The diversity deficit in the European parliament is undermining its legitimacy

by Robbie Scot

Before the Labour party begins selecting candidates for the European elections in 2014 a serious effort needs to be made to attract candidates from ethnic minority backgrounds. The chronic under-representation of ethnic minorities in the EU parliament has reached such a height that it casts serious doubt on the ability of the chamber to properly represent voters.

The UK sends 72 MEPs to Brussels and Strasbourg; four come from ethnic minority backgrounds. Out of 736 MEPs 15 of them come from ethnic minority backgrounds.  We could squeeze them all onto a minibus.

At a time when the BRICS are the fastest growing economies in the world a European parliament that looks more like an imperial court than a 21st century legislative chamber hardly does much for Europe’s standing on the international stage. The scale of underrepresentation in the European parliament is intractable and will not be redressed with anti-discrimination laws alone. Affirmative action is needed if we’re going to overcome this diversity deficit.

There are 13 Labour MEPs in the European Parliament – London’s Claude Moraes is our only ethnic minority MEP, the Liberal Democrats have none and the Conservatives 3. Regional parties should work closely with ethnic minority party members and sitting councillors to increase their exposure to European issues some years before the selection process.

This hasn’t happened and I doubt we’ll see a breakthrough in the coming year. When the UK sends two more ethnic minority representatives to the European Parliament than the BNP I think the time for access schemes and talking has finished. This is where Labour can make a difference.

All black shortlists were notably absent from the 2009 Equality Bill after the initiative was backed by Harried Harman and Jack Straw. That doesn’t mean we can’t use our own initiative. To Labour’s credit five of our 13 MEPs are women, there’s room for improvement but that’s a pretty good statistic and we didn’t need an all women shortlists to get us there – just a firm commitment to equality and diversity.

A similar level of commitment ought to be extended to would be ethnic minority candidates – all too often they languish at the bottom of regional lists with no real prospect of getting elected – that’s the real tokenism and something that needs to change ahead of the 2014 elections.

If you’re good enough to be placed on a regional list then improving diversity ought to be the driving factor in determining how far up the list you go. After answering the question how good are you the second question ought to be how much added value would you bring. Ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation etc. become important factors at this point.

All black shortlists might be off the agenda but quotas and targets can be just as useful. The Labour party needs to renew its commitment to diversity by safeguarding a representative batch of candidates for the 2014 elections – it’s a big challenge but it’s a commitment that needs to be fleshed out by numbers.

Here are two proposals to think about: in every region that we stand candidates, a quarter should be reserved for candidates from ethnic minority backgrounds, with at least half of them occupying one of the top four list positions.

You don’t need to have an ethnic minority background to represent minority groups but there are practical benefits of having MEPs from diverse backgrounds especially when you consider the growing international focus of the European Union.

The greater embarrassment is our indecision to take clear steps to address this anomaly. Given the scale of the challenge quotas represent the best opportunity to reduce Europe’s diversity deficit and are the best way we can gauge how serious the Labour Party is at reducing that shortfall.

Robbie Scott is a postgraduate student at Leeds University, a Labour activist from Tower Hamlets CLP and an active member of Compass

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5 Responses to “The diversity deficit in the European parliament is undermining its legitimacy”

  1. swatantra says:

    Robbie Scott makes an important pont. But its not just the European elections; its right across the board, and particulairly with the County Elections coming up in 2013. The time for All BAME shortlists has surely come. The Regional Offices quite rightly are insisting and imposing AWS; so why not All BAME in winnable seats? Without more BAME elected members you are not going to attract more BAME participation in elections. We could also have a few selected BAME Police Commissioners across the country. I can predict with confidence that we’ll end up with none next year.

  2. Anon E Mouse says:

    Why not just choose the best candidate for the job irrespective of sex, colour or sexual preference?

    Next you’ll be telling me Harriet Harman’s husband, the union dinosaur Jack Dromey, got through an “All Woman Shortlist” to be elected in a safe Labour seat….

  3. Rallan says:

    “The diversity deficit in the European parliament is undermining its legitimacy”

    Heh. That is only one of a thousand things that have totally undermined its legitimacy.

  4. swatantra says:

    BAME members have definitely made some strides into the Scots Parliament and Welsh Assemblies. NI is still a bit of a backwater though.The new generation of BAME are becoming fully integrated into Britain and regard themselves as British and so have every right to be representatives; they don’t just speak for the BAME community but for Britain itself. France and Germany I believe send more ethnic minorities into Europe. I fear that the Tories may steal the lead that we once had on this issue at the next round of Elections by fielding more BAME candidates than us. That would be a smack in the face for Labour.

  5. Robbie Scott says:

    @ Why not just choose the best candidate for the job irrespective of sex, colour or sexual preference?

    Well before you can select the ‘best candidate’ you’ve got to attract them which we’re not doing. We had quite a few BAME candidates who were selected for GLA seats on merit. That’s a good place to start if we’re committed to resolving the European question. Why not approach those people ? We also need to redress a deficit wich means we need to do something radical, we can’t just wait around for good candidates to turn up.

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