Cécile Kyenge’s call for greater diversity
“It’s important for me to say to people working in Parliament that I feel honored to work here, representing the hidden face of Europe,” said Cécile Kyenge, an Italian who is one of the very few black members of the European Parliament.
Kyenge described her time as a minister in Italy as difficult, “dealing with racism not only from people but also other politicians,” including the vice president of the Italian Senate, Roberto Calderoli of the far-right League. His extraordinarily offensive comments about Kyenge and her family in 2015 resulted in a defamation case. Another member of the League, Mario Borghezio, was last year ordered to pay Kyenge €50,000 in damages.
Back in 2013, she said “I have never said Italy is racist, every country needs to start building awareness of immigration and Italy has simply arrived very late.”
However, Kyenge says her experience with discrimination is different in Brussels than in Italy.
“Here I can have some episodes,” Kyenge said about her experiences of discrimination in the Parliament, but it does not “manifest” in the same way it did in Italy.
Kyenge is co-president of the Parliament’s Anti-Racism and Diversity Intergroup. “It’s very important to promote integration” while also raising awareness about “Afrophobia,” she said. To that end Kyenge’s group is organizing a week of events to explain and address Afrophobia.
“Many people [of color] come [to the Parliament] from the U.K., but not other countries,” she said. (In fact, there are black MEPs from just three of the EU’s 28 countries).
Kyenge wants a more systemic response to the lack of diversity in the EU institutions.
“If you don’t give a definition, don’t recognize data and [that] there is a problem, then it is difficult to have a response,” she said.
In the Parliament in 2017, 37 percent of MEPs were women, and there were far fewer MEPs of color. Kyenge wants the Parliament to use affirmative action to close that gap.
“Affirmative action can give opportunities to people like me, a woman, a black woman,” said Kyenge.
She said that affirmative action would give others an opportunity to do what she is doing now — “representing Italy” — and “really doing policy for promoting diversity.”