Commission mulls enlarging scope of ‘hate crimes’ in new anti-racism drive

Racism runs deeper than individual acts of hate - it is embedded in the EU’s social, economic and political system. With the Anti-Racism Summit and National Action Plan Against Racism, the EU has a huge opportunity to truly tackle racism, but to do so it needs to tackle it structurally, writes Alfiaz Vaiya. [EPA-EFE/OLIVIER MATTHYS / POOL]

Commission’s equality boss Helena Dalli on Friday (18 September) stressed the importance of “anti-racism” as the core principle of the EU’s plan to tackle ethnic discrimination across the continent, which will include new legislation, policy measures, and dialogue.

“Saying that we are not racist is not enough. What are we doing about it? We have to be actively anti-racist,” Dalli said.

The Commission plans to review its existing legal protections, such as the Racial Equality Directive, and plans to present new legislation by 2022, especially in the area of law enforcement.

The executive is looking at the possibility of enlarging the scope of hate crime at European level. If the plans go ahead, the new legislation will be introduced “already in the next year,” the Commission’s values and transparency chief, Věra Jourová said.

The EU also plans to tackle racism in the ranks of law enforcement.

“Profiling is commonly, and legitimately, used by law enforcement officers to prevent, investigate and prosecute criminal offences,” the document reads.

“However, profiling that results in discrimination on the basis of special categories of personal data, such as data revealing racial or ethnic origin, is illegal.”

“We believe and there is evidence to show this that this is a major problem,” Commissioner Dalli said.

The EU has also set its eyes on introducing legislation that would strengthen the role and independence of equality bodies, public organisations that assist victims of discrimination, as well as promote and monitor rights issues.

Moreover, the Commission said it will still push for progress on the anti-discrimination directive proposed in 2008 that would have transposed the principal of equal treatment into EU law but  has divided national government ministers.

To guide the EU’s new efforts, the Union will appoint a new anti-racism coordinator.

Jourová said that though there is no name for the position yet “but definitely it has to be a very strong personality with a high enough authority, because this is a multi-sectoral issue.”

The executive also said it will strive to improve dialogue and fund programmes that combat racism and discrimination in access to employment, education and training, healthcare, social protection and housing.

Across Europe, 45% of people of North African descent and 4 out of 10 Roma have already suffered discrimination, the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) 2017 survey showed.

Diversity in the workplace

The pandemic that washed over Europe did not only lay bare the continent’s health vulnerabilities but also exposed the consequences of deep-seated inequalities.

A report by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) published in April acknowledged the …

The EU will also organise an anti-racism summit around the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on 21 March 2021, as well as annually designate a “European capital of inclusion and diversity.”

“Nobody is born racist,” Dalli said, adding that the plan is “to reverse what we have nurtured in our children in our societies.”

Dalli said that “the national curriculum is of the essence, we must start at the very root of the problem.”

Further, the Commission also promised to look at racism issues closer to home and introduce measures to increase the diversity in its own house.

The European Network Against Racism (ENAR) estimated that despite racial and ethnic minorities making up at least 10% of the EU population, 5% of MEPs are ethnically diverse, a number that further decreased after Brexit. The college of Commissioners does not have any people of colour.

Civil society groups welcomed the plan.

“This is a groundbreaking moment for racial equality and justice, and has significant potential to achieve positive change for racialised people in Europe”, said Karen Taylor, the chair of ENAR.

However, the watchdog lamented the EU’s approach taken on policing, “the plan could be stronger on measures to address racist and disproportionate policing, as it plays a key role in maintaining and fostering racial inequalities in Europe.”

“It is also problematic that profiling is presented as a legitimate practice, given the numerous abuses of this law enforcement tool.”

“Solutions proposed include good practice guidance and training, but this should go further and include strong accountability measures,” the organisations said in a statement.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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