Alice Bah Kuhnke vows to face down far right as Sweden’s first black MEP

May 17, 2019 Off By readly




Alice Bah Kuhnke, a former government minister who is seeking to be Sweden’s first black MEP, was such a novelty growing up that she was considered to be news. “I was in the paper because I was the only black girl in the school,” she recalls.

The 47-year-old has since spent her career in television and then politics having to walk into rooms full of white men making decisions. She has also made it a mission as a politician for the Swedish Greens “to go where the far-right extremists go” and face them down.

Should Kuhnke be elected on 26 May such experiences should hold her in good stead.

With days to go before Europeans go to the polls, an analysis of the candidates standing for election for the European parliament suggests that once the UK delegation is discounted, only 21 people from an ethnic minority background, about 2% of the parliament, are on a clear path to win one of the chamber’s seats.

Even with the inclusion of the more diverse UK MEPs, who are due to leave on the completion of Brexit, reducing the parliament from 751 to 705 seats, the number from ethnic minority backgrounds is unlikely to get beyond 3% of the chamber.

It is estimated that about 50 million (10%) of the 500 million people who live in EU countries are from ethnic minority backgrounds.

The gulf between how Europe looks and how it is likely to be represented comes as the voices of the far-right in the parliament are set to be bolstered with Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland and Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in France expected to prosper.

Analysing the electoral prospects of ethnic minority groups is beset with difficulties and requires caveating as most European countries do not record the ethnicity of their population, let alone their electoral candidates. But diving into the analysis from the European Network Against Racism (ENAR), an NGO network of more than 160 grassroots anti-racist organisations across the continent, a series of startling figures leap out.

In Spain, only four of the 594 candidates up for election are from an ethnic minority background, compared with 10% of the wider population, and just one is on a clear path to win.

The centre-right European People’s party, of which the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, is a member, and which is likely to be a major driver in choosing his successor, has only 16 ethnic minority candidates on the party lists across the 28 member states, of which three have a clear path to a seat.

Ireland, Greece, Poland, Austria, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ireland, Latvia, Malta and Bulgaria do not have any ethnic minority candidates standing at all.

Sarah Chander, senior advocacy officer at the ENAR, said the figures reflected a lethargy at a European level to tackle the problem of the EU institutions not reflecting the electorate they serve.

She said: “Countless political debates are taking place on the future of the EU, but without a person of colour in sight. Apparently the future of Europe is white.

“White people debate with other white people on issues as wide as climate change, economic policy, migration and security. Buzzwords like populism and nationalism are thrown around and yet the undeniable whiteness of the European Union institutions remains unspoken of.

“There has never been a black or brown commissioner in the European commission, nor have any of the top positions of the parliament or council been a member of one of Europe’s many ethnic minority communities.”

Of all the candidates from ethnic minority backgrounds, 85 come from the parties on the left, 26 from the liberal group and 22 from the centre-right.

But even when candidates are on the party lists, they often stand little chance under the voting systems used in the elections. Only one in 10 are list leaders standing the best chance of winning a seat.

Alfiaz Vaiya, the coordinator of the European parliament’s cross-party anti-racism and diversity intergroup of MEPs, said he feared progressive parties were avoiding putting such candidates into a fight for seats in European elections as immigration was often the battleground issue.

“There are candidate lower down the lists so there are people who want to be candidates – but there is a lack of opportunity,” he said. “It seems that parties are trying to play safe by having leading candidates that seem more appealing to voters given the main topics.”

Apart from the UK’s candidate lists, in which there are 35 ethnic minority candidates, representing 8% of the total number of candidates up for election, Sweden has the most diverse offering to the electorate.

Prof Alireza Behtoui, from Stockholm University, said there had been a sea-change in Swedish politics due to the rise of the extremist Sweden Democrats and the perception among politicians in the centre ground that they needed to respond.

“The parties in the middle are making a signal with their inclusion of candidates from ethnic minority backgrounds,” he said. “But the minority candidates are not in places on the list where they will win seats”. Just four of the 32 Swedish candidates who are people of colour are on track to get a seat.

Kuhnke, who is one of those, said that during a recent visit to see colleagues in the European parliament she had realised that she had to stand up and be counted.

“I came out of a group meeting and a few people from the [neo-Nazi] Golden Dawn party in Greece came into the same room,” she said. “I said ‘Hello’ and smiled as I always do when i meet people. They didn’t say hello or smile and someone told me that they are from this party. It struck me then that the fight for a better world will go on – even in the European parliament.”

Source of this (above) article: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/may/17/alice-bah-kuhnke-vows-to-face-down-far-right-as-sweden-first-black-mep