

'Sick and tired'

While the EU and member state leaders quickly condemned the killing of George Floyd and police brutality in the US, they remain mostly cautious when assessing the situation within the bloc.

Earlier this year, European Commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas said that US-style policing crisis was "unlikely" in Europe.

However, according to the director of the European Network Against Racism (ENAR), Michael Privot, "there is a tendency in most European countries to deny the long-standing existence of systems of oppression in European societies".

"Racial discrimination is still widely spread across the world, as well as in Europe, and it is something I have experienced all my life, [but] what we are witnessing right now could be a turning point for real change," MEP Alice Kuhnke from the Greens told this website.

"The economic impact of Covid-19 in combination with decades of systematic racism and police brutality has apparently made people sick and tired of discrimination and socio-economic inequalities," she added.

The EU still lacks legislation on discrimination outside of the workplace because the directive on equal treatment has been blocked in the EU council since 2008.

"An extremely important step would be to unblock this directive in the council and get it adopted after a deadlock of more than ten years," said Kuhnke, who expects the upcoming EU's presidency under Germany to take the lead in this process.

Additionally, socialist MEPs called on the European Commission to develop an EU framework for national strategies to combat racism following the parliament's resolution on the fundamental rights of people of African descent.

"Hate speech and racism have no place anywhere - neither in Europe nor the United States," said socialist MEP Kati Piri.

'Being Black in the EU'

Meanwhile, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights called on members states "to build on the current momentum and make greater efforts to eradicate racism once and for all".

"There is no space for racism and racial discrimination in the 21st century and we need to work together to eradicate racist practices once and for all in Europe," said his director Michael O'Flaherty last week.

The "Being Black in the EU" report revealed in 2018 that almost one-third of black Europeans had experienced racist harassment and violence, including at the hands of police.

Human-rights NGO Amnesty International revealed in 2018 that Belgian police use racial profiling during identity checks.

The ENAR also called on EU countries to ensure fair and effective policing practices for all communities, including prohibiting racial profiling, ensuring independent investigations and severe sanctions in cases of police violence.

EU calls George Floyd's death 'abuse of power'

The EU's top diplomat said the death of a black American in policy custody was an "abuse of power", while a top liberal MEP on data privacy said the US government actions raise questions on EU-US cooperation.

Coronavirus exposes increase in violence targeting women

Coronavirus lockdowns have triggered a spike in domestic, sexual and gender-based violence across Europe. However, experts stressed that the end of lockdowns will bring additional challenges, such as economic uncertainty or job losses, which can lead to more abuse.

Letter

Letter to the editor regarding Congo and Belgium

I want to make use of my right of reply and take the opportunity to rectify the numerous slanders and unfounded accusations against King Leopold II and the Belgians who created and developed the Congo.

Feature

Colonisers speak - 60 years after Congo's independence

Belgium is in the midst of a nationwide reassessment of its colonial past. Under pressure from a younger, more activist, generation and a growing African diaspora, the former colonial power has taken some steps over the past year.

Opinion

Black MEPs: Why no non-white EU commissioners?

The EU is not an exception. We have both been stopped on several occasions by security personnel in the European Parliament asking us what business we had on the premises. None of our white colleagues have reported such experiences.

News in Brief

  1. EU states make progress on Covid-19 'travel certificates'
  2. Michel pledges to protect von der Leyen's 'dignity' in future
  3. Libya frees UN-sanctioned human trafficker
  4. European court: jailed Turkish writer's rights violated
  5. EU set to miss 1m electric charging points by 2025 target
  6. Lavrov expects Iran nuclear deal to be saved
  7. France suspends flights from Brazil due to Covid variant
  8. Johnson & Johnson delays roll-out of vaccine in EU

Opinion

Sweden's non-lockdown didn't work - why not?

The Swedish king would have been better advised to use his annual Christmas interview to call for unity of purpose and shed light on the political roots of the country's response.

Column

BioNTech: Stop talking about their 'migration background'

I understand that the German-Turkish community - often subjected to condescension in Germany - celebrated the story. Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türecki represent scientific excellence and business success at the highest level.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market

Latest News

  1. Nato and US urge Russia to back off on Ukraine
  2. Future EU platform seeks to 'stay clean' of hate speech
  3. Denmark threatens Syria deportations amid EU concerns
  4. MEPs raise concerns on vaccine 'travel certificates'
  5. Will Romania be EU's Green Deal laggard?
  6. Muslims, Ramadan, and myths facing 'European civilisation'
  7. Europe & Africa - rebuilding the future
  8. How the pandemic became an EU goldmine for crime

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us