Austerity in Europe: what impact on race equality?
By Klara Schmitz, research and policy analyst at the Runnymede Trust, member of UKREN, ENAR’s UK national coordination
25 May 2012 - Greek left-wing leader Alexis Tsipras has accused European leaders of “playing poker with European people’s lives”, by insisting on austerity measures, whilst David Cameron told French President François Hollande that austerity is working and “we are moving in the right direction”. Austerity has been the main prescription across Europe for dealing with the continent’s nearly three-year-old debt crisis, but what impact is it having on ethnic minorities and anti-racism work across the EU?
Back in 2010 Amnesty International’s Annual Report demonstrated that the economic downturn had led to a rise in racism and xenophobia in public discourse in Europe. Earlier in May, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), published their Annual Report claiming that the economic crisis was fuelling the rise of racism and intolerance in Europe. It said that the lack of economic opportunities and welfare cuts are pushing ethnic minorities into poverty, and feeding negative attitudes towards immigrants.
ECRI has recently reiterated its concerns about the persistence of racist violence across Europe, and the economic crisis is often seen to be fuelling fears among the general public that can lead to racist attacks on ethnic minorities and migrants. There has been a dramatic increase in the number of racist attacks in many countries, including Italy, Malta and Greece.
There is often a clear relationship between the availability of jobs and attitudes towards migration, with the rising competition in Europe’s labour market contributing to negative perceptions of migrants and the scapegoating of migrant workers.
A key feature of the current economic context has been the increase in unemployment rates across Europe, which was at 10.9% in March 2012, the highest it has ever been in the Eurozone. Ethnic minorities tend to have higher unemployment rates in comparison to their white counterparts, and evidence indicates that this period of economic turmoil is increasing these gaps.
In the UK, most minority ethnic groups have lower employment rates than white British people, and these ethnic penalties have worsened during the recession. Public sector cuts are also having a disproportional impact on the employment situation of ethnic minorities, especially Black African and Black Caribbean people, and women, who are more likely to be employed in the public sector.
In many European countries, financial cuts have had a negative effect on anti-discrimination efforts in several ways. Anti-racist measures are receiving less and less funding, if not being forced to cease in operation all together. There is a concern that reductions in financial support to anti-racist, equalities and human rights NGOs across Europe is likely to decrease activity to combat racism and xenophobia, at a time when this kind of work is needed more than ever. In some countries, including the UK, equality bodies have had their funding cut, reducing their capacity to continue their work to the same level.
The economic crisis has also shifted the political context, and is often given as a reason for the relative successes of far-right parties, with advocates of this view highlighting a correlation between economic hard times and the electoral success and public prominence of far-right parties. The success of far-right parties propagating xenophobic and racist sentiments has increased in recent years in many EU countries. In addition, the far right has in many cases managed to significantly influence the political mainstream, with mainstream politicians increasingly incorporating elements of far-right discourse into their own messaging, in order to court the right-wing electorate and win votes. Some of the most damaging features of far right discourse in relation to race equality include xenophobia, hostility to migrants, especially undocumented ones, the equation of immigration with insecurity, anti-Muslim and anti-Roma sentiments, nationalism, and more recently, Euroscepticism.
Although it is not always easy to measure the relationship between the economic crisis and levels of racism, it is clear that the austerity policies being pursued by many governments across the EU are having both direct and indirect impacts on ethnic minorities and anti-racist work. Given that many ethnic groups in Europe are more likely to live in poverty and be disadvantaged in comparison to the general population, as the economic crisis continues to exacerbate general inequality, ethnic minorities are likely to be disproportionately negatively affected by the economic crisis. Increasing levels of xenophobic discourse, racist violence, welfare cuts, rising unemployment, cuts to equalities NGOs and the rise of the far-right are particular areas of concern.
Given the disproportionate impact that the economic downturn is having on some of Europe’s ethnic minorities, European leaders should review the impacts of their austerity policies on ethnic minority and migrant groups, with a view to ensuring that the current economic crisis does not continue to worsen the outcomes of some of Europe’s most vulnerable communities. In addition, governments across Europe should avoid complacency over some forms of extremism and seek to counter the increasing social acceptance of xenophobic and racist discourse.
This blog post was first published on UKREN’s blog on 17 May 2012.