0113 GMT January 23, 2021
A draft of EU action plan against racism, seen by the Guardian, proposes to investigate whether the 2000 race equality directive has gaps, particularly on policing and law enforcement.
The document, expected to be unveiled on Wednesday by the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, during her annual state of the union address, is intended to mark a turning point in the EU’s approach to anti-racism, following the Black Lives Matter protests that brought thousands on to the streets of Europe.
The draft states, “It is not enough to be against racism. We have to be active against it.” It describes racism as structural and “often deeply embedded in our societies’ history, intertwined with its cultural roots and norms”.
It follows an official report that concluded Europeans of African descent face a “dire” picture of discrimination in everyday life, with almost one-third having reported experiencing racial harassment in the past five years.
The EU does not control police forces, health services or social housing. However, it is exploring how to use anti-discrimination laws and EU agencies to promote anti-racism policies across the 27 member states. This is an approach that could trigger conflict with national governments.
Breaking with the past, the draft plan proposes measuring the ethnic diversity of the 33,800 staff who work for the European commission, via a voluntary and anonymous survey.
The EU civil service, inspired by the French tradition, has shunned classifying staff by ethnic origin. In 2017, the commission was criticized for ignoring BAME people in a “diversity” push that outlined ways to improve prospects for women, disabled people, and older employees.
The EU institutions, which are predominantly white, have been accused of a blind spot over discrimination facing BAME Europeans. This complaint was fueled when Margaritis Schinas, the commission vice president charged with promoting “our European way of life”, told the Financial Times in June Europe did not have issues “that blatantly pertain to police brutality”.
Samira Rafaela, a Dutch liberal MEP, told the Guardian the EU had been “too relaxed” about racism for too long. “This action plan is very much needed to make the EU institutions very very aware that they need to invest in this topic,” said Rafaela, a co-president of the European Parliament’s anti-racism and diversity intergroup.
“When you lack representation and you lack diversity, you cannot always raise the right questions and you cannot relate to a lot of experiences outside your world.” Schinas’s comments were “for me, typically an example of someone who just cannot relate on this specific topic”, she said.
The Dutch MEP, who previously advised the Dutch police commissioner on inclusion, is urging the EU to monitor how national police forces treat BAME citizens. While highlighting the differences between the EU and US, she said the American experience was “a serious warning of what can happen in Europe when we don’t make sure that our police authorities stop with racial profiling.”
The Dutch MEP, who is 31 and has a Curaçaon-Dutch mother and a Ghanaian-Nigerian father, said the lack of diversity in the European Parliament had left her “very, very surprised and sometimes lonely” after her election in 2019.
Von der Leyen struck a very different tone from Schinas, when she told the European Parliament in June the EU “needed to talk about racism” and had to do “more than listen, more than condemn”.
At the European Network Against Racism, Julie Pascoët described that speech as “a turning point in the narrative and the motivation against racism in Europe.”
She criticized patchy performance across the bloc and hopes von der Leyen’s speech will translate into meaningful anti-racism action plans from all member states. She said: “We know that France used to have an action plan against racism and antisemitism, but we have no information about the state of play, if it’s still up and running.
Germany has a national action plan against racism, but again here it’s only on paper … Italy says it has an action plan, but civil society is saying there is nothing.”
Meanwhile, two members of Von der Leyen’s team, the first vice president, Frans Timmermans, and the home affairs commissioner, Ylva Johansson, warned at a private meeting of EU commissioners in June about the growing influence of the “great replacement theory”, which has moved from the far-right fringes to the halls of power in a few countries.
Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán invoked the idea to promote his policies on childbearing. He was praised for “defy[ing] political correctness” by Tony Abbott, the former Australian prime minister, recently appointed trade adviser to the UK government.