Minorities still lack a strong voice in new European Parliament

June 12, 2019

By Daphne Psaledakis

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Ethnic and racial minorities make up at least 10% of the EU’s population but will hold just 5% of seats in the new European Parliament, leaving them under-represented at a time when nationalism, far-right rhetoric and hate speech is on the rise, rights advocates say.

Minorities will hold just 36 seats in the 751-strong EU assembly following last month’s elections, the European Network Against Racism noted.

The risk of under-representation is that “policy coming out of the European Parliament is very much less reflective of ethnic minorities or migrants because they’re not directly… there”, said Sarah Chander, senior advocacy officer at the network.

Top EU jobs – including that of the head of the European Parliament – are now up for grabs following the bloc-wide vote. While the EU has for the first time set itself a target of achieving gender parity in the most prominent roles, no such call has been made for representation of ethnic and racial minorities.

Lack of diversity in EU institutions has been highlighted over the years by the #brusselssowhite Twitter campaign https://twitter.com/hashtag/BrusselsSoWhite?src=hash.

The bloc’s executive has never had a person of color as a European Commissioner, nor have the top positions of the Parliament or Council. The vast majority of the outgoing European Parliament, which votes on EU laws and has a say in the bloc’s policies, is also white. The new assembly, serving from 2019-24, will be only slightly more diverse.

The number of black women in the assembly is expected to increase to six from just one in the last mandate, Chander said.

Representation of Europe’s biggest minority, the Roma, has dropped, however. Only three Roma members were elected last month while five served in the last mandate. An estimated 6 million Roma live in the EU.

The total percentage of new minority lawmakers will also fall to 4% when UK lawmakers leave after Britain’s expected departure from the EU, the network’s analysis found.

The network attributes the underrepresentation of minorities to a number of factors, including structural racism and exclusion, a failure by parties to elevate minority candidates to the top of their lists, discrimination in voting and a low number of ethnic minority candidates.

Many EU countries, including France, as well as the European Commission do not collect official data on race, making assessing diversity more difficult, Chander said.

“There’s still quite a long way to go before either the European Parliament or indeed any of our national parliaments really can claim to be in a place where they are truly representative,” said Sajjad Karim, a Briton whose parents emigrated from Pakistan to the UK. Karim served in the past three parliaments but was not reelected.

The small representation of minorities does not speak with one political voice: in the new assembly 17 were elected from left-leaning parties, eight from liberal and 11 from right-wing groups.

(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by Gabriela Baczynska and Frances Kerry)

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