Belgium heads EU racism league

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The Independent Online
Belgium is tops, Britain languishes in the grey zone, and Luxembourg gets nul point. Imre Karacs looks at a survey on Euro-racism.

Sixteen thousand people across the 15 EU countries were asked in a survey to pass judgement on themselves. The results, presented yesterday by the European Commission, show, in the report's words, "a worrying level of racism and xenophobia in member-states".

The dubious distinction of first place goes to Belgium, home of the Commission. According to the study, ordered by Eurocrats to mark the passing of "European Year Against Racism", 22 per cent of Belgians professed to be "very racist" and 33 per cent "quite racist".

Britain weighs in at equal seventh with Germany, with 8 per cent self- confessed "very racist" and 24 per cent "quite racist". A further 33 per cent of Britons considered themselves "a little racist". Only in Luxembourg and Portugal do a majority feel "not at all racist".

Padraig Flynn, the EU commissioner presenting the report, expressed "extreme concern" at the "shocking statistics", but was also able to draw some comfort from the findings. While unemployment was described as the main cause of intolerance, several countries with very high jobless rates appeared to be relatively untainted by racism, whilst more prosperous neighbours were hostile out of all proportion.

"The survey shows the complexity of the phenomenon of racism," the report said. "Feelings of racism co-exist with a strong belief in the democratic system and respect for fundamental social rights and freedoms".

There is, nevertheless, a disquieting link between the various countries' position in the chart and the recent performance of the extreme right. In Belgium, where love-thy-neighbour politics went out of fashion years ago, parties preaching xenophobia have been making headway, especially among the Flemish community.

France, the silver medallist, regularly comes up with a strong vote for Jean-Marie Le Pen's Front National. And a quarter of the Austrian electorate - in third place - put their trust in Jorg Haider's Freedom Party in the last elections. Mr Haider's dislike of foreigners and his high regard for some of Hitler's "achievements" is common knowledge.

Fourth-placed Denmark would at first sight appear to buck the trend. Less than 5 per cent of the country's population are immigrants. Danes are prosperous and by tradition tolerant to newcomers. But in last month's local elections, the xenophobic Danish People Party achieved a breakthrough, thanks in large part to anti-immigrant sentiments whipped up by the tabloid press. With more immigrants still coming, the party appears to have a bright future.

Germany, on the other hand, is showing the opposite trend, at least in the west. After their successes in the early Nineties, extreme right-wing parties are declining, and racist attacks have abated.

Sentiments in the east make barely a blip on the national statistics, but the evidence from east German schools suggests that the racist tide there is again on the rise.