Trying to Bridge Gaps on a Political Level
High on the conference's agenda is the exchange of "best practices" with regard to the integration of ethnic minorities. Delegates of the two-day meeting, which ends Thursday, are trying to come up with ways to make immigrants feel more welcome.
"We do not want to simply focus on a theoretical framework, but find an approach that really works," Rita Verdonk (photo), Dutch integration minister, said at the opening. "How do we prepare migrants for full
participation in society? What are the rights and duties of migrants, and of society? How can we make parents aware of their responsibilities for integrating their children? How can we help them bridge the gap to society?"
Parliamentary voice for ethnic minoritiy citizens
Meanwhile, the European Parliament's anti-racism and diversity intergroup has been set up to ensure a parliamentary voice for millions of ethnic minority EU citizens. Its president, a UK MEP of Asian background, Claude Moraes, said there was an urgent need for such a group.
"Within the European Parliament as with most national parliaments, there are very, very few ethnic minority MEPs," he said, adding that only about a dozen out of more than 700 parliamentarians belonged to ethnic minorities. "That means that we need to get together along with likeminded MEPs, who believe that anti-racism, issues of integration, issues around Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, the plight of the Roma, all of these issues require an all-party, multi-party voice."
The group has the backing of over 120 MEPs and key ethnic minority MEPs are vice-presidents of the group, including the German MEPs, Cem Özdemir and Feleknas Uca. Claude Moraes said they will be able to highlight issues that aren't currently receiving a lot of attention.
Germany, Greece slow to change
"Most European Union countries, including Germany, have had difficulty in implementing anti-discrimination legislation," he said. "Germany and Greece for example have yet to implement the race equality directive, which bars discrimination on racial grounds, against European citizens. We will be very bold in our group in identifying those countries which have yet to live up to those standards."
The group says it will provide a robust ethnic minority voice in Europe at a critical and sensitive time on issues of integration, multiculturalism and the rise of the far-right and anti-immigration populist parties across the EU. Claude Moraes believes a fear of tackling racism needs to be overcome.
"People feel very afraid of these issues, they are very sensitive issues in Germany and elsewhere and because of this, it's very difficult sometimes for politicians to get together to ensure that we have a proper take on these issues," he said.
© DEUTSCHE WELLE/DW-WORLD.DE 2004