Yesterday, on 26th January, the European Parliament’s Anti-Racism and Diversity Intergroup (ARDI) was launched with an event on the theme “Together against racism.” The event was hosted by the members of ARDI, of which Jean is a Co-President, and guest speakers included Mr Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President of the European Commission, Mr Michael O’Flaherty, Director of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights as well as Ms Sarah Isal, Chair of the European Network Against Racism (ENAR).
At the launch, ARDI Co-President Cécile Kashetu Kyenge introduced ARDI’s political priorities and working groups for the 2014-2019 European Semester. Ms Kyenge also explained that the European Parliament showed its commitment to fighting racism by selecting ARDI as one of its 28 Intergroups and that this has been reinforced by ARDI having MEPs from almost all political groups who have come together to promote racial equality, counter racism, and educate about non-discrimination in the work of the European Parliament.
Jean spoke on the second discussion panel alongside Michael O’Flaherty and Clelia Bartoli, an Italian Human Rights University professor. Jean stressed that there is legislation which protects against racism and discrimination including on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. The problem is that this legislation is not being implemented in practice.
Documenting and monitoring racism and discrimination is crucial to highlighting and working towards eliminating this behaviour. However in the UK context, half of the money formerly assigned to the Equality and Human Rights Commission was cut back by the government. There are many positive examples in the EU of good practices, for example the work done in the UK education system against racism. Jean stressed that we need to acknowledge the inequality and discrimination that continues, but work together inside and outside of the European Parliament to end this continuing struggle.
During the different panels, other speakers stressed that racism and xenophobia are direct violations of the principles of democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law, principles upon which the European Union is founded and which are common to the Member States.
A significant part of the discussion focused on the particular gravity of the current situation in light of the terrorist attacks in 2015 and the so called “refugee crisis.” Many of the speakers alluded to the fact that these events have created new opportunities for xenophobic and racist groups (including some political parties) to push their own agenda.
A key theme throughout the event was the need for a strong political leadership and a holistic approach including Member States, EU institutions, agencies and civil society organisations to fighting racism and xenophobia.
First Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, said: “I really welcome ARDI. To truly tackle racism, we all need to speak out and confront uncomfortable truths. The group has an important role to play in promoting diversity and fighting dehumanisation.”
EU Fundamental Rights Agency Director, Michael O’Flaherty, said: “Racism remains persistent in our societies. This is particularly worrying as Europe grapples with the issues related to its growing diversity and migrants. The response by politicians can play a key role in combatting racism. That is why the launch of the Anti-Racism and Diversity Intergroup in the European Parliament is so important.”