European Elections 2019 – what now for racial diversity?

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

Are MEPs too white? [ENAR handout photo]

It is clear that ethnic minorities will remain vastly underrepresented in the European Parliament, and although this election brought a welcome increase in the numbers of racial and ethnic minorities elected, Brexit will roll back most of the gains, writes Sarah Chander.

Sarah Chander, Senior Advocacy Officer at ENAR, the European Network Against Racism.

The results of 2019 European Elections are in – and it’s a mixed bag for anti-racism. We have watched closely the performance of the far-right across Europe, but little attention has been paid to racial diversity in elected MEPs. The far-right did not surge as much as expected but, more expectedly, neither did representation of ethnic minority candidates.

It is clear ethnic minorities will remain vastly underrepresented in the European Parliament. Although this election brought a welcome increase in the numbers of racial and ethnic minorities elected, Brexit will roll back most of the gains.

According to the European Network Against Racism (ENAR)’s analysis, there will be 36 ethnic minorities in the new European Parliament – 30 of which are people of colour (non-white minorities). This amounts to just 5% (4% people of colour) of all seats. In terms of the European Parliament, Brussels will only look marginally less white.

Considering that ethnic minorities make up at least 10-15 % of the EU population, there is still a long way to go for the EU to truly represent the full diversity of its population in the Parliament.

True to predictions, Brexit tramples much of the progress made in this election. The United Kingdom elected the most POC MEPs, and when they leave in October, it will greatly reduce racial representation in the European Parliament.

After Brexit, not only will there be seven less MEPs of colour, but there is a risk that commitment to equality and diversity principles such as equality data collection, positive action, and even the acknowledgement of racism as a major issue, is likely to falter.

Yet, the election results show some promising trends for minority representation. France and Germany elected a number of MEPs of colour (6 and 5 respectively) and one fifth of the elected MEPs from Sweden are ethnic minorities.

Politically, representation came from across the spectrum – the European Greens and parties linked to the ALDE group elected 8 ethnic minority MEPs each, important gains from the last mandate.

There is a wider diversity in the ethnicity of the MEPs too – with MEPs of African, North African, Middle Eastern, Turkish, South Asian (all of which will leave with Brexit) and East Asian descent, but also MEPs who are Roma, Jewish, Russians in Lithuania, and Hungarians in Romania.

One stark increase is that there will now be 6 Black women entering the European Parliament – whereas previously Cecile Kyenge, from Italy, was the only one.

We also see that minorities are not a monolith and the elected ethnic minority MEPs represent a range of political stances. Far-right parties such as Le Pen’s Rassemblement National and the UK’s Brexit party will send one MEP each to the European Parliament, and Belgium’s New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) – known for its strong opposition to the UN’s migration pact – elected Belgium’s only MEP of colour, Assita Kanko.

This shows that representation cannot be the end of the story. It must go part and parcel with a true commitment to equality and an unapologetic anti-racist politics. One without the other will not work – otherwise we are either tokenising and pitting minorities against each other, or simply paying lip service to equality without providing any concrete opportunities for people of colour in our institutions.

What is clear is that full representation of ethnic minorities and people of colour is vital to the democratic legitimacy of any political institution. National parties play a huge role – if they are truly committed to improving diversity in their realm, they need to elevate minority candidates to the top of their lists so that they actually get elected.

EU institutions, national parties and voters alike need to prioritise anti-racism, including the commitment to ensure representation of racial and ethnic minorities in politics and institutional structures. Changing the structures should be a priority for the next European Parliament.

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