Minority interests

Tackling Racism in Europe
August 16, 1996

In the run-up to the revision of the Treaty of Rome this is a timely mixture of academic and political work. It seeks to provide a critique of race relations law and policy and a comparison of the relevant domestic law in seven European Union member states.

Martin MacEwen believes that more attention should be paid to the "fragile and at times precarious social relationships in the more stable communities of western Europe". He advances a compelling attack on the myth that "European states were formed by the occupation of a particular geographical region by a single dominant cultural group". The label "immigrant" is becoming increasingly irrelevant, he says, because there is no ethnic homogeneity in Europe and most states were created by the merger of peoples from minorities. He provocatively argues that "while the majority of states are multicultural and have multiethnic populations, the organs of state and the ideologies that underpin them are monocultural", citing the religious intolerance within states and the historical enmity between Christians and Muslims.

MacEwen points out that minority groups are expected to assimilate so that their own ways of life do not clash with or threaten the legitimacy of those associated with national identity, that visible minorities are often identified as aliens irrespective of their national origin or current citizenship, the assumption being that a black person is more likely to be a non-national than a white person. Further, he argues that it is the perception of being different by reason of race that triggers discriminatory treatment.

The bulk of the work deals with the application of international obligations and comparisons between the different domestic laws. MacEwen concludes that insufficient pressure has been put on countries to become signatories to the various conventions. Similarly, he says there has been little pressure exerted to comply with these conventions and the reporting systems have proved far from onerous.

The book reports on a number of developments. The De Piccoli report on racism and xenophobia to the European Parliament in April 1993 called for action at a national level, the arguments being that the acknowledgement of rights to constitutional and international law requires action to remedy breaches caused by racism and xenophobia. In the single market racial discrimination will interfere with free movement of persons and services by preventing the victims from obtaining jobs, housing and services. Also, variations between the levels of protection will discourage minorities from moving to states where there is little or no protection and that prompt action is required for the proper functioning of the single market.

Interestingly, the author says that the extent of persistent discrimination in the seven member states justifies the conclusion that no regime has been successful in effecting a radical improvement in the position of visible minorities. He contrasts this experience with that of Northern Ireland, Canada and New Zealand where organisations are legally obliged to keep records and report to the state. In Europe, he claims, public and private organisations have demonstrated reluctance to keep and publish information that, although capable of showing them to be model employers, providers of housing, education or services, may equally demonstrate deficiencies in monitoring equal opportunity policies and changing them to ensure targets are set and met.

The EU, MacEwen believes, should make racial equality a primary concern and an antidiscriminatory directive is needed.

Christopher Boothman is legal director, Commission for Racial Equality.

Tackling Racism in Europe

Author - Martin MacEwen
ISBN - 1 85496 857 1 and 1 85973 047 7
Publisher - Berg
Price - £29.95 and £12.95
Pages - 223

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