By Alia Shoaib
The recent European Parliament elections highlighted Brussels’ lack of diversity— a problem that will be greatly exacerbated by Britain’s expected departure from the EU.
Research from the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) found that BAME individuals made up less than three per cent of candidates on the election lists, despite making up 10 per cent of the population. By comparison, over a third of British candidates were of BAME backgrounds.
ENAR estimates that 30 BAME MEPs were elected in 2019, of which seven were from the UK. This means the European Parliament stands to lose nearly a third of its BAME members.
Until he lost his seat in the 2019 election, Syed Kamall was an MEP and chairman of the European Conservatives and Reformists group. Kamall is of Indo-Guyanese descent.
“I was the first ethnic-minority leader of any group in the European Parliament. It’ll be a long time before that happens again,” he said.
“If you want to see racial diversity, look at Strasbourg in the mornings, when you see the dark faces of cleaners leaving and all the white MEPs and officials arriving. That’s diversity in the EU.”
But rather than a diversity problem, he said the EU has a “complacency problem”.
While the EU’s 2017 Diversity and Inclusion Charter set out to improve representation of women, LGBTQ and disabled people, it made no mention of ethnic and racial diversity.
Unlike the UK, the EU adopts a “colour-blind” policy, which means institutions do not collect data on the ethnicity or racial origin of its employees.
According to Alfiaz Vaiya, coordinator of the European Parliament Anti-Racism and Diversity Intergroup: “I believe that you need data to acknowledge a problem and to realise the best ways forward in correcting the problem.”
He says one reason race-based data aren’t collected in some member states is, “given Europe’s past, there is this idea or thought that we shouldn’t collect data because of what happened in the Holocaust and the way that the Nazis used data collection”.
Vaiya said another factor is that some countries, like France, do not classify people by race or ethnicity.
“I wouldn’t say that the EU itself is racist but I would say it does have some blind spots when it comes to race, ethnicity and religion.”
While the effect of Brexit on the UK is discussed at length, the impact of Brexit on the EU is given less consideration.
According to Vaiya, the impact will be “huge”. “You’re going to lose that representation on issues like Islamophobia, anti-black racism, which the UK members have always been pushing.”
Kamall agrees: “The UK MEPs, those of us from ethnic-minority backgrounds, across the parties, were actually the ones who pushed the ethnic and racial diversity angle. And there’ll be fewer people doing that.”