13.8.14

What if...?

Opinion publiée sur la plateforme New Europe, le jour des élections européennes, le 25 mai 2014, où je tente d'explorer quelques futurs possibles de l'UE et la façon dont les gouvernants anticipent (ou pas!) une montée de la violence envers les minorités. Les questions resteront d'actualité pendant quelques temps encore.

Good governance is essentially about risk management, where all potential scenarios are mapped out and all options are taken into account, including total disaster. But what if it was about protecting ethnic minorities from a worst-case scenario?
ENAR – The European Network Against Racism, along with many other Human Rights organisations, has been drawing attention for many years to the dangers generated by the rise of far-right and xenophobic parties and affiliated groups in Europe. Dangers for the communities we support and defend: migrants as well as ethnic and religious minorities are among their primary targets – Roma in Slovakia, Czech Republic, Romania, but also UK and France; Black Europeans in Bulgaria, Poland; Jews in Hungary and Lithuania; Muslims in Germany, France… to name but a few.
Dangers for other minority communities such as LGBTQI, notably in Lithuania, but also for over half of our population: women. Beyond elusive discourses, many far-right parties support regressive measures with regard to women’s rights, such as bans on abortion, as is the case in France.
Dangers for the whole society: their toxic rhetoric has been adopted to various degrees by mainstream political parties, both on the right and left, trivializing their ideas and their approach, while the far-right has shamelessly plundered key leftist concepts. This has led to increasingly restrictive policies on migration, family reunification, citizenship acquisition; to delays in the implementation of anti-discrimination policies and rejection of any new legislation in the field; and to systemic resistance to even starting to make full equality a reality for communities facing discrimination such as the Roma.
Worryingly, far-right representation in the new European Parliament is set to increase. In particular if they become smart enough to go beyond their bigoted nationalism to constitute a political group that would be entitled to receive public money and to chair decision making committees. What if a far-right or neo-populist rightist advocate was to chair the civil liberties committee, in charge of all fundamental rights issues? Although s/he would probably face a majority opposition which would not let him/her go wild, this would considerably slow down any decision making process.
We are asking democratic political parties: what is your plan B if this scenario happens? We have many reasons to be concerned by the lack of reaction to far-right based toxic ideologies that we have noticed over the last 13 years. Can we still expect a European uproar similar to that which followed the election of Austrian far-right Jörg Haider in 2000 and led to the adoption of EU anti-discrimination legislation? The weak reactions to Jobbik’s recent strong performance in the national Hungarian elections are not particularly encouraging in this regard.
But much grimmer scenarios could be in store. Despite European institutions’ ecstatic state at the view of a few bleeps on the radar of growth, serious analysts that dare go beyond narrow ideological approaches keep ringing the alarm bells. The financial and economic crisis is not yet over – on the contrary, the worst might still lie ahead of us. What if there was an implosion of the Eurozone and a return to national currencies? What if there was massive social unrest due to the increasing impact of austerity measures over time – the break up point will be reached in Greece sooner or later? What if, following a Eurozone crash, there was a disorganised dismantlement of the EU under the pressure of Member States keen to quit the drowning boat – many Member States would have good reasons to do so, starting with Germany? In UK, the conversation has already started with Mr. Cameron’s promise to hold a referendum on the issue in 2015, should his party be re-elected. 
These scenarios are no longer mere fantasies. Anti-racists also have a tradition of looking into the past to draw lessons and inspirations for the future. Let’s be very blunt: European States have never been able to manage such a large scale crisis in the past. Last time something similar happened, millions of Jews, Roma, homosexuals and other so-called “Untermenschen” were massively exterminated. Scary perspective.
Lessons, indeed, have been drawn from this tragedy: a Human Rights framework, the European Union, social democracies. But this was a posteriori, when the damage had irreversibly been done. Twenty years ago, the genocide of Bosniacs barely triggered a consistent response from the EU. It happened not in an exotic place, but 2 hours flight away from Brussels, in what might turn out to become an EU Member State in a matter of years. 
What was the EU institutions’ response to the widespread racism faced by former Italian Minister Cécile Kyenge? It took months and 18 Ministers of the Interior to give birth to a shallow “European Pact against racism” without means nor teeth. Pure political and declaratory “blabla” without any intention of being implemented, the Pact will be buried under the dust of the European election campaign.
This leaves us little optimism on the protection that migrants and minority communities would receive from the EU and Member States in case of a system breakdown, a return to nation states and national currencies, in the midst of all the troubled political waters that this entails. Therefore, in this election period where minorities might hold the casting vote in many constituencies, we want to hear from EP candidates, but also their governments: How are you going to protect us in case things turn bad? We represent 12% of the people living in the EU, we are a key part of the social fabric and one of the driving forces of the European economy. We want to hear from you how you are going to protect us from sectarian, bigoted racist violence when everything breaks loose!

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