Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

Racial representation in the European Parliament

A fascinating article in the Guardian today (not something that I’ve found myself saying much in the last few years…) – if primarily due to a statistic:

Of the European Parliament’s 785 MEPs – representing 492 million people from 27 countries – just 9 are not white.

To the UK’s credit, 5 of them are British (and one even has a blog) – but even that’s on the low side. Considering about 10% of the British population is non-white, there should be in the region of 8 non-white British MEPs (out of 78) to be representative of the population as a whole.

Now I’m not calling for affirmative action to artificially increase representation (that’d just be silly). Plus it should be noted that the new member states of Eastern Europe are generally speaking far more “white” in composition (while still being very ethnically diverse) than the former imperial powers of western Europe. On top of that, few aspiring politicians of whatever race would put the European Parliament at the top of their list of places to be elected to. Slightly above the local council, perhaps, but most politicians with ambition still aim for the national parliament (an EU issue to be discussed another day, perhaps…).

But even so – only 1.1% of MEPs being “non-white”? Though there may be no reliable figures on the racial composition of the EU (a bit of a taboo subject, it would seem), I’m pretty certain there must be more than 1% of Europeans who are “non-white”. The Guardian estimates 5% – in which case there should be 40 “non-white” MEPs (mostly, I’d guess, from Britain, France, Germany and the Netherlands).

Then again, women are hardly doing much better in terms of representation, and no one has a clue about the true number of gay politicians thanks to the continued difficulty of coming out (cf. Simon Hughes). Plus this isn’t just a European Parliament issue: the representation of women and ethnic minority MPs in Westminster is still way below what it should be were the House of Commons to reflect the demographic makeup of the country as a whole.

Of course, whether or not you really need ethnic minority or female elected representatives in order to represent the views of female and ethnic minority constituents is another matter entirely. But still… Poor show.

13 Comments

  1. Now, bear in mind that in terms of statistics, 5 instead of 8 is not a significant difference when taken from a single time. It would be more interesting to look at how much the number has differed from the expectation over time.

    Another interesting statistic would be how this compares with participation in politics by non-white britons, based on party membership, and candidacy in the various institutions.

  2. It is an interesting article, written from a very UK perspective. Above all the issue is quite simple: the EU is so completely obsessed about getting nationality balance right that other issues are largely forgotten. If you looked at the backgrounds of employees of the EU institutions it would be just as bad.

    The problem with the 2 Labour MEPs from ethnic minorities (Moraes and Gill) is that neither of them are especially effective or committed MEPs, meaning they are not best placed to really help deal with these issues.

  3. You should have seen Giscard's Convention discussing the Constitutional Treaty. Was that not 100% white? I seem to remember it was…

  4. Plus it should be noted that the new member states of Eastern Europe are generally speaking far more “white” in composition (while still being very ethnically diverse) than the former imperial powers of western Europe.

    Despite comprising between 5-10% of the population in most of the *new* EU, there is only one Roma MEP.

  5. Marcin – true, but I get the impression that there wouldn't be that much difference, sadly…

    Jon – also true. There are far too many fundamental problems of structure and focus for the EU to cope with for ethnic representation to be of much concern at this stage. The fact that the European Parliament has been largely powerless until recent years (and still doesn't have quite the weight of influence amongst the EU institutions that the one democratic part of the thing should do) means that there are some fairly valid excuses for the lack of representative representation. But even so…

    Bondwoman – again true. They had enough trouble keeping all the different nationalities happy without chucking different ethnicities into the mix as well, I'd imagine.

    Paul – Two, supposedly. Part of the problem with the Roma population, I'd imagine, is that their economic status is (generally speaking) even worse than that of the more immediately obvious ethnic minorities. Without money it's hard to get anywhere in politics – less so in Europe than in the US, perhaps, but still. (One of the benefits of the power of the Unions over the Labour party in the UK – at least in the old days – was the potential for working class types to get in to politics, I'd say… Whether that outweighed the disadvantages or not, I have no idea…)

  6. i might be wrong, but i seem to remember that here in the UK for European Elections you don't need to be a british citizen while, for example, in Italy every election requires citizenship. which means that a good 5% at least of people living in Italy dont get to vote. get, among other things, might explain why there is no non-white Italian MEP. And I would think that in the majority of EU countries citizenship is a requirement.

  7. The key different, @yucca, is the UK uses the same franchise for EP elections as it does for Westminster elections, which includes Commonwealth citizens. Also, Commonwealth citizens can stand for election. The UK really has a peculiar system for defining its electorate. That might be the best place to put a plug for my new book. Nosemonkey, hope you don't mind: http://www.cambridge.org/uk/catalogue/catalogue.a

  8. bondwoman, it looks like we are at the same university:)

    thanks for that

  9. Just to be clear, in every EU country, unless I am very much mistaken, it is a requirement of EU law that every resident EU citizen is allowed to register to vote in EU elections. I'm sure that Bondwoman can correct me if I'm wrong.

  10. Isn't the Eu parliament district based?

  11. This is a slippery path you are on ie quotas. If you apply it to athletics and football you will find non whites over represented. Leave well alone.

  12. Jon – how is pointing out that there is a lack of genuine representation in a representative chamber even close to advocating quotas (especially as I specifically dismissed affirmative action as silly), and what do football and athletics (where people are picked on ability) have to do with representative democracy in any case?

  13. Well done Marcin Tustin! I saw the use of stats in the main article and thought I would comment on it. But no need you had got their first and done an excellent Job.