Friday, 27 January 2012

The European Institutions: Multiculturalism homogenised?

Four months ago, as I gazed across the sea of faces at the opening conference of the Winter Traineeship, I was taken aback. Not by the considerable number of stagiaires sat in Flagey’s auditorium, but rather by the homogeneity of their appearance. In spite of their diverse origins, both within and outside of the European Union (EU), I could discern only one non-Caucasian among the crowd. Two days ago, while forcing down some overcooked vegetables in Charlemagne’s cafeteria, I casually undertook the same exercise. It would appear that the fonctionnaire community does not offer much more of cultural mosaic: I saw one black man.

In an institution that prides itself on its multicultural composition and whose very foundations are built on the union of different peoples, the visible lack of ethnic diversity at the European Commission (EC) is, for me, highly problematic. Indeed, the very perception of the EC as a multicultural organisation should be reconsidered. While it is certainly true that the EC recruits from 27 different countries, each state is almost invariably represented by individuals who fall into their country’s dominant ethnic group.

This is unrepresentative of the ethnically diverse Europe that we live in. More than 3 million Britons are of Indian origin; a large number of French citizens are of North Africa ethnicity; and the Netherlands has a large Turkish community. No European country is painted white, so why is the Commission and other European Institutions generally so?

It would seem that either European citizens from ethnic minorities are not applying for professional positions within the institutions, or they are not succeeding in passing the concours. While historically, the lower educational level of citizens from certain ethnic minorities would have impeded their ability to apply and succeed at the concours in the past, this is changing. Students of Indian background in the UK for example, constitute some of the highest achievers. As more is done on a national level to address historical educational disadvantages of ethnic minorities, the European Union has role to play in ensuring that the European institutions’ personnel reflect the demographic makeup of Europe today. In order to achieve this, the European Personnel Section Office’s (ESPO) must incentivise qualified individuals from ethnic minorities to apply.

While ESPO places ‘diversity’ among its six values, its adoption of a non-discriminatory recruitment process denies the possibility affirmative action schemes. Member states are strongly divided in their policy on positive discrimination in public sector recruitment. While the UK government runs a summer internship programme that only black and minority ethnic (BME) Britons may apply for, Slovakia’s Constitutional Court has declared that providing advantages for people of an ethnic or racial minority group is against its Constitution. EPSO’s hesitance to address the ethic imbalance in the European Institutions may therefore be explained, to a certain degree, by the vastly differing domestic approaches to positive discrimination.

Nevertheless, whether positive discrimination is employed or not, the case for a more heterogeneous European governance is clear. If the EU is to achieve its objective of ensuring the well-being of all European citizens as set out in the Lisbon Treaty, there must be representation of these citizens in key decision-making positions. It might benefit the EU to take a step back and remind itself of its own motto for a moment...

Unity in diversity.

By Sonia Jordan