International Day Against Racial Discrimination: Are EU institutions serious about racism?

Brussels, 21 March 2017 – On International Day Against Racial Discrimination, the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) calls on EU institutions to do more than just pay lip service to the fight against racial discrimination and be vocal against the normalisation of racism.

Numerous accounts of high-level European politicians and Members of European Parliament making racist statements are having a damaging impact on ethnic and religious minorities and polarising European society. Despite the severity of many of these cases, there has been a notable lack of reaction by the EU Commission President or Vice-President Timmermans, responsible for fundamental rights. This silence and lack of condemnation indicates a disregard for European Union values of equality and non-discrimination. While we acknowledge that there are so many instances of racist speech that condemning each of these is impossible, and that EU leaders need to be selective in their condemnations, a number of crucial opportunities to reassess the EU’s commitment to anti-racism and bring forward a strong positive narrative have been missed.

Anti-racism organisations are beginning to question whether the EU is serious about tackling racism. Especially in the current context of xenophobic and hateful political discourses in many EU Member States, the EU must speak out publicly against instances of racist speech. It should also lead the way in developing an inclusive narrative to ensure that the diverse population of Europe feels included and protected, and feels enabled to contribute positively to our societies.

While the European Parliament has introduced rules to sanction hate speech by MEPs within the Chamber, sending out an important signal that it does not accept hatred, the European Commission is lagging behind when it comes to ensuring that heads of states, politicians and official representatives are held accountable for racist statements.

Another indication of the poor record of EU institutions in this area is the low rates of representation of individuals from ethnic and religious minority backgrounds and the lack of diversity within their ranks. EU institutions should have clear and detailed plans to address issues of equality, representation and discrimination within their workforce.

“The fact that there is not even a symbolic official celebration of International Day Against Racial Discrimination says a lot about how seriously the EU institutions take racism”, said Amel Yacef, ENAR Chair. “At a time when racist discourses and policies are rife across the European Union, this would have been the least they could do. EU institutions must step up their game and show strong leadership and commitment to counter racism and act for equality.”

For further information, contact:

Georgina Siklossy, Senior Communication and Press Officer
Tel: +32 (0)2 229 35 77 - Mobile: +32 (0)473 490 531 - Email: georgina@enar-eu.org - Web: www.enar-eu.org

Notes to the editor:

1. On 21 March 1960, 69 black demonstrators were killed at a peaceful protest against apartheid laws in South Africa. As a result, 21 March was declared "International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination” by the UN in 1966.
2. Recent examples of racist speech by EU politicians that have not been officially condemned include:

  • Matteo Salvini, MEP and leader of Lega Nord (Italy), endorsed a video of two Roma women put in a cage and insulted;
  • Geert Wilders, leader of PVV (Netherlands), referred to ‘Moroccan scum’ in a television debate;
  • Björn Höcke, senior member of AfD (Germany), attacked Berlin’s Holocaust memorial;
  • Prime Minister Viktor Orban (Hungary) called for ethnic homogeneity in Europe.

3. The European Network Against Racism (ENAR aisbl) stands against racism and discrimination and advocates for equality and solidarity for all in Europe. We connect local and national anti-racist NGOs throughout Europe and voice the concerns of ethnic and religious minorities in European and national policy debates.

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