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Vol 2, No 24
19 June 2000
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Racism and the EU Go East!
Racism and the EU
Židas Daskalovski

As radical as it may sound, I have a proposition: the European Union's present enlargement process, with its emphasis on common and shared European values, is an exercise in subtle racism using colonialist control mechanisms. The notion of an expanded, unified Europe under EU guidance cannot be said to be truly "European" as much as it is a "Western European" ideal to which Eastern and Central European members may only aspire by blindly adopting Western European norms and structures - norms and structures EU member states do not themselves uphold.

"I want to bring Europe out from behind closed doors and into the light of public scrutiny," European Commission president Romano Prodi told the world on 13 September 1999, on the eve of the European Parliament's vote to ratify his new Commission team. At that time, Prodi also stressed that, for the first time since the fall of the Roman Empire, there was an opportunity to unite Europe not by force but on the basis of shared ideals and common rules.

Courtesy of the European Union, Copyright © 2000
Romano Prodi

Some eight months later, Prodi's assertion that EU member states would devise an accession program in the "light of public scrutiny" was given lie when the BBC reported on 10 May that German President Johannes Rau said in a joint press conference with Vaclav Havel, his Czech counterpart, that Germany had not set a schedule for EU enlargement.

An examination of the racist and colonialist undertones of "European enlargement" gives some sense of why.

Some definitions

The Encyclopaedia Britannica defines racism as "the theory or idea that there is a causal link between inherited physical traits and certain traits of personality, intellect, or culture and, combined with it, the notion that some races are inherently superior to others."

Colonialism, by comparison, is claimed to be "a political-economic phenomenon whereby various European nations explored, conquered, settled and exploited large areas of the world" - and it found in racism a helpful rationalization for conquest and expansion. As the distinguished encyclopedia records, "when the Spaniards first came to America, several of their apologists (particularly Francisco de Quevedo and Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda) supplied them with the proper excuses for taking the land away from the Indians and for treating them with complete lack of consideration."

These same notions underpin the EU's present-day project.

"Europeanising" the East

There are three basic reasons for considering the EU's enlargement process as racist.

First of all, the Union misrepresents the notion of what it is to be European, in order to recreate the old barrier between "us" and "them," between the West and the Rest. Factually, the economic and political union of Western European states can not be rightfully labeled European unless we agree that Western Europe is Europe. Here, a small but economically powerful fraction of European nations are constructed as representing the idea of Europe as a whole.

Moreover, the enlargement procedure is an unjust endeavour, because candidate countries are supposed to blindly abide by the rules and
Courtesy of the European Union, Copyright © 2000
EP session
regulations imposed by the Western European club of nations and presumed to represent the continent as such. If the EU was truly a European community, in the broader geographical sense, there would have been real negotiations between existing and potential members on the idea and aims of an expanded European Union.

Here, I am not speaking about the universally applicable norms of human rights but rather the regulations that underpin the very idea of the EU: its economic and organizational procedures. In this respect, prospective member states have no choice but the wholesale adoption of EU rules, regulations, standards and norms in what is not a negotiated entrance but rather the obligatory filling of an EU-signed prescription.

Finally, there is the fact the enlargement process emphasizes certain core elements candidate countries are required to implement, yet remain unimplemented by some EU states themselves. Human rights, the rule of law, the establishment of democratic institutions, etc. are among the conditions placed on candidate countries. Again, this is a racist discourse whereby club members simply issue dictates to Eastern European nations whom they deem to be inferior.

Together, the foregoing amounts to an imposed process of "Europeanisation" as a requirement for CEE nations to join the club of progressive, ideal and civilized nations. In the process no one is concerned whether the superior side actually plays along the same principles it is imposing on Eastern European candidates.

In any case let us examine these issues in more detail.

Copyright on the meaning of Europe?

First, I would like to deal with the two points of racist attitudes inherent in the EU's present undertaking. The EU's present eastward expansion is, first of all, inherently different from its previous Mediterranean rounds. The treatment "the Club" is according these Eastern European states -the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Hungary and Poland, to name but a few seeking admission- stands in stark contrast to the EU's previous treatment of Spain, Portugal and Greece. In dealing with those three prior Mediterranean applicants, the EU engaged in true negotiations - a process that, for Eastern European states, has been limited to orders for the simple and obedient copying and adoption of the Club's rules and regulations.[1]

Courtesy of the European Union, Copyright © 2000
European Parliament

In this respect, the Club presents itself an institution holding a universal copyright on the meaning and concept of Europe. Europe, in other words, is what the Club defines it to be, no matter that, de facto, the EU comprises only one third of all European states. This false representation is, however, nothing new. As William Wallace wrote in 1990, "there has been a tendency since the optimistic years of the 1960's to identify 'Europe' with the member states of the European Community."[2]

Samuel Huntington, in his now seminal Clash of Civilizations, went even further in saying "the European Community rests on the shared foundation of European culture and Western Christianity."[3] This clearly implies the superiority of "European" culture based on the ideas of Roman Law, Christianity, the Renaissance, the Age of Reason, the Industrial Revolution and Social Democracy. As Chris Shore has noted, "the result is a highly selective definition of Europe that is politically biased and potentially racist, where 'European culture' is equated with 'Western Civilization.'"[4]

In addition to being a symbol, Europe is also a discourse of power, a configuration of knowledge shaped by political and economic institutions that are themselves embedded in the disciplines and practices of government. Moreover, it is a discourse that has increasingly been appropriated by the European Community as a shorthand for itself. However vague or ill-defined the concept, to be "European" or "in favor of Europe" is increasingly taken to mean support for the European Community and its goal of "ever closer union."[5]

Dead in the new Eastern European economy

Basing its value system on the idea that the Club is the only rightful representative of the continent as such, the EU does not take into consideration the ideas and programs of the "other." Although the Eastern European experience with "real Socialism" may not have been the merriest, there were some ideas and policies from the "old system" worth remembering.

Today, citizens of the former Communist states notice the state's lack of care and consideration, as social security has been largely dropped from the agenda in East European countries. Take, for example, Estonia, where economic adaptation to the rules of the game has created one of the most liberal economies in Europe. As a result, hospitals, libraries and other public institutions in Tallinn and other regional capitals have had very limited funds to cope with new changes and ever increasing demands on their social support programs.

Can candidate countries raise such fundamental issues in the negotiation process? Here, the Club's racism reveals itself in the full light of day. In requiring Eastern European nations to simply follow the political and economic ideals prescribed by the Club, concerns of the "other" are cast by the wayside. In this, the EU treats the nations of Eastern Europe with just as much "compassion" as the Spaniards treated the indigenous peoples in the "New World."

In this vein, the Club's exploitation of native Eastern European resources is not as obvious as it was in earlier colonial times. Still, even a brief analysis of the economic trends in the region reveals that, as a result of the neo-liberal economic policies advocated by the Club in the transformation of the native Eastern European economies, a significant number of Eastern European companies are being bought by the Club's corporations. Here, companies sold to EU interests range from the bulk of the print media in Bulgaria and Hungary, majority shares in Polish, Slovakian and Hungarian telecoms, the Macedonian oil industry and the Albanian and Estonian airlines, among others.

As eastern nations scramble to satisfy membership requirements, Eastern European resources fall easy prey to rich and well-connected transnational companies based in the Western world. The process of globalisation, supplemented by the uncritical craving for EU membership, turns Eastern European candidates into colonial structures producing cheap labour and raw materials for the EU countries.

In addition, we should remember that the collapse of the so-called socialist system provided the EU with a new, large market of 300 to 400 million potential consumers. It would be interesting to be able to calculate how many new cars, phones, video recorders, photocopiers and other consumer durables EU corporations have sold on the eastern market in the past decade, or how many EU companies managed to sell out of unwanted goods stash in warehouses that had grown larger than their factories.

Few have examined the manner in which the very serious recession in late 1980s was avoided, yet it seems to me that the opening of a large, new Eastern European market -closed or non-existing before 1990- played a significant role.

Human rights hypocrisy

What is, however, the single most disturbing fact about the enlargement talks is the Club's hypocritical insistence that Eastern Europeans conform to EU standards of human rights and democracy, the very same standards that the Club's members do not fully respect.

While on the one hand EU members insist that candidate countries respect human rights of all their citizens, adopting a civic notion of the nation, a number of EU members on the other hand hold ethnocentric notions of their societies. In the United Kingdom, for example, the Church of England is the formally established national church, with the Crown as its supreme governor. In Greece, the clergy of the Greek Orthodox Church, another officially established church, are paid and pensioned by the state. The Church is, furthermore, exempt from taxation, while the Greek constitution guarantees religious freedoms only to the "known" religions of Judaism and Islam, thereby excluding other Christian denominations including Catholics and Protestants.[6]

Courtesy of the European Union, Copyright © 2000

How well the liberal goals of freedom, equality and respect of human rights are fulfilled in these cases is difficult to affirm. Furthermore, the treatment of immigrants throughout EU has been widely criticized by human rights activists. German authorities, for example, sent Kosovar asylum seekers back to Kosovo just days before the conflict began there, basing their actions on the claim that there was no reason for these people to feel insecure in their home country.

Similarly, despite a number of ethnic groups and immigrants living there, France remains a country that officially denies the existence of any ethnocultural minorities within its borders. Greece's horrendous human rights record has been reported on numerous occasions, while British attitude towards Northern Ireland and Germany's stance on the rights of its gastarbeiter (guest workers) are another piece of the mosaic. By and large the members of the EU do not have a perfect record in respecting human rights.[7]

Even the universal conventions for the protection of human rights, including the convention for the protection of the rights of the minorities drafted by the European Council, have not yet signed or ratified by all members of the Club. Although Greece, Luxembourg, Netherlands, and Portugal have not yet ratified it, Belgium and France have not even taken the first step of signing the convention. Even more, Austria, Denmark, Germany and Sweden have registered reservations as to which peoples the convention specifically addresses.

The Republic of Austria has thus declared that the term "national minorities" within the meaning of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities is understood as designating those groups that come within the scope of application of the Law on Ethnic Groups (Volksgruppengesetz, as defined by Federal Law Gazette No. 396/1976). This definition suggests that these groups live and traditionally have had their home in parts of the territory of the Republic of Austria and are composed of Austrian citizens with non-German mother tongues and with their own ethnic cultures - a definition that effectively excludes most newcomers.[8]

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So why is it that these same nations insist these standards be applied in the candidate countries? The reasons are twofold. On the one hand, the power relation is such that the Club can afford such attitude while, on the other, the motivation for such behavior is based on a racist ideology whereby the Club deems itself as having superior quality compared to the inferior states of Eastern Europe.


Club members simply do not have to abide by the same principles the inferiors are supposed to follow and, most importantly, they will maintain this situation as the expansion process continues. Even after some of the candidate countries are admitted, the EU will very likely still differentiate between the rights and duties of eastern and western members. The new EU members will, for example, have to wait years if not decades before being permitted to enter the free labor movement agreement and, once they meet this goal, accession to the European Monetary Union will be the final new obstacle to their "Europeanisation."

For the moment, economic domination and exploitation guarantee that the civilizing process or "Europeanisation" of Eastern Europe will take a while. Yet we of the East are peoples of high spirits. As in Kusturica's first movie Do you Remember Doli Bel, we have our own mantra to keep us alive: "Everyday, in every respect, we are progressing! Everyday, in every respect, we are progressing! Everyday, in every respect..."

Židas Daskalovski, 19 June 2000
Photo credit: Courtesy of the European Union, Copyright © 2000


  1. Kalypso Nicolaidis, "The accession of the Balkans to the EU: Golden Opportunity or Golden Cage?", lecture at the Oxford University Balkan Society, 25 May 2000.
  2. William Wallace, The Transformation of Europe, 1990, p 8.
  3. Huntington, Clash of Civilizations, 1993, p 22.
  4. Chris Shore, "Citizens' Europe and the Construction of European Identity," in Victoria A Goddard, Joseph R Llobera and Chris Shore, The Anthropology of Europe, 1994, p 294. See also JN Pieterse, "Fictions of Europe" in Race and Class, pp 32, (3), 3-10.
  5. Introduction, Goddard, Llobera and Shore, Anthropology, p 26.
  6. Effie Fokas, "Greek Orthodoxy and European Identity," paper presented at the Socrates Kokkalis Graduate Student Workshop, Harvard University, 11 February 2000.
  7. Some of these issues are discussed at the Greek Helsinki Monitor site.
  8. See more details at the Council of Europe site.

  9. Return to top of page

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