Ethnic discrimination still haunts Europe, says study

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Although discrimination in general has decreased on the European continent in the past years, discrimination based on ethnic origin it is still perceived as widespread, with Roma in particular facing high levels of prejudice, according to a new Eurobarometer.

Out of the six categories investigated (disability, age, gender, ethnic origin, religion and sexual orientation), discrimination on the grounds of ethnic origin is perceived as the most widespread among Europeans and is considered to be an even bigger problem than it was five years ago. 

While discrimination based on age, disability, religion and gender is seen to have gone down, almost half of those surveyed (48%) say ethnic discrimination is getting worse. 

This is particularly the case in the Netherlands, where 71% of those surveyed said the situation had deteriorated. Now nearly four out of five people say ethnic discrimination is widespread and more than one in five has actually witnessed it on the ground. The situation is also perceived to have worsened in Denmark (69%), Hungary (61%), Italy (58%) and Belgium (56%), while citizens of Poland (17%), Lithuania (20%), Cyprus (23%) and Latvia (25%) were more optimistic regarding the situation in their country than they were five years ago. 

Homophobia still strong 

Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is seen as the second most common form of discrimination in the EU, with 51% of those surveyed considering it widespread. The situation is considered worst in Cyprus, Greece and Italy, with nearly three quarters of respondents saying homophobia is common. But Portugal (65%) and France (59%) are also generally perceived as homophobic. The least widespread homophobia is seen in new member states, like Bulgaria (20%), the Czech Republic (27%), Slovakia (30%) and Estonia (32%). 

Citizens’ rights? 

The survey also shows that more than half of Europeans do not know their rights (53%) should they become a victim of discrimination or harassment. On average, just one third of respondents said they were aware of their rights. Although citizens in Finland (62%), Malta (49%) and Slovenia (44%) appear to be more informed, levels are much lower in Austria (18%) and Bulgaria (17%). 

Roma – a special category 

While the average European says he is very comfortable with having someone from a different ethnic origin as a neighbour (with an average result of 8.1 on a scale of one to ten, where ten represents ‘totally comfortable’ and one ‘very uncomfortable’), the situation is completely different when it comes to having a Roma neighbour. In the Czech Republic as well as in Italy, almost half of respondents (47%) would feel uncomfortable (average Czech score 3.7; average Italian score, 4.0). This is also the case in Ireland (40%; 4.8), Slovakia (38%; 4.5), Bulgaria (36%; 4.8) and Cyprus (34%; 5.6). 

Commission invites joint response 

As part of its major social package presented yesterday (2 July), the European Commission also published a report entitled: “Roma exclusion requires joint response,” which looks at the various instruments available for EU action to achieve better Roma inclusion. 

It identifies several key areas for action, including education, public health and gender equality. The document will be discussed at the European Roma Summit to take place in Brussels on 16 September 2008. “Roma are one of the largest ethnic minorities in the EU, but too often they are Europe’s forgotten citizens,” said Equal Opportunities Commissioner Vladimír Špidla. “They face persistent discrimination and far-reaching social exclusion. The EU and member states have a joint responsibility to end this situation. We have the tools to do the job – now we need to use them more effectively.” 

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