Sounding the alarm against racism


Racism continues to be an expression of hatred that must be tackled across the globe. On the International Day against Racial Discrimination, the EU stresses once again its commitment to the elimination of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. But commitments need to be always translated in acts. That’s why the EU has called for an Anti-racism Summit, to build a truly anti-racist Union.


No country is unaffected, despite the progresses and the battles that many courageous women and men have fought and continue to fight. In the first half of the 1990s, the world witnessed the fall of the Apartheid regime. The end of a repressive structure, that segregated populations based on the colour of their skin, was celebrated more than 25 years ago. It set the definitive mark and sent the clear message that racism has no place.

Generations were born without the existence of such a regime, but expressions of racism are still present all around us. Systemic racism runs across all strands of society and structures and needs to be combatted.

As recently as last year, we witnessed the killing of George Floyd in the United States, victim of the excessive use of force by police. This is proof of the dramatic consequences of discrimination that racialized communities still feel in our days, even in developed democratic societies.                      

The COVID-19 crisis has created even more challenges to peaceful pluralism and non-discrimination. An increase in discrimination and intolerance has been seen, namely in episodes of hateful conspiracies scapegoating minorities for being responsible for the spread of the virus.

As stated by EU High Representative on behalf of the EU: “Racial discrimination can result in violence, harassment, hurdles to inclusion and discriminatory profiling. (…) The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the persistence of racism and discrimination in our societies and has further deepened pre-existing difficulties, sometimes increasing pressure on minorities.”

People of Asian and African descent, Muslims, Jewish and Roma people have all suffered from intolerance. Their experiences may vary from more or less explicit forms of racism and racial discrimination. However, it is clear that discriminatory behaviours can be embedded in social, financial and political institutions, perpetuating barriers placed in the way of people based on their racial or ethnic origin.


The EU is sounding once again the alarm against racism. The identification and study of racial discrimination are both needed to have a clearer understanding of its expression, give visibility and start the conversation.


In the 2018 report on Being black in the EU, 39% of people of African descent felt racially discriminated in the previous 5 years. The Second European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey (2017) shows that 41% of Roma people have felt discrimination. The same survey tells that 29% of racialized people felt discriminated at work, 23% when looking for housing, 22% when purchasing goods and services and 12% in the course of their education.


The EU launched the EU Anti-racism Action Plan 2020-2025 to step up its action. The EU has a comprehensive legislative framework against racism, racial discrimination and hate speech in place, such as Racial Equality Directive and Framework Decision. It is time to have even more concrete action. Last October, the European Commission also adopted a strengthened EU Roma Strategic Framework for Equality, Inclusion and Participation, to promote inclusion in the four sectoral policy areas of education, employment, healthcare and housing.

The organisation of the first European Anti-Racism Summit earlier this week also contributes to create a truly anti-racism Union.

Multilateral cooperation

EU High Representative Josep Borrell highlights that “the fight against racism needs sustained leadership and the engagement from all institutions. It also requires the mobilisation of us all, across all generations and all communities.”

A global phenomenon has to be tackled jointly. The EU sets an example by combating racism within the EU, but also by collaborating with key international, regional and bilateral partners towards a new revitalised approach to the anti-racism agenda. The EU Human Rights and Democracy Action Plan (2020-2024) aims to make anti-racism a key feature of our dialogue and cooperation with partner countries. The close permanent collaboration with UN is also key to expand the effects of actions taken in all corners of the world.

Supporting projects in collaboration with civil society

Civil society organisations play a key role in identifying discrimination and proposing programmes to combat it. The Rights, equality and citizenship programme has been established to provide resources to these projects.

It aims to promote the principle of non-discrimination on the grounds of sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation, as well as to prevent and combat racism, xenophobia, homophobia and other forms of intolerance.


Combating hate speech and disinformation

The undeniable impact of social media narratives on the growth of racial discrimination has also to be addressed. This need is recognised in the recently launched EU Anti-racism Action Plan 2020-2025.

Through the EU Code of conduct on countering online hate speech, signed in 2016, concrete actions have been set for those disseminating hate speech. This was possible in collaboration with major social media companies, such as Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. Today, hate speech content is reviewed and taken down more promptly, mostly within 24 hours after being flagged. This experience may help shaping similar initiatives in this and related fields.


The alarm is sounding and now is time to act in defense of tolerant and peaceful societies across the globe. All must take part to put an end to the scourge of racism.

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