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EU must face legacy of colonialism and support reparations, say MEPs

<span>Photograph: Frederick Florin/AFP/Getty</span>
Photograph: Frederick Florin/AFP/Getty

The European Union should urgently address and reverse the lasting impacts of European colonialism and support a reparations programme to rectify continuing injustices, according to a draft resolution to be presented to the European parliament’s development committee.

Noting that the EU has made “no concerted efforts to recognise, address and rectify the lasting effects of European colonialism on social and international inequities”, the draft resolution calls for the creation of a permanent EU forum on restorative justice.

The presentation marks the first formal attempt to push reparations for slavery and colonialism on the EU agenda. These preliminary discussions among MEPs are a response to increasing demands for developed nations to make amends for slavery. Last month the African Union agreed to join Caribbean nations to form a “united front” aimed at persuading European nations to pay for “historical mass crimes”.

The draft resolution notes that “many former European colonies – including in the Caribbean, Africa and Latin America – are still suffering socially, economically, and environmentally from legacies of colonialism, enslavement, apartheid, and genocide”. European colonialism was “based on racial discrimination and violence”, that continues to have “profound effects on social and global inequities – including racial inequities within and among countries”, the document states.

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It makes a clear link between climate justice and reparations for slavery, saying that developed, coloniser nations have “contributed most to greenhouse emissions, global warming, climate crisis and environmental degradation”, while “developing countries are more adversely affected by their effects”.

There are no details on what form the reparatory justice should take, but the resolution calls for the European Commission to commission and publish a report on how the EU can “better recognise and address the histories and legacies of European colonialism”.

Michael McEachrane, the UN rapporteur of the permanent forum on people of African descent, who helped organise a joint European Commission and European parliament event commemorating the abolition of slavery on Tuesday, said: “No historical period … has had a more profound effect on shaping the world and its social and international orders than 500 years of European colonialism and imperialism … By the 1930s, nearly 90% of the world had been colonised by European countries. Consider how it has shaped the largely extractive relationship of developed countries to developing countries.”

The EU has a responsibility to show leadership in launching reparatory processes, including climate justice, he added, given that the “developing countries that make up 80% of the global population have contributed the least to the now rapidly escalating climate and environmental crises, but are most adversely affected by it”.

Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana, a German MEP representing the Greens-European Free Alliance, will present the draft resolution to the European parliament’s development committee on Thursday, and hopes to table the draft as an emergency resolution at the European parliament in the coming weeks.

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She said a greater understanding of the roots of European racism would promote a “more nuanced understanding of migration issues” and added that textbooks across Europe needed to be revised to give schoolchildren a better understanding of the slave trade and colonialism.

Earlier this year, the EU issued a joint statement with leaders of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac), acknowledging that Europe’s slave-trading past had inflicted “untold suffering” on millions of people and suggested the need for reparations for what it described as a “crime against humanity”. The statement recognised that “slavery and the slave trade, including the transatlantic slave trade, were appalling tragedies in the history of humanity not only because of their abhorrent barbarism but also in terms of their magnitude”.