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Tackling racism at the EU level

October 25, 2016

Despite the reported existence of the KKK in Germany, the white supremacist group remains rather limited in Europe. But in the wake of the refugee crisis, racism - particularly against black Europeans - is on the rise.

African origin migrant who tried to go to European countries illegally are seen after being caught in Tripoli, Libya
Image: picture-alliance/AA/H. Turkia

On Tuesday, the German daily "Süddeutsche Zeitung" reported that German authorities had uncovered four active Ku Klux Klan groups operating in the country, following a parliamentary inquiry submitted by the Left Party.

However, according to officials, membership in the white supremacist group is "very low" in Germany and the movement remains a "fringe phenomenon."

members of the Ku Klux Klan participate in cross burnings
The Ku Klux Klan was founded in the US in the 19th centuryImage: Picture-Alliance/AP Photo/J. Bazemore

To find out how widespread the group and racist behavior is in Europe, DW spoke with Juliana Wahlgren, an activist with the European Network Against Racism, in Brussels.

DW: How prevalent are groups like the KKK in Europe?

Juliana Wahlgren: It's very difficult to classify all the groups with one profile. What you do have [in Europe] are common principles, like the question of populist discourse, the question of nativism, which is a mix of nationalism and xenophobia. If you tick those boxes, then of course you're going to find some close connections between the KKK and the far-right groups in Europe.

And by far-right groups, you're talking about movements like the anti-Islam, anti-immigration group PEGIDA in Germany?

Exactly. And although we haven't seen any significant increase in affiliation to political parties promoting extreme populist discourse, there has been a manifestation of racism representing the ideas of these political parties.  It's a kind of entitlement to discriminate that goes beyond political thinking, that goes beyond political representation, beyond an affiliation to a group, and that is much more dangerous than just the presence of the group itself.

In its report on Afrophobia in Europe, released earlier this year,  ENAR said that as a result of the refugee crisis, "black migrants…and black Europeans are reportedly suffering an increase in violent hatred and discrimination across all stages of life."

It's widespread, a European trend. There has been a rise in racist attacks and hate crimes against migrants, and also people perceived as migrants. And it has affected ethnic minorities [already living in] member states. For example, a European citizen who looks like a migrant could be attacked based on the assumption that [he or she] is a migrant.

Racism manifests itself in more of a direct form of discrimination - violent attacks, arson, for example. But discrimination is also institutional - via ethnic or racial profiling, via police violence, or discrimination in the labor market. The institutions are themselves a second layer of discrimination, simply because people belong to an ethnic group, or a minority group.

But it's not just access of the labor market, it's also long-term career progression. There is a glass ceiling effect when it comes to ethnic minorities. It has been proven that ethnic minorities tend to earn less then other European citizens. So it's not only the recruitment phase but also throughout the career where we see a lot of inconsistencies, a lot of gaps and a lot of challenges.

Legislation and policies against discrimination already exist at the European level, but ENAR believes the EU still has work to do when it comes to a specific policy to address racial inequality and discrimination experienced exclusively by black people. Why?

Each category of ethnic group or religious group should have a framework specific for its minorities. Why? Because people don't face discrimination in the same way. The way a Muslim is discriminated against is not the same way a black person is discriminated against. People are not discriminated in the same way, and the consequences and what a person can do to seek protection is also different. Each manifestation of racism, and how it impacts a person, requires a different set of policies, rights and protections. Right now, it's all very mainstreamed but we don't have set of rights and policies that protect each ethnic minority from the discrimination they are facing in their current life.

Burned out migrant home
Violence against migrants has increased in Germany, like this arson attack at a refugee home in TröglitzImage: picture-alliance/dpa/J.Woitas

Has there been any move at the European level to develop a framework specifically for black Europeans, and all the other minority groups?

There is precedent in Europe based on the Roma strategy. We see this model as a positive action, a best practice that could be transposed to other ethnic minorities and groups. It's a policy framework with guidelines, funding and an action plan that member states are required to apply. But for the moment, there is no other move to develop other frameworks.

Today, there is openness to debate, there is recognition of the manifestations of racism, a political will to classify Afrophobia as Afrophobia, anti-Semitism as anti-Semitism, to classify each form of racism as it its own form of discrimination. But what's still missing is the next step: how we produce policies and plans to tackle it at the national and European level.

Juliana Wahlgren (@Juwahl) is a human rights activist and senior advocacy officer at the European Network Against Racism (ENAR), based in Brussels. Before joining ENAR, she worked as a legal counselor for ASTI, an association that supports immigrant workers, in Luxembourg.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Martin Kuebler Senior editor and reporter living in Brussels, with a focus on environmental issues