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"Black" Politics in a Multicultural Europe

Terri E. Givens





Although race has often been at the center of policy debates in the United States, Americans rarely think of Europe as a place where race is an issue. Judging from the legal architecture of the European Union (EU), it would appear that, until recently, Europeans thought the same. For example, it was not until 1999, with the Treaty of Amsterdam, that the European Council empowered the European Commission to "take appropriate action to combat discrimination" based upon "racial or ethnic origin," among other grounds. That lacuna is striking considering that the EU was itself "born out of a conflict based on ethnic hatred" (Bell 1998: 5) and that it has long been concerned with issues of sex discrimination. Appearances, however, can be deceiving. In fact, issues of race, racism, and racial discrimination have been important in the decades since World War II due to a continuing influx of culturally and racially diverse immigrants and to the political reaction to that demographic change.

In June 2000, only thirteen months after the Treaty of Amsterdam was ratified‑record speed for the EU‑the European Council unanimously adopted the Racial Equality Directive (RED), which required the adoption of national legal protections against racial discrimination by July of 2003. With that, race was finally placed on the EU's center stage.

The study of race politics in Europe is inextricably bound with immigration. The growth of ethnic minority groups in the last 50 years in Europe is directly related to immigration flows. These flows are dependent on colonial histories, and the nature of the work forces recruited in the post-war economic boom. These flows are also related to economic factors and asylum policies. What is consistent across all of these countries, however, is the fact that they are or have become multi-ethnic and multiculturalism has become the catchword for attempting to integrate these groups into societies that may be resistant to their inclusion. It is important to note that new arrivals are not the only targets of discrimination. Many ethnic groups have lived in these countries for generations and are well integrated into society.

Europeans of African descent are regular targets of discrimination, but are often ignored as subjects of inquiry by political scientists outside of the United Kingdom. This paper will examine how issues such as the RED make their way onto the political agenda. Are “Black” Europeans playing much of a role in determining the nature of anti-discrimination policies or are they such recent migrants that they have yet to develop a political voice? Are there other groups which have played more of a role? Does the size of the different ethnic groups matter? One of the main differences between Europe and the U.S. is that race policy has been much more elite driven in Europe. Immigrants and ethnic minorities haven=t played as much of a role in pushing for policy as African-Americans did in the civil rights movement. Is this another manifestation of the democratic deficit in Europe? What are the implications for race policy in Europe?

This paper is part of a larger book project on the politics of race in Europe. This project will examine the nature of race politics in France, Germany and the United Kingdom. The book pays special attention to the politics surrounding the adoption and implementation of the EU’s Racial Equality Directive.

I am an African-American Political Scientist at the University of Texas at Austin, and I am very interested in attending the conference on Black European Studies in Mainz in November. I have been studying the politics of immigration and race in Germany, France, Austria and Denmark for many years and more recently in the UK .
The questions I am interested in include:

  • What is the relationship of Black Europeans to other ethnic minorities in Europe (including national minorities)?

  • How have the politics of race in individual countries influenced the participation and representation of Black Europeans, (including issues related to citizenship and integration regimes)?

  • What is their relationship to the African diaspora in the U.S. and how can the literatures on race (and immigration) speak to one another (particularly in political science)?


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