LGBT community dance on the streets during the after party of the Pride March on June 19, 2021 in Warsaw, Poland. According to ILGA-Europe's 2021 report, the status of LGBTQ rights in Poland is the worst among European Union countries. (Photo by Omar Marques/Getty Images)


Ahead of EU election, rights groups urge equality drive to counter populists


Anticipating a populist surge when Europeans go to the polls in June, anti-discrimination organisations on Monday urged the bloc’s institutions to put equality policies at the top of their agenda once a new parliament is elected.

“The EU is far from being a ‘Union of Equality’ – this is work in progress, and right now, we witness rising backlash, racial injustice, inequality and discrimination,” the nine signatories said in a joint statement. “This needs urgent attention.”

The signatories include large rights associations such as the European Disability Forum, the European Network Against Racism and LGBTI advocacy group ILGA-Europe.

They said there had been advances during the current parliament, such as the appointment of an Equality Commissioner, a directive to combat violence against women, and an action plan against racism.

But they said more work was needed to “guarantee equality of treatment regardless of who you are or where you live in the EU”, and called for comprehensive legal protection against discrimination.

European Parliament elections will take place on June 6-9. Its 720 lawmakers, together with EU governments, pass new policies and laws.

The election is expected to yield more seats for populist, right-wing parties, and losses for centre-left and green parties, according to opinion polls. Hard-right Identity and Democracy could become the third largest group in parliament.

Despite the anticipated populist surge, the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) has kept a lead. Still, securing a majority might be a challenge, possibly forcing it into policy trade-offs to win the votes needed.

The organisations said it was crucial to strengthen the European Commission’s services on equality, non-discrimination and anti-racism, and guarantee the next EU budget properly funds civil society organisations working on these issues.

“It is also fundamental to ensure staff working at EU institutions properly reflects the European population, not only in terms of nationality but also in terms of diversity,” they said, demanding consultation with rights associations during the decision-making process.