As we gear up for 2019, Europe needs more talent and some colour

Frankly Speaking

Picture of Shada Islam
Shada Islam

Managing Director at New Horizons Project

As the jostling for jobs and nominations gathers momentum ahead of next year’s change of guard at the European Union institutions, it’s time to start walking the talk on building a truly diverse and inclusive Europe.

The EU’s management machines no longer represent the reality of Europe’s increasingly vibrant, diverse, multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-racial societies.

Some very smart people work at the EU institutions. And the bureaucracy’s belated focus on promoting women may finally change the EU’s image as a bastion of male power.

But Europe needs more talent. To grow, thrive and flourish in a fast-changing world, it needs to draw on the skills, knowledge and expertise of all its citizens, not just the small minority who hold sway at the moment.

Europe can only reconnect with its citizens, inspire and motivate them, make them part of the conversation, if those who work for the institutions look like the societies they represent.

While sanctions and lawsuits against racists may be necessary, EU officials would be more effective in countering the toxic narrative of populists and illiberals – including the tediously repetitive diatribes of Hungary’s Viktor Orbán and his friends – if they practiced what they preached on diversity and openness.

Britain is about the only country which has sent a significant number of non-white persons to the European Commission

Also, if Europe is to recreate and re-invent itself, become a more energetic and dynamic 21st Century power capable of holding its own against rising China and India, it will have to use the talents of all its citizens, regardless of their colour, race or ethnic origin.

Sadly, once Britain leaves the EU in March next year, the bloc’s Brussels-based institutions will become even less racially diverse and more boringly monochrome than they are at the moment.

The reason? Britain is about the only country which has sent a significant number of non-white persons to the European Commission, the European Parliament and other institutions. The European Parliament at last count had 17 ethnic minority parliamentarians out of a total of 751, around half of whom were British.

The EU does talk a great deal – a very great deal – about diversity. The bloc’s motto, in fact, is “unity in diversity” and of course the 28 countries are different from each other.

For many, this diversity has so far been good enough. Encouragingly, diversity now also means gender equality.

Women’s groups are demanding equal representation, equal pay and an equal voice in the debates on Europe. All male panels at conferences are becoming rarer. For those looking outside the pool of male pundits, the Brussels Binder provides the names of female experts on a range of issues.

The EU’s new “Diversity and Inclusion Charter” promises fresh action to reach at least 40% women in its management by 1 November 2019. The focus is rightly on creating a better workplace for all – including women, staff with disabilities, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual and Intersex (LGBTI) staff and older staff.

Shockingly, there is no mention of ethnic minorities and their rights to equal treatment. No one buys the old argument that it is difficult and/or unethical to collect data on the racial or ethnic backgrounds of people – or that the EU institutions are in fact colour-blind.

European political parties must identify and support women candidates and people from different racial, religious backgrounds

Still, there is hope. As demonstrated by the recent “Black Europe” events held at the European Parliament, Europeans of African descent, estimated to number 15 million, are demanding their rights as full-fledged European citizens. Demands to be included in the European conversation are also being made by European Muslims, Jews, Roma and other minorities.

It’s time for action. In the warm-up for the 2019 polls, European political parties must identify and support women candidates and people from different racial, religious backgrounds. The European Commission and other EU institutions must actively look for talent beyond the usual white male suspects.

If the EU is to have any credibility on the issues of diversity and equality it must start changing the way it recruits, thinks and acts. Affirmative action should be considered to encourage minorities to take part in the EU conversation.

The amazing Meghan Markle is proof that it is possible to update even the most tradition-bound institutions. With the new Duchess of Sussex in its midst, the House of Windsor suddenly looks modern, accessible and diverse.

The EU must also end the “same old, same old” pattern of yesteryears and finally put its house in order.

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