What does discrimination look like in Europe?

Alessia Rollo

via Unsplash / Bittani Burns

According to the words of the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, the motto of our European Union is “United in Diversity” and claims to be happy to live in a society that condemns racism.[1] In fact, according to Article 6 of the Treaty on European Union, the rights and principles expressed by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union are recognized [2], and in particular, on non-discrimination, Article 21 states that:

 “Any discrimination based on any ground such as sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation shall be prohibited.”[3]

Although the EU condemns discrimination based on race or ethnic origin, unfortunately, many people within the EU are still victims of racism. Every day, these people face discrimination, affecting their human dignity, their life opportunities, their prosperity and their well-being, and often also their personal safety.

This article, the first in a series of seven posts, is the result of a research whose aim is to spread knowledge about racism and discrimination in Europe through an intersectional approach. The next articles will analyze the measures taken by the European Union, as for instance the EU anti racism action plan 2020-25, or the Council Directive 2000/43/EC of 29 June 2000. Discrimination and racism towards specific groups will also be highlighted , including Afro and Asian descendants or even Roma people and Muslims.

This first article shows instead the most recent data on how discrimination is perceived in the various member states of the European Union, specifically revealing the main reasons of discrimination, such as race, colour, gender, sexuality or religion.

via Unsplash /Arthur Edelmans

In 2017, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), conducted the second European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey (EU-MIDIS-II), which collected information covering over 25.500 respondents with different ethnic minority and immigrant backgrounds in the then 28 EU Member States. Results shows that ethnic origin or immigrant background emerges as the most common ground of discrimination experienced by every fourth respondent (25%) in the five years preceding the survey, followed by skin color and religion. Respondents cite also physical appearance and their first or last name as the main reason for experiencing discrimination in almost all areas of life. The FRA survey paints a detailed picture of the extent of racial discrimination in major areas of day-to-day life, such as employment, education, health, housing, and interaction with public authorities, as well as experiences of harassment and violence.[4]

via Unsplash / Clay Banks

The 2019 “Discrimination in the European Union” survey conducted by Eurobarometer, focusses on people’s perceptions, attitudes and opinions on discrimination based on ethnic origin, skin color, sexual orientation, gender, age, disability, religion, and beliefs. The survey shows that, compared to 2015, fewer EU citizens currently perceive discrimination as widespread in their country. However, perceptions, opinions and attitudes still vary widely depending on the discriminated group and also from one country to another. 17% of Europeans say they personally felt discriminated against or experienced harassment in the last 12 months on one or more grounds. According to the minority group, the results change: 58% are part of a sexual minority, 49% are Roma people, 38% are part of a religious minority, 52% are disabled and 40% are part of an ethnic minority. As regards work, 89% are comfortable having as a colleague a white or a young person, but when it comes to a Roma, Trasgender or an Intersex colleague this percentage drops to 66% or below.[5]

As we have seen, discrimination is not only based on race or ethnic origin, but also on gender, sexual orientation, age or disability. In the basis of this it is useful to reconnect to the term of “Intersectionality” proposed for the first time in 1989 by professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, which looks at the ways in which various social categories such as gender, class, race, sexuality, disability, religion and other identity axes intertwine with each other overlapping.[6]. Intersectionality is therefore an important tool to be considered in order to combat any type of discrimination.

[1] Commission President von der Leyen (speech to the European Parliament, 17 June 2020)




[5] Eurobarometer, Discrimination in the European Union, 2019

[6] Intersectional discrimination in Europe: relevance, challenges, and ways forward – A report by the Center for Intersectional Justice (CIJ) commissioned by the European Network Against Racism (ENAR)