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EU institutions failing race equality drive

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

European recruitment may have done great work towards linguistic equality, but a lot is left to do in terms of both race and gender. [European Commission]

EURACTIV recently asked the European Commission whether the executive is too white, drawing attention to the surprising fact that the institution does not collect data on the ethnicity or religion of its officials. There is still a lot to be desired from the institutions’ push for diversity, writes Claire Fernandez.

Claire Fernandez is deputy director of the European Network Against Racism (ENAR).

If you work in the Brussels bubble or come often for business, chances are you’ve already attended a meeting or panel with only white people.

When asked by EURACTIV about the issue, the executive’s Deputy-Chief Spokesperson Alexander Winterstein answered that there is no need for diversity monitoring inside the Commission because recruitment methods are fully open and staff members represent Europe’s diversity.

We would argue the opposite. Not only does this complacent answer contradict EU equality laws and policies, it also ignores the reality of unequal access to employment opportunities for ethnic and religious minorities in the European Union.

Here is a reality check for the EU body. With estimates at about 2 million Jews, 6 million Roma, 10 million people of African descent and 19 million Muslims, ethnic and religious minorities represent at least 7% of the EU population, and that’s not even the full extent of EU diversity. Can the European Commission even pretend to come as close to employing 7% minority staff members?

First, without monitoring diversity – or equality data collection – there is no way to know how diverse the work force is or to better plan diversity management. A European Commission handbook on measuring discrimination concludes that there is a “considerable and compelling demand” for collection of equality data and “recognises the need to engage in data collection in order to work towards the realisation of equal treatment in practice”.

It seems the Commission is not practising what it preaches when it comes to race equality. On other areas of diversity, while there is room for progress, some EU institutions, such as the EU Council, are collecting data on gender, age, disability and nationality of their employees. Equal progress needs to happen for ethnic and religious minorities.

Efficient equality data collection in the workplace also allows employers to objectively evaluate their progress in ensuring equality. Collecting equality data is legal in the EU, provided it is done with the person’s informed consent and according to data protection standards. For data collection to be most effective, it is also important to allow employees to self-identify, to clarify the purpose of the data collection and to ensure that the process is based on dialogue with the groups concerned.

Secondly, the statement that “everybody can pass the EU competition”, which is fair and open, is not completely accurate. We have been told by Union officials that applicants to the EU institutions’ competitions tend to be white, well-educated EU citizens and that many women take the tests but are not selected.

It is therefore likely that the tests developed as part of the selection procedure have indirect cultural, social or gender bias. It might be useful to question the way in which these selection tests are developed – if they are developed according to the profile of majority white people – and to assess how many ethnic minorities apply and how many go through the tests successfully. It is also important that the European Personnel Selection Office actively reaches out to areas and communities less represented among EU staff.

In addition, EU equality legislation allows EU member states to adopt positive action measures, i.e. measures to prevent or compensate for disadvantages in order to ensure equality in practice. The big stumbling block here is structural racism and discrimination.

However, it seems that the EU institutions, with a few exceptions such as European Commission and Parliament traineeships offered to Roma candidates or interns with disabilities, do not implement the diversity management or positive action measures they promote.

There are good practices across the EU, such as the United Kingdom’s public sector equality duty. It includes an obligation for all public bodies to set themselves specific and measurable equality objectives in employment, and to publish relevant information demonstrating the steps they are taking to improve equality.

If the EU institutions were to reflect the diversity present in Europe, they would start by taking some of the steps outlined above: collect equality data, introduce community outreach programmes, create equal opportunity schemes for staff members, interns and seconded experts with a diverse background, support mentorship programmes and affinity groups for groups at risk of discrimination in the EU institutions, and apply the highest anti-discrimination and equality standards in their own recruitment processes.

“United in diversity” is Europe’s motto. In times of reflection on how to bring the EU closer to its people, it is time – for the whole EU bubble, not just the institutions – to give life to the real meaning of diversity.

Further Reading

Is the European Commission too white?

The controversy over France's burkini ban - struck down by an administrative court today (26 August) - has thrown the spotlight on issues of diversity, integration and multiculturalism.

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