Iwould like to start by explaining how I came to modify the agreed theme and, to some extent, focus of this contribution.footnote There were some general reasons for doing so, which occurred to me as I was reading the Congress programme, but recent political events provided a still more decisive impetus. The general title of our Congress—‘Migration and Racism’—corresponds to a long-standing project that was conceived in a different conjuncture. It would seem to imply two ideas which, though being far from defunct, now need to be contextualized, or placed in a broader and more complex whole. It is clearer than ever that the problem we are discussing is crucial to a genuine human-rights policy in the years ahead of us. However, ‘Migration and Racism’ suggests that there is a particular correlation between two apparently well-defined phenomena, the one seeming to belong to the realm of economic and demographic facts, the other to the field of social behaviour and ideologies. This means that while the present pattern of migrations does not inevitably ‘produce’ racism—as a certain conservative discourse frequently maintains—it does give contemporary racism a focus, such that in our countries it is above all an anti-immigrant racism directed against the Gastarbeiter, their families and their descendants. This is apparently what makes it distinctive in relation to other historical situations. There can be no doubt that French writers have been quite inclined to see things in this way, and our German friends have spontaneously done the same. This is the first idea that has to be examined.

This leads directly to the second idea. Is it certain that, in every European country, things can automatically be posed in such a way? Current terminologies would suggest that this is not at all the case. In Britain people speak of ‘race relations’, and the populations who are victims of racism are called ‘Blacks’ rather than ‘migrants’—which evokes a much more directly post-colonial situation and imagery. In fact there is no real uniformity from one country to another, only a diversity of ‘national’ situations in which the link between migration and racism is unevenly imposed. The source and handling of immigration, the nature of racial discrimination, the level of social tensions, the scale of political repercussions, and particularly of organized racist and anti-racist movements—none of these is by any means the same in each country.

Nevertheless, we have had and still have reasons to suppose that these different configurations influence one another, and that in the last few years they have finally been converging to produce a formidable new phenomenon which we might call European racism. It is a question not just of analogies but of institutional phenomena that are given added momentum by the ‘construction of Europe’ and sustained by an ideal image of Europe itself. In fact discrimination is written into the very nature of the European Community, which in each country directly leads to the definition of two categories of foreigners with unequal rights. The developing ec structures—particularly if they give rise to thorny issues of individual movement, frontier controls, social rights, and so on—can only sharpen this trend and make the ‘difference’ between Community ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ as such a locus of overt or latent conflict. The fact that, in Europe as a whole, a large proportion of ‘Blacks’ or ‘immigrants’ are not foreigners in the eyes of the law merely intensifies the contradictions, and intersects with the ever more pressing question of European identity. On the one hand, then, the emergence of a European racism, or model of racism, raises the issue of Europe’s place in a world system, with its economic inequalities and population flows. On the other hand, it appears to be inextricably bound up with questions relating to collective rights, citizenship, nationality and the treatment of minorities, where the real political framework is not each particular country but Europe as such.

Here things become much more complicated, but recent events serve to clarify matters and to challenge at least some of our presuppositions. In fact, what is the Europe we are speaking of? We cannot do without this reference, and yet we are quite incapable of fixing its meaning in any univocal manner. We cannot define ‘Europe’ today by reference either to a political entity, to a historical-cultural entity, or to an ‘ethnic’ entity. Perhaps the most obscure question of all is whether a ‘definition of Europe’ entails the possibility of ‘defining Europeans’, as members of a certain community, as holders of certain rights, and as representatives of a certain culture. It is a question fraught with the greatest significance for analysis of the institutional and ideological aspects of racism.footnote1

The official image—I am now tempted to say the official myth—on which we ourselves lived for many years was that such definitions of Europe and Europeanness were possible in principle. It was sometimes asked whether, or to what degree, the ‘construction of Europe’ would eventually be carried through at the expense of national specificities, but no one really hesitated about the reference of the word ‘Europe’. In our working project this reference simply went without saying: the real problem concerned ‘migrations’ and ‘racism’. Now everything has changed and the opposite is the case. Before there can be any serious analysis of racism and its relationship to migrations, we have to ask ourselves what this word ‘Europe’ means and what it will signify tomorrow.

In reality, however, we are here discovering the truth of the earlier situation, which explodes the representation that we used to have of it. Europe is not something that is ‘constructed’, at a slower or faster pace, with greater or lesser ease; it is a historical problem without any pre-established solution. ‘Migrations’ and ‘racism’ form part of the elements of this problem.

Why has the situation been reversed? We all know the answer. It is because of the possible effects of three historic events succeeding one another within the space of a year: the collapse of the system of socialist states; the unification of Germany; and the outbreak of a major crisis in the Middle East likely at any moment to turn into a war which, though perhaps not a ‘world war’, would evidently not be ‘local’ and would require a new category. None of the three events has yet produced all its effects, and this is what makes the task of analysis both indispensable and exceptionally risky for us. There can be no doubt—particularly if one looks back to the causes—that they are closely interconnected. The nature of this link, which is not simply one of temporal succession, is not at all clear. But it is anyway certain that none of these events can now develop its effects independently of the other two, and that, according to how these effects develop, the existence and nature of a ‘European’ entity will present itself in utterly different ways.