This article is part of our special report Where is discrimination in Europe?.
A lack of equalities data across the EU contributes to structural and institutional inequalities, stakeholders say. The European Commission has promised to pursue better data collection on race and ethnicity to better tackle discrimination.
“Over the past few years, we have witnessed the normalization of the far-right discourse and this has influenced how the electorate votes in different countries – this toxic narrative against racialised minorities has also influenced the way policies are made and has banalised abusive practices and behaviours at all levels,” Juliana Santos Wahlgren, Senior Advocacy Officer for the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) told EURACTIV.
According to ENAR, when looking at specific forms of racism, there is an “alarming spike” of cases of Islamophobia in France, the UK, Belgium, Spain, and the Netherlands.
And while people of African descent face systemic discrimination in terms of access to housing and labour market, and are over-policed and under-protected across the EU, migrants are constant victims of violence and brutality from the pushback operations at borders, the NGO stated.
At the same time, Roma communities are still disproportionally affected in housing and education policies in Belgium, Portugal, France, Germany and Eastern European countries.
A recent report by the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) laid bare the widespread encroachments to the fundamental rights of Romani people in Western European countries, providing the latest evidence of discrimination against Europe’s largest ethnic minority.
“Additionally, the COVID-19 has had one clear consequence in the lives of racialised groups: it has exacerbated existing and historical systemic inequalities in society, and is having a particular impact on racialised groups,” Wahlgren said.
According to Wahlgren, the pandemic has been a “catalyst” of many pre-existing societal problems, particularly violence by law enforcement officers.
“It is very challenging to label geographic specificities related to racialised communities across Europe,” she added.
She emphasised that “racism and discrimination have multiple layers which bring the reflection about racism beyond interpersonal relations, racism and discrimination should also be explored through structural and institutional lenses”.
“The data available to date do not cover these structural and institutional dimensions, therefore an analysis on the specific manifestations per country or per regions will be always very limited,” Wahlgren said.
At the same time, there is a lack of equalities data across the EU.
“Most data collected for racial and ethnic discrimination studies are not disaggregated by race, ethnicity, religion, migrant background, for example. The results contain some biases as they are interpreted with other proxies close to the indicator race,” she added.
EU anti-discrimination push
The European Commission proposed an EU Anti-Racism Action Plan last September, which laid out policies to address structural racism and provide financial support for national positive-action policies.
“For the first time, the EU explicitly acknowledges the existence of structural, institutional and historical dimensions of racism in Europe and the need to address them through wide-ranging policies,” Wahlgren said.
In response to the data gap, the EU executive has also called for the collection of sound data on race and ethnicity, which in many cases is incomplete, to better tackle discrimination.
Last week, at the first European Summit Against Racism, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that the plan recognises that structural racism exists in all areas and it would be member states’ responsibility to act.
“For the EU to become a truly anti-racist Union, we need to make the most of the outcomes of the Anti-Racism Summit to further this discussion within the highest political arenas of the EU and the member states,” Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli told EURACTIV.
Dalli confirmed a European anti-racism coordinator will be appointed “in the coming days”, while every member state will be asked to nominate an expert to participate in a Commission-led group.
“The coordinator will liaise closely with people with a minority racial or ethnic background and relay their concerns to the Commission, as well as interact with member states, the European Parliament, civil society and academia to strengthen policy responses in the field of anti-racism,” the Commissioner said.
“This is not a one-time discussion but a process of transformation. Until our societies are entirely transformed and racism is a distant memory, there is a need for everyone to do more,” Dalli added.
Asked how the Commission plans to deal with geographic specificities of racial discrimination, she said “the outcome of this collective work should enhance concrete national action plans by 2022 that tackle racism, taking into account all national challenges and geographic specificities refer to”.
“Furthering the fight against racism in the EU is a shared responsibility and the EU anti-racism action plan creates the framework to bring together actors at all levels for a more effective response,” Dalli said, adding that this would also include “not only global and national actors but also regional and local ones, which are the closest to the ground”.
Member states would be “essential” to ensure that EU law is properly applied so that individual rights and obligations are respected in practice, she said.
In February, the EU executive told five EU countries — Belgium, Bulgaria, Finland, Poland and Sweden — to quickly put a 2008 EU law against racism into their statutes, which they have not done so far. Similar letters were sent on the same matter to Estonia and Romania.
If they do not transpose the law, the commission can start legal proceedings against the offending countries.
Asked where she sees more need for member states to act, Dalli said that they “should ensure national equality bodies to be independent and have enough funds to function properly, or that victims are aware of their rights, can easily defend them and receive adequate compensation when their rights are violated”.
[Edited by Benjamin Fox]