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Speech by President von der Leyen at the European Anti-Racism Summit

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op vrijdag 19 maart 2021.

Distinguished guests,

ladies and gentlemen,

Dear friends,

Racism is around us, in our societies. It doesn't always make the headlines. But it is there.

It makes some people's life an uphill battle. It feeds frustration and despair. It can scar a young person for life. We are surrounded by stories of racism, even if we don't always see them.

Two people apply for the same job. They have: the same education, the same work experience, the same dreams. But only one of them gets an interview. Why? Because the other one is black, or has an Arabic name.

Racism is among us. It's in the racial slurs against black footballers. It's in the discrimination against people of Roma descent. It's in the conspiracy theories against Jews. It's in the violence and the mistrust against migrants and refugees.

Racism is in our streets, in our workplaces, and at times even in our institutions. Sometimes, it's within us, in the way we think, even if we don't realise it.

But I know we can be better than this. Europe must be better than this.

In the founding Treaties of our Union, we made a promise to one another. We promised to fight against discrimination in Europe. And to fight for true equality among everyone who shares this common home.

I believe in this promise.

It is for this reason that last year the Commission adopted the first ever EU Anti-racism Action Plan.

We were inspired by the many Europeans who took to the street, shouting that “black lives matter”, here in Europe too.

“Black Lives Matter” was a call for action. It made us look in the mirror, and reflect about who we are, and who we want to be as a community of free people. That's when we decided to come up with the EU Anti-racism Action Plan.

It brings our policies against racism to the next level, mobilising all tools at our disposal. We are stepping up action, not only with better rules, but with European funding, with police cooperation, with our education policy, with external action and much more.

A first step was to organise the first ever European Anti-Racism Summit. Today's event.

Because we must keep talking about racism in Europe. We must hear from the people and the associations working on the ground, every day, so that everyone in Europe enjoys the same rights and opportunities.

We must join forces among European institutions, with Member States, with police forces, with trade unions and business associations, and with civil society. We must understand together the many forms that racism takes - at the workplace and in our streets, online and offline, and within our institutions. We must find the right means to tackle each one of them.

This is why we are all here today, on the eve of the International Day against Racial Discrimination. And from now on, we will mark this date every year. It must be an occasion to think critically about our shortcomings, but also to focus on how we cherish diversity, and how people of different backgrounds contribute to the daily life of European communities. Because knowledge is the foundation of change.

This summit should be the beginning of a common path. A path of constant dialogue and engagement with all of you who have joined us today. This will be the job of our new anti-racism coordinator, who will be appointed shortly.

The anti-racism coordinator will bring the voices of people of colour, of ethnic minorities, of first and second generation Europeans to the core of the European institutions. The coordinator will bring together civil society, governments, associations, unions … Anyone who can contribute to building a life free from racism and discrimination.

I want the Commission to lead by the power of our example. And for this, we must bring Europe's amazing diversity into our civil service. Last month, the European institutions concluded the first pilot survey on diversity among all the people who applied for a job in our services.

And we were positively surprised by the high number of people who decided to take part in the survey. This will allow us to understand whether we are truly open to people from all ethnic backgrounds.

Our institutions work for all Europeans. And they must be equally accessible to everyone who has the right skills and a passion for Europe.

These are steps that we are taking here in Brussels, within the European institutions.

But the fight against racism needs everyone's contribution, well beyond Brussels, in all Member States and all across Europe. When we presented our Anti-racism Action Plan, we asked all Member States to do the same.

And today, we are holding the first meeting with the 27, to check the state of play in every country. Our goal is that all Member States have a national action plan against racism by the end of next year. Because none of us is immune, and all have to take responsibility.

We need to send a strong message against racism all across our Union. Including, when necessary, by means of criminal law. It's plain and simple. In our Union, using race and colour as a slur is not free speech. It is a criminal offence.

This is European law, which Member States must transpose - in full - in their national legislation. I couldn't take this more seriously. In the last months, we have launched seven infringement proceedings against Member States that still need to take action.

After World War Two, the founders of our Union promised that “never again” racism would tear our continent apart. Anti-racism is a founding principle of our Union. And it is a red thread running through seventy years of history. In the late nineties, eighty thousand European students were asked to choose a motto for our Union.

And after a long selection process, they came up with “unity in diversity”. It was just perfect. In just three words, they summed up our Union's raison d'etre, and our greatest aspiration. Our starting point and our destination.

Today, Europe is way more diverse than it was seventy years ago. We are a Union of 27 countries and countless nationalities. We are people of all skin colours. We are people of all faiths and none. Now more than ever, unity requires that we reject racism and embrace our differences. And this is already happening, in communities all across Europe.

Later this year, we will launch a new annual prize for the European capital of diversity and inclusion. It will put a spotlight on cities where people are united by a shared sense of belonging, beyond colour and ethnic background.

It's a small gesture, to remind ourselves that in some places an anti-racist Europe is already reality. It's reality in the Covid wings of our hospitals, where doctors from migrant backgrounds are working alongside their native European colleagues.

It's a reality in our primary schools, where our children simply don't care about their friend's skin colour. They are united in diversity. They are the face of an anti-racist Europe. This is the kind of Europe we want to build. This is the mission that brings us here today.

Making good on Europe's promise, for all Europeans.

Thank you!

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