Preparing for the aftermath of the EU: an anti-racist perspective

By Michaël Privot, Director of the European Network Against Racism

With Brexit, the rise of the far right and the financial crisis many have signaled a potential end of the European Union. ENAR Director Michaël Privot discusses the implications and the impact of the end of the EU on minorities. Privot looks at how we as equality activists can work to protect the rights of minorities and to create a better Europe, with or without the EU.

A few years back, I would never have thought this to ever be possible: thinking seriously about the future of ethnic and religious minorities in the aftermath of the European Union.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker had pompously declared in his inauguration speech in 2014 that this was the “last chance Commission” to bring the EU closer to its citizens. As its mandate is nearing mid-point, Team Juncker has brought forward nothing more than a plan to cut down roaming fees for smartphone users – a measure that concerns only an extremely small number of mobile EU citizens, when the 25% of EU citizens living below or just at the level of the poverty line barely move beyond the limits of their neighbourhood. In the meantime, we got Brexit; we got the Dutch referendum against deepening our partnership with Ukraine; we got an Austrian President elected with only a few percent more than a far-right candidate; the entire Greek population was put under financial control; thousands of our children are leaving to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) with some coming back and perpetrating terrorist attacks in Europe; we are facing a crisis in the welcoming of refugees with a collective inability to share resources and uphold our values; and we even got German Commissioner Oettinger uttering racist remarks, without any public eyebrow lifting from his colleagues – so much for European values. Not to mention more global issues which have an impact on Europe: ongoing slowdown of the global trade of goods, climate change, wars for the control of energy resources with the massive population shifts and the ongoing poverty it generates, etc.

Anti-racists, equality activists, minority and migrant communities cannot afford to wait for the final countdown to proactively give some thoughts to the challenge of a fading or crumbling European Union

Whenever citizens now have an opportunity to say a word about the European Union, whatever the issue at stake may be, they will make sure to send the signal that “enough is enough”. As most mainstream parties are unable to articulate policy paradigm shifts that would demonstrate that they have not just “heard the people”, but have decided to address their concerns, the “radical political space of contestation” is currently only filled by the far-right or populist right parties and their toxic narratives. Worse, more often than not, in clearly demagogical moves, representatives of mainstream parties and EU Institutions are quick to lump together far-right anti-democratic narratives and any criticism of EU policies, to better dismiss them.

As an insider of the EU bubble, I have witnessed so many times that there are some sacrosanct policies one should best not question at the risk of being considered irrelevant by one’s interlocutors. So many of them are indeed convinced of the Truth of their economic governance dogmas. However, without being an anti-European, anti-democratic, ultra-nationalist fascist lunatic, there is more than legitimate ground to question the relevance of the Euro, of austerity policies, of the (lack of) industrial policies, of the independence of the European Central Bank, of the (lack of) common fiscal and social harmonisation policies, of the undemocratic nature of the current institutional setting where the European Parliament remains a political dwarf with little power, of the overwhelming weight of the Member States preventing the development of any progressive policies, of the variable ways in which the European Commission chooses to compel Member States to implement community legislation (in particular in the field of equality, a so-called core value of the EU), of the way the Common Agricultural Policy has long been industry driven rather than designed to ensure the food self-sufficiency of our population on the basis of healthy and sustainable food production. And the list could go on and on…

The strength of the dominant narrative about the European Union is to have out-casted and delegitimised any criticism of the European integration process as proto-fascist. As a result, many in the bubble have become unable to even consider that the project that they have been working on so hard for so many years, might just not produce sound and rational policies, but simply be another ideology, which, like many others, fails by being systematized and pushed towards its limits. However, acknowledging such a massive debacle takes a while, and denial – coupled with the drive to protect vested class interests – remains the easiest option. We are now seeing the consequences of this: galvanised by the recent victory of Donald Trump, ultra-nationalists and the populist right are convinced that they will be making history and that their future is promisingly golden.

And it is probably true as no radical change of track seems to be in the pipeline, with the prospect of the next financial crisis that may very well bring the EU - to its knees once and for all – but without any certainty that the outcome will be progressive and equality friendly.

That is why anti-racists, equality activists, minority and migrant communities cannot afford to wait for the final countdown to proactively give some thoughts to the challenge of a fading or crumbling European Union.

Whatever the scenario, everyone will feel the pain, but some groups might feel it more than others, in particular ethnic and religious minorities and migrants.

Let’s reassure ourselves: the end of the European Union is not the end of the world or of history. On the next day, the sun will rise as it has for the last 4 billion years and large parts of our lives might not be hampered by this event. Some might even improve, depending on the scenario. Of course, in the current context, exits driven by ultra-nationalist or populist right decision makers are more likely to happen than by progressive forces. Some possible options could be: a) A slow but systematic dismantlement of the EU; b) A rapid and disordered dismantlement; c) A sudden and anarchical dismantlement following, for example, the collapse of one or two systemic banks.

Whatever the scenario, everyone will feel the pain, but some groups might feel it more than others, in particular ethnic and religious minorities and migrants. The economic impact will be broad and concern everybody, from a total shortage of cash within two days in case of banking meltdown and a return to barter economy, to massive inflation, sizeable loss of purchasing power, shortage of food and bare necessities… until everything comes back to "normal", hoping that no one will seek to take advantage of this chaos to impose “old school” dictatorial governance to restore the interest of the wealthiest, protect property and bring back order. In any case, the weakest economically will suffer the most. But contrary to past experiences where a sizeable portion of the population lived in rural areas and had some means of survival through growing vegetables and breeding some chicken and rabbits, more than 90% of the European population now lives in urban areas with no connection whatsoever to farming. The pain of the food shortage will therefore be more acute and widespread.

But such a doomsday scenario will not only be economic. Looking at the disregard for the Rule of Law and Human Rights standards displayed by current decision makers from the populist right corner (Poland, Hungary, Belgium with the NVA), one can expect the suspension or removal of rights of various minorities, an increased securitization and probably militarization of society, harassment of minorities, double penalty, removal of citizenship, downsizing of the freedom of press, systematic shrinking of the civil society space, intimidation of civil rights activists, increased border controls, refusal to prosecute hate crime and hate speech perpetrators… On all those fronts, ethnic and religious minorities, migrants, women, LGBTQI communities and many others will be more impacted than the rest of the population, with potentially dire effects on the social fabric: massive exclusion, violence, poverty, expropriation, etc.

What can we do?

Firstly, we can start taking such options seriously and map their potential consequences, which we hope this ENARgy edition will contribute to.

Secondly, we can consider the implications in terms of advocacy, coalition building among progressives at national level, development of protective measures for minority communities and individuals, changes in national legislation, political engagement… The field is huge and all actions will not be covered, as all the more reason to continue engaging with the current setting at all levels, but we have to plant some seeds in order not to be surprised in case such a scenario happens and have at least some elements of answers ready.

And thirdly, think outside the box to already start rebuilding Europe: the European Union and the Eurozone are not the one and only modality of “making Europe”: we can build together – and I would love it so much – a Europe of research and development, a Europe of sustainable energy, a Europe of minimum income or even of harmonised universal salary, a Europe of upward fiscal and social harmonisation, a Europe of organic and sustainable agriculture, a Europe of sciences and patrimony, etc.

This is a common challenge for all progressives. Now more than ever, it is time to prepare for the worse and keep hoping for the best.


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