The European parliament is to remove one of its election adverts after it was branded “Islamophobic” by a British politician.
Conservative MEP Sajjad Karim raised concerns over a giant banner that was recently put up in Brussels and Strasbourg to promote next year’s European elections.
The poster – part of the parliament’s £29m “this time I’m voting” campaign – shows a woman in a head scarf next to the words: “Because we need to work together to manage migration.”
The European Network Against Racism said the message equated ‘managing migration’ with limiting the entry of Muslims into Europe.
The group’s senior advocacy officer, Julie Pascoet, said she was “outraged” to see the parliament supporting “Islamophobic narratives.”
Yahoo UK revealed last week that Karim had written to the parliament president Antonio Tajani to demand that the poster be removed.
“This not only adds to the already confused debate on immigration and asylum, but panders to the very stereotypes the extremists wish to establish,” Karim wrote.
Ironically, the poster is part of a drive to boost participation amid fears that another low turnout – just 42% of eligible voters took part in 2014 – could play into the hands of populists.
Now Tajani has confirmed the poster is being axed and apologised.
“I have taken on board your concerns and discussed them with the directorate-general that manages the parliament’s institutional communication and was responsible for the poster specifically,” Tajani wrote on Monday.
“Parliament’s services apologise for any offence caused and have assured me it was not deliberate. I have asked that the posters be taken down both in Brussels and Strasbourg as soon as possible.”
Karim, who is vice-president of the parliament’s cross-party anti-racism group, said it was the “right thing to do.”
“It is wrong that they ever appeared at all,” he said. “There is clearly a need for these institutions to practice what they preach when it comes to populism, nationalism, inclusivity, diversity and discrimination.
“Like many Muslims across Europe, my family and I have been intimidated by anti-Islam extremists. The European parliament should be opposing Islamophobia, not pandering to it.”
“If this Islamophobic poster is the message for the next round of the EU elections then Europe is in a very precarious state.”
The decision to remove the poster was announced hours after Yahoo UK raised the issue at the European parliament’s weekly press conference.
A parliament spokesperson said: “The idea behind the campaign was simply to represent a group of migrants, in this case from Syria, because that’s where most of them were coming from, on a poster and saying the EU is sharing the issue of how to manage them, how to distribute them and how to handle the various asylum requests collectively.
“That was the intent behind the poster. But it’s obviously been misread or misrepresented or misunderstood.”