The EU cannot afford to waste this historic opportunity to end structural racism

This is an opinion article by an external contributor. The views belong to the writer.

In the past, the political leadership unwillingness to coherently tackle structural racism was always clear.

The EU rarely put forward legislative or policy proposals to tackle racism. When they did,  it was with a legal and policy framework focused on singular, individual acts of discrimination or racist violence. For example, the only new policy on combatting racism put forward by the Commission was the code of conduct on tackling hate speech online and the only political action was the appointment of two civil servant coordinators on anti-Muslim hatred and antisemitism. 

At the time, the Commission also failed to speak out as anti-racist activists were being attacked and rarely engaged with all racialised communities.

It was clear the EU saw racism as an individualised phenomena, removed from their control. But racism is a structural issue, part of a system the EU built, that oppresses all racialised communities. 

It is a system originating from colonialism and an unfair unequal relationship of resource-extraction that keeps the Global South in poverty and accelerates the climate crisis.  

In Europe, too many have lost their lives because of racism: Adama Traore. Oury Jalloh. Sean Rigg. Anguel Anguelov. Sarah Reid. The 2 year old toddler Mawda Shawri killed by police in Belgium. Countless others who have died at the hands of the police, the immigration system, and due to austerity or disproportionate exposure to COVID. 

Structural racism is causing racialised people to feel heightened insecurity in their communities. Whether discrimination in healthcare, ongoing police violence and brutality and the criminalisation of migration and seeking asylum is threatening us on so many levels. 

Not only is this a vast threat to us, Racialised people in Europe often provide the backbone of many essential services, like healthcare. When we are not safe nor protected. This affects our entire society.

With the uprising of Black Lives Matter last year, Von Der Leyen’s response that structural racism existed in all aspects of European society, from law enforcement to housing, from education to migration felt historic. For the first time in two decades, the EU gave racial justice the attention it deserved by adopting the Anti-Racism Action Plan 2020-2025 (ARAP) and forming a position of the first EU Anti-Racism Coordinator to oversee the implementation.

It felt like an equinox- like the sun aligning with the Earth. For the first time I saw public protests for racial justice align with the EU’s political support. 

The Anti-Racism Summit – an opportunity to be seized

In this moment of immense potential, the adoption of the EU ARAP is a move in the right direction. But dismantling structural racism in Europe will require sustained political will far beyond the summer of 2020. 

The engrained nature of structural racism necessitates uncompromising commitment from the highest level of European Union  leadership over time. The President of the European Commission must include structural racism as a high-level priority in the European Commission policy agenda. This includes ensuring that EU member states develop and implement National Action Plans Against Racism to ensure political commitment to addressing structural racism with concrete, resourced measures.  

To practically implement the new commitments outlined in the ARAP, the European Commission must take significant steps to secure the requisite level of expertise on racial equality..

Once the infrastructure has been developed, racial equality has to be mainstreamed in all areas of EU policy – from the economy, to migration, security and counter-terrorism to climate and digital.

To bring effective and concrete change, the European Union must ensure adequate resourcing and expertise dedicated to racism. The underrepresentation of racialised people within EU institutions makes it even more crucial that the EU engages with civil society in a sustained and meaningful way. 

The European Union needs a new supportive and collaborative relationship with civil society. Anti-racist civil society must be incorporated not only in the design and in the design and development of legislation and policies, but as the main source of expertise on racial inequality. 

These commitments are absolutely necessary if we are to build back a resilient, truly inclusive Europe. 

We’re at a historic moment – the EU must seize it. 

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