Ferguson, New York, Baltimore -- and Europe?
If Europe does not want a European city to be next, it needs to start learning from the U.S.
Europeans look at racism and riots in the United States and emphatically root for the black minority. Moreover, most Europeans do not think structural racism and distrust of minorities in government could ever be an issue for Europe.
Europe, however, has never been faced with the same level of diversity as the United States. The experience of course varies across all European countries. The UK, France and the Netherlands, for example, have had longer experiences with ethnic and cultural diversity due to their colonial past. Others have experienced an increase in diversity with their economic rise, such as Germany. Nevertheless, European countries as a whole are still relatively homogeneous in their ethnic makeup.
In the United States, this demographic development has progressed further. Estimates show that Caucasians will cease to be the majority by 2040. By 2025, white Americans are projected to become the largest minority regarding youth and young adults. This is a glimpse into Europe’s future.
Europe is changing. Europe’s colonial past and its relative prosperity continue to make it a top destination for economic migrants. Conflicts and wars in Europe’s neighborhood fuel the stream of refugees to the European coast even further. Many of these migrants have come to stay. At the same time, birth rates are stagnating or declining in many European states such as Germany.
The United States is ideal to serve as a model for dealing with Europe’s increase in diversity. America is founded on the principal of unity in diversity. From the very beginning, different cultures, languages and religions had to be united under the American flag. While many mistakes have been made, as the current events in Baltimore and Ferguson illustrate, the U.S. is far ahead on the learning curve. Europe should try to profit from that.
One way to learn would be to share experiences and best practices between European and American government agencies. This is slowly starting, for example with Diversity & Inclusion in Armed Forces which is a GMF-backed transatlantic conference on diversity in militaries that will take place in Berlin this June http://facebook.com/deutschersoldat.
Another important approach would be to educate policymakers in Europe on the consequences of ignorance. Riots are only an extreme symptom of a lack of inclusion and integration. The larger problem is of an economic nature: How to make new Europeans successful, tax-paying citizens? And who will pay for the generous European social systems if European states fail at that? In the metropolitan area of the European Central Bank’s home town of Frankfurt, for example, more than half of young Germans come from migrant families.
Europe needs to act now while it still has some time. European states are still comparatively homogeneous but that is changing fast. Now is the time to learn from the United States, to learn about mistakes and about success stories. It is time to act, so that Baltimore does not become Frankfurt.
Dominik Wullers, a Spring 2015 Marshall Memorial Fellow, is a Captain in the Bundeswehr from Hamburg, Germany.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.