EU criticised for leaving out ethnic minorities in ‘diversity’ drive

European commission sets out goal to improve workplace for women and LGBT, disabled and older – but not BME – people.

The EU’s executive has been accused of being blind to black and minority ethnic communities after they failed to feature in a new “diversity” initiative to make the European commission’s senior posts more representative.

Under a new Diversity and Inclusion Charter – launched by the German commissioner, Günther Oettinger, who was accused last year of racism and homophobia – the commission has set as its goal the creation of “a better workplace for all – including women, staff with disabilities, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex (LGBTI) staff and older staff”. The commission announced a target of having at least 40% women in management by 2019.

In a letter to Jean-Claude Juncker, Syed Kamall, the Tory MEP who leads the European Conservatives and Reformists group in the European parliament, said he welcomed attempts to ensure the EU better represented those it served.

But Kamall added that he was “very concerned” by the failure of the commission to make mention of a need to “tackle the lack of ethnic and racial diversity within EU institutions”.

Every commissioner in Juncker’s cabinet, known as the college, is white. They are nominated by the member states but their appointments are approved by the European parliament.

Within the European parliament, of the 776 MEPs elected in 2014, fewer than 20 are thought to be from a minority ethnic background, although no official statistics are held.

“As a group leader in the European parliament, an institution whose motto is ‘united in diversity’, I find the lack of racial and ethnic diversity within the European institutions deeply concerning,” Kamall wrote to Juncker.

“Since I became an MEP in 2005, I have seen very little progress in terms of representation of the black and minority ethnic (BME) communities within the institutions, with representation of staff and members falling far below what is representative of BME communities in many of the member states which we represent … We need only look at the commission college, and amongst senior staff at the European commission, to see the lack of representation of officials from BME communities in our institutions.”

Kamall, a Muslim born in Islington, north London, who is of Indo-Guyanese descent, said he feared the UK’s exit from the EU in March 2019 would only reduce the representation of minority ethnic groups in Brussels.

“Whilst the UK may be leaving the European Union, my fear is that with its departure, we will see a far diminished BME representation here in the parliament and elsewhere in the European Union institutions,” he wrote. “We as institutions are best served by reflecting the diversity which exists in our own society. A diversity of views, religions, ethnicities, gender, and sexuality, increases tolerance, makes for more inclusive policy-making, and makes us more representative of our citizens.”

The failure to include mention of minority ethnic groups in the diversity initiative was said to be particularly concerning as the commissioner had spoken with the European parliament’s anti-racism and diversity group about its inclusion, it was claimed.

Alfiaz Vaiya, the campaign group’s coordinator, said: “We are surprised that the commission and commissioner have failed to include race, religion and belief in the initiative despite repeated assurances that they would be included.”

A commission spokesman said: “Based on the feedback we received, the new strategy focuses specifically on the four target groups. Naturally, diversity and inclusion goes beyond that and we are fully aware that, in a changing world, we have to adapt and do more to be representative of our society. After all, we want to remain an attractive and motivating place to work in for all members of our society.”

Earlier this year Oettinger was accused by rights groups, including Oxfam International, of being unfit to run the human resources portfolio in the commission because of his divisive record of racist, sexist and homophobic remarks.

Last year he was forced to apologise for referring to Chinese people as “slitty eyes” and making disparaging remarks about women, same-sex marriage and Belgian politicians in a speech.

After being criticised by a Chinese government spokesperson for “a baffling sense of superiority”, Oettinger admitted to not showing due respect. “I can now see that the words I used have created bad feelings and may even have hurt people. This was not my intention and I would like to apologise for any remark that was not as respectful as it should have been,” he said.