By Pedro G. Cavallero (for Safe Democracy)

Pedro G. Cavallero sheds light on the mistreatment and under representation of minorities in government throughout Europe. In Cavallero‘s opinion the recent riots in France are simply the beginning of what promises to be a massive immigrant outcry for change, integration, and recognition in European societies. The problem of immigration will not go away by ignoring it. Europe must accept its loss of homogeneity, recognize the importance of immigration, and give voices to its immigrants. Only then can Europe move forward, creating more open and tolerant societies.

Pedro German Cavallero is a policy analyst based in Washington DC. He holds a master degree in Comparative Law and comments regularly on U.S. foreign policy and inter-American affairs.

IN 2005, THE UNPRECEDENTED WAVE OF RIOTS, which engulfed predominantly immigrant neighborhoods in Paris and other French cities added a measure of urgency to the dilemmas long posed by immigration in Europe.

Once the shock waves reverberating through the continent began to wane, government authorities and independent observers agreed on little else other than the need to relieve intra-community tensions. Meanwhile, the more challenging imperative of bridging the gaps separating mainstream society from immigrant and ethnic populations remains unsolved.

Europe’s experience with an immigrant population varies from country to country, as migrants have been absorbed into host societies following diverse patterns at different speeds, ultimately achieving uneven measures of success.

However, the continent’s rapidly-changing face constitutes a reality across the board that Europeans have had a hard time coming to terms with. To look into some of these issues, the Heinrich Boell Foundation of Germany invited a group of American advocates and experts to visit London, Paris, and Berlin to discuss with European officials, policymakers, community activists, and journalists the dynamics at play in the integration of minorities.

An aspect that strikes outside observers is the conspicuous absence of minorities in the policymaking process. Despite their growing numbers within the general population, ethnic, racial, and religious minorities in Europe have yet to emerge in the public forum. As Conservative British MP Damian Green admitted candidly, When one looks around in the Parliament’s Chamber of Commons, those present hardly reflect the diversity permeating today’s Britain.

Across the English Channel, flames devoured entire areas of Paris before the authorities started seeing cracks in a nearly sacrosanct assimilation-oriented model. Historically, the state’s official message has been that everyone is just French though some seem to be more French than others, as last year’s angry immigrant demonstrators revealed.

In Germany, with the exception of the Green Party (which promotes minority activists through its party ranks, catapulting them into elected office), political parties have failed to open up the institutional system as a means of increasing minority representation. As a result, the state continues to reflect a homogenous Germany, one that no longer reflects the social transformations stemming from decades of incoming waves of guest workers, refugees, and other immigrants.

Across the political aisle, the courageous and lonely pro-immigration voice of former Christian Democratic leader Rita Süssmuth, reminds us in her solitude that by and large German right-of-center political forces obstinately delay acknowledgement of the diversity that characterizes the 21st-century Germany.

In the years to come, Europe will see the development of increasingly sophisticated mechanisms and organizations that further minorities’ civic and political participation. This trend will in turn contribute to the shaping of the public debate in ways that more accurately reflect ethnic, racial, and religious groups’ presence and contributions to their host society.

However, for that to happen, legal, political, and cultural venues would have to be implemented which enhance minorities’ access. Ultimately, Europeans will have to free themselves of long-held, outdated perceptions and images that no longer reflect the social transformations that occurred in recent years.

Although this complacent inertia was severely shattered by the riots in France, more remains to be done. After this abrupt awakening, Europe’s changing face is out there for everyone to see.

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