The outbreak of protests across Europe following George Floyd’s death continues to resonate on the continent. The EU cannot sit idly by while capital cities are seeing their monuments and statues toppled. The mass protest by its citizens who are demanding the recognition of a shameful and unjust period in history where capitalist constructs brought about the enslavement and use as a commodity of other humans, other people, this has continued even after the enlightenment and abolition of slavery and is now reflected within systemic racism within European institutes and society.
EU chief Ursula von der Leyen announced a meeting will be held on Wednesday with all her other European commissioners. The problem with that is the lack of diversity and an authentic voice to articulate the zeitgeist of the moment, not just the presumed issues two dozen or so white people think they are.
“Next week, we will have a structured debate on racism in the College of the EU Commission. Because each of us has a role to play. This starts with examining ourselves, our unconscious biases & the privileges that we take for granted.”
The first part “examining ourselves” should be to look around the table and see how many people of colour are sat there. Spoiler alert: None.
In 2019 the most diverse action for the EU was Ursula Von der Leyen becoming European Commission President. These were the words of incoming European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen as she announced her new executive group, the European Commission.
“This is the team as diverse as Europe is, as strong as Europe is, those are dedicated men and women, and I’m looking forward to working with this team for Europe.”
But while the 27-strong team of commissioners is an even split between men and women, they are seemingly all white.
According to the European Network Against Racism (ENAR), around 10% of Europeans are from ethnic minority backgrounds, but just 28 MEPs represent those backgrounds out of 705 overall.
All of the EU’s top jobs are held by white people. In more than 60 years there has never been a non-white EU commissioner.
The questions that are up for debate are: “Why are members of ethnic and religious minorities underrepresented in political, social, and economic institutions and over-represented in poverty, illness and law enforcement statistics?”
These are questions the chair of ENAR has been raising for many years. Karen Taylor welcomes the news about the debate, but warned “it’s about more than just representation”, insisting it is important to highlight the structural racism within EU institutions “which trickles down to member states and institutions within member states”.
And she pointed out in the context of the George Floyd protests, the announcement of a debate feels somewhat “opportunistic”.
“It doesn’t feel like an honest conversation because we’ve been pushing for this conversation in the past and there hasn’t been a response, so it’s even more crucial that the discussion that will be started won’t only be symbolic, but key measures will follow,” she told Euronews.
She highlights the issues that need to be addressed; the ‘Brussels bubble’ which reflects the insular nature of the EU institutions; the lack of applications for roles at the EU from ethnic minority candidates; and the need for solid data on just how underrepresented people of colour are within the EU.
“We must listen to many of our citizens when they say that we’ve let racism happen for far too long,” von der Leyen added in her address.
“The Black Lives Matter protests that started in the US resonated with Europeans who are demanding justice and an end to racial inequality.”
A crowd has climbed onto the statue of colonial King Léopold II in #Brussels chanting “murderer” and waving the flag of the Democratic Republic of Congo where his atrocities took place. #DRC 🇨🇩 #BlackLivesMatter pic.twitter.com/DIH9MGu39M— Jack Parrock (@jackeparrock) June 7, 2020
There have been widespread protests across Europe and calls for racial justice, with protesters taking aim at the monuments that celebrate controversial figures from Europe’s colonial past, such as King Leopold II, as well as the current injustices minorities in Europe say they face.
Read Magid Magid story a British MEP and former mayor of Sheffield. LINK