Talk to Act: EU strategies against racism and intolerance

Giammarco Frattoli

As stated by the President of the European Commission von der Leyen on the 17th of June of 2020, «we need to talk about racism. And we need to act. It is always possible to change direction if there is a will to do so. I am glad to live in a society that condemns racism. But we should not stop there. [] », because to build a European community really «united in diversity» the hardest task is to «live up to those words and fulfil their meaning».

The previous article showed that events of racism and intolerance are still extremely present in our society and that they are based on various intersectional grounds, with higher percentages among minority groups. Therefore, the aim of the second article is to highlight the legal framework and the main strategies guiding the EU’s action in the fight against racism and discrimination at various levels.

Via Unsplash / Amy Elting

EU legal and political framework 

The Council Racial Equality Directive of 2000, implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons, laid down a framework for combating discrimination on the grounds of racial or ethnic origin, prohibiting it throughout the Union. Consequently, each Member State had to guarantee the establishment of equality bodies to strengthen the protection against discrimination based on ethnic origins and provide effective assistance to the victims. 

This directive has shaped the legal protection against ethnic discrimination for over two decades. Therefore, in recent years the Commission tried to reinforce the monitoring of its implementation and in September 2020 the Anti-Racism Action Plan 2020-25 was published to develop a holistic strategy and specific measures to allow people with a minority racial or ethnic background to act, and to bring together multiple actors to address the phenomenon more effectively. The Plan defines and aims to combat all manifestations of discrimination within an intersectional perspective, from the structural racism to those based on unconscious bias intertwined with religion, gender, sexual orientation, and disability. Hence, the Commission is also driving a consistent approach on equality data collection, disaggregated by racial or ethnic origin and by sex.

In addition, the Plan adheres to the Council Framework Decision on combating racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law of 2008 which ensures that serious acts of racism and xenophobia are punished by effective, proportionate, and dissuasive criminal penalties while providing adequate responses to the victims. The Framework Decision is complemented by the Victim’s Rights Directive which establishes minimum standards on the rights, support, and protection of victims of crimes and hate speech, encouraging Member States to improve their legislation and support measures.  However, despite the advanced European legal framework against discrimination, inequalities in access to employment, education, healthcare, and housing persist. Where legal protection is not enough racism and intolerance must be fought also through policy and funding programmes.

Via Unsplash / syahrir maulana

On the 21st of March 2022 the European Anti-Racism Summit was organised by the Commission in cooperation with the “Anti-Racism and Diversity (ARDI)” Intergroup of the European Parliament and the Council of Europe’s “European Commission against Racism and Intolerance” (ECRI)” with the involvement of civil society, equality bodies and grassroots organisations. The Commission also encouraged Member States to develop national action plans against racism and racial discrimination with the involvement of civil society and equality bodies. To support the process eight common guiding principles, defined by a Subgroup of Member States experts, were published to help the States to structure and implement a national action plan. 

These complementary and interlinked principles identify the fight against racism as a shared responsibility in the EU which requires «joint, resolute, and ongoing efforts», including a maximised use of all the tools and possibilities offered by funding programmes under the multiannual financial framework and Next Generation EU. All EU institutions and European actors should cooperate because «working together, we will make a racism-free EU a reality».

Via Unsplash / pixel jolly


[2] Council Directive 2000/43/EC of 29 June 2000 implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin.

[3] COM (2020) 565, Union of equality: EU anti-racism action plan 2020-2025, 18.9.2020, Brussels. 

[4] Ibidem

[5] Directive 2012/29/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2012 establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime, and replacing Council Framework Decision 2001/220/JHA.

[6] COM (2020) 565, Union of equality: EU anti-racism action plan 2020-2025, 18.9.2020, Brussels.


[8] Common guiding principles for national action plans against racism and racial discrimination, Subgroup on the national implementation of the “EU Anti-Racism Action Plan 2020-2025”, 17.05.2022, Brussels.