The European Parliament is under pressure to scrap part of its new election campaign after being accused of “pandering” to anti-Muslim extremists by a British politician.
Conservative MEP Sajjad Karim made the claim after campaigners said a new promotional banner on display at the parliament in Brussels is Islamaphobic.
He has now demanded that parliament president Antonio Tajani have the banner removed.
The parliament is spending more than £29m on its communications campaign for next May’s elections in a bid to boost participation after a record low turnout of 42% in 2014.
It kicked-off the “this time I’m voting” campaign by installing giant banners with its main campaign messages at the entrance to its Brussels site earlier this month.
One of the banners (pictured above) shows a woman in a head scarf next to the words: “Because we need to work together to manage migration.”
Concerns were first raised about the banner this week by two officials from the European Network Against Racism who were visiting the Parliament to take part in an event.
Julie Pascoet, the group’s senior advocacy officer, said the parliament was supporting “Islamophobic narratives.”
In a video, she added: “This ad is not encouraging people to vote, this ad is encouraging people to vote for political groups and politicians that rely on Islamophobia and anti-migrant rhetoric and are usually on the far-right side of the political spectrum.
“But this shows as well how mainstream these messages have become. This has to be removed instantly.”
Now her call has been backed by Conservative MEP Sajjad Karim, the vice-president of the European Parliament’s cross-party group for anti-racism and diversity.
In a letter to parliament president Antonio Tajani which has been seen by Yahoo UK, Karim says the poster “appears to equate ‘managing migration’ with limiting the entry of Muslims into Europe.”
And he tells Tajani: “This not only adds to the already confused debate on immigration and asylum, but panders to the very stereotypes the extremists wish to establish.
“I have attached a photo of the poster in question and would like to request that it is taken down immediately.
“Hopefully this unfortunate poster was an accidental oversight and not a deliberately executed decision.”
Neither Tajani nor the parliament’s head of communications have yet replied to our requests for comment.
An internal European Parliament document about its election campaign strategy published by Politico last year sheds some light on the thinking behind the controversial poster.
The document signed by European Parliament general secretary Klaus Welle says the “influx of refugees” is among topics which “barely figured in most Europeans’ minds when they went to the polls in 2014” but must be addressed in the latest campaign.
It concludes: “As a reflection of European society, the European Parliament is – and should acknowledge itself as being – fully embedded in these rapidly shifting parameters.
“In tackling the 2019 EU elections, Parliament must therefore take into account the current reality and not shy away from a courageous and innovative approach to this strategy.”