‘UNITED IN DIVERSITY’ is the official motto of the European Union. According to Europa.eu -the institution’s official website – the union represents:
‘how Europeans have come together, in the form of the EU, to work for peace and prosperity, while at the same time being enriched by the continent’s many different cultures, traditions and languages’.
The fact that the European Union was awarded in 2012 the Nobel Peace Prize unanimously by the Norwegian Nobel Committee for having ‘contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe’ is a testament to this achievement. Though the win was contested, the reconciliation of Germany and France, the fall of dictators in Greece, Portugal and Spain and the end of the cold war rhetoric — represented by the fall of the Berlin wall — has united Europeans, making the continent a relatively peaceful place.
Hate on the European agenda
However, the acceptance that united European citizens in the past has not been extended to the continent’s ethnic minorities. This is something that has been made extremely clear by far-right discourses dominating coverage of the upcoming European Parliamentary elections.
UKIP, Front National, Golden Dawn, the Danish People’s Party, Austria’s Freedom Party, the Netherlands Freedom Party, Hungary’s Jobbik… as the list grows, the discourse becomes more extreme; nationalism, eurosceptisim, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism, homophobia. Hate it seems, is dominating the political agenda in 2014.
Various polls have shown that it is these parties who are set to make big wins in the upcoming elections, due to their seeming ability to find solutions to the problems plaguing Europe’s disgruntled populations. This includes the continuing economic crises, unemployment and mass immigration — issues that mainstream parties appear powerless to deal with.
Worryingly, as parties appear to cater to populist concerns, it is again minorities who are, at best ignored and at worst, targeted as the cause of the majority’s problems.
The real minority: lack of representation for different ethnic groups
Europe is home to 60 million ethnic minorities, roughly 17% of the European Union’s population. According to 2010 European Statistics, 6.3% of EU residents were born outside Europe, with the largest groups in Germany (6.4 million), France (5.1 million), UK (4.7 million) Spain (4.1 million), Italy (3.2 million), and the Netherlands (1.4 million). The numbers have risen in the last four years and do not include second, third and fourth generations.
Despite the numbers, political representation of minority groups in the European Parliament is tiny. Out of the 766 current MEP’s, only 15 of them come from ethnic minority backgrounds. According to Michael Privot, Director of European Network Against Racism (ENAR), this is just not good enough:
“Basic representativeness would make us expect 17% of ethnic diversity individuals in any place, we’re far from it, especially at the highest power levels”.
Quotas won’t work
Increasing representation is not that simple. “I don’t think it’s as easy as just having a quota for the numbers of minorities,” said Louise Marlin, who is British, born in Sierra Leone, “I think maybe the way they [politicians] promote themselves or encourage a culture, which may persuade or inspire more people from minority groups and all groups to actually want to take the role”.
The ENAR have called on the European parliament to reach out to minorities and make them feel like accepted members of European society, whose concerns are being listened to. However, minority issues are still not present enough on the European agenda. “There is a lot of reluctance to deal with ethnic minorities and their issues, mainly because mainstream politicians are making wrong assumptions, in our views, of what European people want,” said Privot, “They are convinced that people don’t want diversity and inclusion, therefore, to avoid giving ammunitions to the far-right, they prefer not to deal with that issue for fear of being perceived as ‘migrant’ or ‘minority’ friendly.”
‘Go Home’ rhetoric in France: just one piece of the puzzle
The recent shake up of the French government is one of the many examples of mainstream parties in Europe feeling pressure to shift to the right. After the Socialists suffered a humiliating defeat in April’s local elections, François Hollande responded by appointing Mauel Valls as Prime Minister, despite (or due to) the fact that he is famous for calling for France’s Roma minority to ‘go home’, among other far-right rhetoric.
“The nomination of Manuel Valls is part of François Holland’s political strategy and it’s not surprising that he chose the most popular political personality at the time,” said French student Antoine Panaïté, “He has built his following on being a socialist who is not afraid to speak frankly about immigration issues that mirror those of the extreme-right. It will not change the country’s immigration policies but it is revealing of a France and of a Europe that is no longer scared of ambiguous discourse leaning toward xenophobia.”
Minorities: a missed gap in the political market?
However, according to Privot, mainstream parties are making a mistake appealing to right-wing support in order to gain votes. “There are much more potentially ethnic minority voters than supporters of the far-right, but obviously their concerns; equality, protection against discrimination and violence, access to goods and services are not taken on board or addressed sufficiently by candidates.”
The result of mainstreaming right-wing discourses seems to be creating artificial problems and further alienating minorities from mainstream politics. “I don’t like that there is a rise in […] anti immigration propaganda,” said Marlin, “I feel that immigration is just being used as a cause for all the problems, which is untrue.”
Austerity creates easy targets
Miten Patel, a British student of Indian decent also finds the situation depressing but not surprising, “this tends to happen when there is austerity,” he said, “Easy targets are hit rather than those who actually caused the problems. Anti-immigration views that are becoming the political mainstream can lead this xenophobia into wider racism towards minorities, regardless of whether they’re an immigrant or a citizen”.
Haunted by past hatred
Europe’s difficulty with accepting ethnic and religious minorities is not new and has resulted in disastrous consequences for the continent in the past. “Historically, European cultures have been unable to deal with ethnic and religious diversity other than by exclusion and eradication,” said Privot, “Although European countries have made strong efforts since WWII to correct this pattern, it’s for us not surprising, that 60 years after, they’re still searching their way.”
Whether the European political elite manages to improve ethnic minority representation remains to be seen, however there are other factors at play that will drastically change the face of European politics in the coming decades.
The unity of tomorrow
Minority and mixed-race people are the fastest growing demographic on the continent. According to a recent report by think tank Policy Exchange, nearly one in three people in the United Kingdom will come from ethnic minority backgrounds by 2050, a trend that will no doubt be replicated across the European Union.
We can be sure then that if the motto ‘Unity in Diversity’ does not represent the Europe of today, it will certainly represent the Europe of tomorrow.