13 March, 2015

EU can no longer ‘turn a blind eye’ to victims of discrimination

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Category: Discrimination, European Union
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080702Written by  Michaël Privot, Director of the European Network Against Racism (ENAR)

55 years ago, on 21st of March, 69 Black demonstrators were killed in Sharpeville, South Africa because they were demonstrating peacefully for equality and against apartheid laws. This date has since been declared “International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination”, in remembrance of the harmful impact of racism on individuals and communities.

Today, it is more important than ever to take this opportunity to take stock of progress – or lack thereof – in combating racial discrimination in Europe. There is unfortunately little to celebrate for the 60 million European Union citizens and residents who face racism and discrimination on a daily basis. For ethnic and religious minorities in Europe, including Black people, Roma, Muslims, Jews and migrants from non-EU countries, discrimination continues to be a major obstacle in many areas of life – whether when looking for a job, accommodation, in education or when seeking access to justice. Not to mention daily incidents of racist violence – from ‘trivial’ jibes to hardcore physical attacks.

The ongoing financial and economic crisis which Europe has been facing for the last seven years, coupled with the lack of social investment, has not made the situation any better. It has worsened discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities and migrants and increased the employment gap between the latter and the majority population. In Finland and Belgium for instance, unemployment rates are three times higher for people born outside the EU than for the native-born population – irrespective of their qualifications. In the Netherlands, more than half of recruitment agencies complied with a request not to introduce candidates of Moroccan, Turkish or Surinamese descent.

The recent terror and anti-Semitic attacks in France and Copenhagen have shown what the vicious circle of exclusion, mutual fear and suspicion can lead to. Social inequalities lead to exclusion and violence, and youth who do not feel they are part of society, without any perspective of a better future, are increasingly attracted towards ideologies and groups promoting radical violence, whether jihadist organisations or far-right movements.

In this light, it is essential to take a comprehensive approach to effectively combat racism. EU leaders and decision makers can take the following steps to achieve this.

  1. There are strong EU equality laws in place but they need to be better enforced and further improved. Too many employers, for instance, escape their responsibility because discrimination cases are not pursued or do not result in any sanctions, turning legislation into an implicit licence to discriminate.
  2. Similarly, EU legislation on combating racist violence should be reinforced to ensure that racist motives of alleged crimes are systematically unveiled by the police and that victims are better protected.
  3. Laws must also be complemented by specific policy strategies to address Afrophobia, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. The adoption of the European framework for national Roma integration strategies in 2011 demonstrated the EU’s political will to fight the specific discrimination faced by its largest ethnic minority. Now, other communities experiencing specific discrimination also need specific actions and policies. The existing national Roma strategies need to be properly implemented, including through addressing anti-Gypsyism and ensuring participation of civil society organisations.
  4. Finally, the EU should ensure that Member States collect equality data to measure racial and religious discrimination, as systematically as they do with gender and age. Without the numbers, how can policy makers monitor the effectiveness of anti-discrimination policies?

There are solutions, but they take political courage. The EU institutions can no longer turn a blind eye to the fact that allowing millions of people to be discriminated and excluded results in a huge waste of talents, skills and wealth, ultimately affecting the well-being of all people living in Europe. If they continue to bury their heads in the sand, racism, exclusion and violence will continue to be our reality for the years to come.

This article was first published on The Parliament Magazine’s website on 9 March: https://www.theparliamentmagazine.eu/articles/opinion/eu-can-no-longer-turn-blind-eye-victims-discrimination

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