Intercultural Dialogue

Visions of the Council of Europe and the European Commission for a Post-Multiculturalist Era

Óscar García Agustín

Aalborg University - Denmark


Intercultural dialogue was introduced at the European level through policy documents of the Council of Europe and the European Commission in the 2000s. This article explores the ways in which intercultural dialogue is developed as a model to handle cultural diversity in different areas. Furthermore it discusses whether intercultural dialogue can be perceived as an alternative model to the previous integration policies marked by assimilationism and multiculturalism. A comparison is carried out of the ways in which the policies of both European organizations represent cultural diversity as a problem, their narratives concerning the need for intercultural dialogue as well as its definition. While the Council of Europe offers a concrete model, especially regarding integration, the Commission moves between the intertwined fields of culture, integration and interaction, but in doing so it fails to present an alternative.

Keywords: intercultural dialogue, assimilationism, multiculturalism, cultural diversity

Introduction: The post-multiculturalist era

Multiculturalism has been strongly contested in recent years, both in the academic literature (Joppke 2004; Modood 2007; Phillips 2007) and in the political sphere. European leaders such as David Cameron, Angela Merkel, and Nicolas Sarkozy have stated that multiculturalism has failed in their respective countries. While political debates continue in national arenas, there is an increasing convergence in integration policies at the European Union (EU) level.

In policy terms multiculturalism emphasizes the distinctiveness of ethnic, cultural and religious minorities whereas assimilationism does not recognise such differences and places the responsibility of integration on immigrants (Emerson 2011). Multiculturalism is being abandoned even in countries that once embraced it, such as England and the Netherlands, and very few countries aspire to an assimilationist approach to deal with cultural diversity (Watt 2006). Civic integration now seems to be the hegemonic integration model. Developed in countries such as Denmark, France, Germany, and the Netherlands, it consists of strengthening the obligations of immigrants and requiring them to learn the norms and values of the host society.

Another approach to integration in the post-multiculturalist era is interculturalism, which aims to establish a dialogue between coexisting cultures. Differences must be mitigated in order to eliminate conflicts and achieve harmonic relations between cultural groups (Megías Quirós 2008). Belgium, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden have adopted this approach for their integration policies in the form of intercultural dialogue (ICD), which combines social cohesion and emphasis on host country values with respect for diversity (ERICarts Institute 2008). Interest in ICD has increased in the last decade in international organizations such as the United Nations, the Council of Europe (CoE), and the EU. The EU’s cultural policies in the 1990s have been criticized for lacking definition (Barnett 2001; Shore 2006). In the 2000s ICD became one of the main objectives of EU’s cultural policies (Wilk-Wos 2010) but vagueness remains and a coherent policy has not been developed (De Kock 2010; Näss 2010).

In this article, I examine the significance of ICD at the European level and how it has developed in the CoE and in the European Commission (EC). The objective is to compare the policies of the two European organizations in terms of the development of ICD and its implications. The policy documents on ICD go beyond culture and contribute to the European debate on integration. However, this confluence between culture and integration is controversial. While ICD in the cultural context can be seen as the relationship between groups and individuals, it is not so clear whether ICD in the context of integration can represent an alternative approach to the dominant civic integration model. I argue that the CoE attempts to develop a new model based on ICD, as opposed to assimilation and multiculturalism, whereas the EC is limiting the scope of ICD, does not intend to establish a model to replace civic integration, and expresses only the need to overcome multiculturalism. Thus, the impact of the ICD framework is diminished by the lack of precision of policies in the case of the CoE and by the reduced scope of ICD as an integration model in the case of the EC.

I will compare the policies of the CoE and the EC by analysing first the context and the way in which the problem (cultural diversity) is represented in the policy documents. Then I will analyse the narratives that describe the policy shift (i.e., from the models for dealing with cultural diversity that have failed in the past to the need to develop a new model). Finally, I will focus on the definition of ICD as a new model and on the consequences of using this definition to develop new policies.

It is necessary to underline that the nature of the CoE and the EU and their policy documents differ; although the two organzations share the broad goal of strengthening European identity and values, the CoE elaborate conventions for member states to adopt while the EU works on the basis of supranational decision-making power transferred by its member states. The EC is the executive power of the EU and has legislative initiative. The policy impact is, in principle, stronger in the case of the EC even though integration policies are, in both cases, aimed at the regional level without the intention of interfering in national legislation.

When analysing ICD policy documents, I draw on the post-positivist and interpretative approaches to social reality to reveal the contingency of the policy process as a rational process (Hewitt 2009). I am particularly interested in the discursive and narrative approaches (Roe 1994; Fischer 2003) to policy making, which deal with the relationship between meaning and social phenomena (Dryzek 2005; van den Brink & Metze 2006). I will focus on the way in which social problems are represented (Stone 1997; Bacchi 2008) and how particular ideas become institutionalized (Hajer 1993) and assumed by organizations (in this case the CoE and the EC).

Intercultural dialogue on the European agenda

The idea of ICD emerged in CoE policies in the mid 1990s when ‘interculturalism’ was referred to in the following terms: ‘The co-existence of different cultures entails dialogue, not confrontation. It is not a matter of delimiting, but of opening up’ (CoE 1997:47). In the 2000s, ICD appeared prominently in the policies of several transnational organizations and in the 2002 Declaration of Cultural Diversity, UNESCO promoted ICD as the best way to guarantee peace.

In 2005, the CoE adopted the Opatija Declaration. Learning about Intercultural Dialogue, in which ICD is strongly embedded in cultural policies. The field of action of ICD expanded into international security and politics with the CoE Ministerial Conference’s ‘Intercultural Dialogue: The Way Ahead’, which resulted in the 2005 Faro Declaration of the CoE’s Strategy for Developing Intercultural Dialogue. The White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue. Living Together as Equals in Dignity published in 2008 structured ICD into five policy approaches, and ICD was chosen as a new model to deal with cultural diversity. My analysis of the CoE is based on these three main documents when examining the policy narrative on ICD.

In 2002, the EC began to evaluate the potential of ICD to prevent conflicts derived from cultural diversity by holding a conference in which ICD was conceptualized and embedded in a set of policies in the field of international relations. However, the EC did not include ICD as a central issue in policy making until 2005 when the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue 2008 (EYICD) was planned and the importance of ICD in multiple areas was stressed. Apart from the activities and projects undertaken during the EYICD, there are no policy documents referring directly to ICD. However the Communication on a European Agenda for Culture (2007) does set up cultural diversity and ICD as one of the main objectives of the EU. As these documents are insufficient for analysing the EC’s narratives on ICD, I will complement them with statements made by Franco Frattini, European Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security (2004–2008), in order to contextualize ICD policies, especially regarding immigration policies and the elaboration of an integration model which enforces the role of intercultural relations.

The Council of Europe’s policy on intercultural dialogue

Cultural diversity: preventing conflicts

The representation of cultural diversity as a problem relates to potential conflicts that might occur due to the co-existence of different cultures, leading some to view cultural diversity as a threat to social cohesion in national societies. The CoE interprets the challenge of dealing with cultural diversity in terms of the opposition between the universal and the particular, and it is seeking a way to reconcile the need for social cohesion with the value of diversity.

Assuming that globalization has increased both diversity and insecurity, the CoE aims to manage cultural diversity, which means being able to predict and solve cultural conflicts. In the Opatija Declaration (CoE 2005a), which is aimed directly at conflict prevention, the idea of conflict is inherent to culture and particularly to the co-existence of different cultures. However, when new forms of conflict are mentioned in the Declaration, responsibility for destabilizing a previous and stable cultural harmony is not attributed to a specific group in an attempt to avoid stigmatization.

Perceiving potential conflict as a consequence of cultural diversity could result in viewing cultures as being irreconcilable and considering some cultures to be more legitimate than others. This position has gained prevalence in the political discourse after September 11th, and it is based on Samuel Huntington’s theory on the Clash of Civilizations. In the Faro Declaration (CoE 2005b), the CoE distances itself from this vision; instead, cultural cooperation and ICD are seen as alternative points of view about ways of achieving international security through dialogue and politically based means, not just by means of police or war. Dialogue is not considered to be an immediate solution but rather a measure that ‘will benefit peace and international stability in the long term, including with respect to the threat of terrorism’ (CoE 2005b:3). The CoE has developed a discourse opposed to the dominant one (clash between cultures); the goal is to promote a diplomatic way of resolving conflicts (i.e., the CoE is against military solutions) and not to stigmatize entire civilizations (i.e., the CoE is against the opposition between Islam and the West).

The rescaling of conflict from social cohesion at the local/national level to international security at the global level is related to the introduction of a new vocabulary based on a double dichotomy: minority/majority and singular/universal. The former should be overcome and replaced by the latter. In the Opatija Declaration, the CoE proposes to abandon the discourse of ‘majority’ and ‘minority’ and instead create an inclusive discourse on diversity:

This principle [of cultural diversity] cannot be applied exclusively in terms of ‘majority’ or ‘minority’, which would single out minority cultures and communities and categorise and stigmatise them, leading to the association of certain types of social behaviour and cultural stereotypes with specific groups. On the contrary, efforts should be made to seek multiple ways of expressing diversity and to increase citizens’ awareness of the richness of that diversity, especially given that the globalisation of exchanges is only conceivable if due respect is shown for diversity (CoE 2005a:28).

The use of the terms majority and minority was abandoned because they have been appropriated by majorities to stigmatize communities and reproduce prejudices. According to the Declaration, diversity should be enjoyed by all citizens and not be viewed only as the characteristics of certain groups. This shift in thinking should change a static culture into a dynamic one in which citizens experience diversity and change their identity through interaction with other citizens. However, this attempt to eliminate discrimination by using a new language failed, as the CoE returns to the terms ‘majority’ and ‘minority’ in the White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue (CoE 2008) in order to explain differences in society. The terms are used to condemn the imposition of majority’s will on minorities ‘without ensuring an effective protection of rights for heritage’ (CoE 2008:25). This does not refer to special rights for minorities but to shared rights for all.

Despite the difficulties of using the new vocabulary consistently, the intention is to rearticulate the discourse on cultural diversity: ‘Cultural diversity should go beyond the “majority/minority” dichotomy, extending to the complementarity of the “universal” and the “singular”, so that ICD is experienced in a flexible, dynamic and open way’ (CoE 2005a:27). The CoE emphasizes that the defended values are not distinctively European but rather universal; they promote a transnational dimension that is not restricted to nation-states. Therefore, humanity is included as a subject of rights in order to identify a common identity, and solidarity is based on the respect of equal dignity of individuals. This cosmopolitan vision, which is rooted in the community of humanity (Bohman 2010), overcomes the limitations of the European community (defined in opposition to non-European communities) and the homogeneity attributed to nation-states.

Universal principles (e.g., human rights, democracy, and rule of law) include minority rights (e.g., cultural, linguistic, and participatory), which must be ensured. The CoE applies the same principles for Europe, combining unity (shared fundamental values and common heritage) and cultural diversity. Although the community of humanity could help to avoid discriminative categories (European vs. non-European), there is also a risk that European identity, as unity, would not assume its particularity and instead would overtake the universal and exclude other identities. Moreover, the idea of avoiding the minority/majority dichotomy could be counterproductive for minorities who need such a framework to formulate their claims, and it could potentially overlook the existence of asymmetric relationships between social and cultural groups.

An alternative to assimilationism and multiculturalism

It is pertinent to consider the relationship between preventing conflicts and the new vocabulary (i.e., ‘singular’/‘universal’ versus ‘minority’/‘majority’). Conflicts are predicted to occur when political solutions overlook new forms of multicultural identity and favour one-dimensional identities. In this sense, ‘cultural differences should therefore not result in a retreat into identity or community, nor justify a policy of forced assimilation stemming from a desire for domination, as both processes may lead to conflicts’ (CoE 2005a:27). The sources of conflict unfold in two ways: the isolation of minorities (‘retreatment’) and the imposition of majorities (‘domination’). This distinction can be interpreted in two intertwined ways: 1) minorities are subject to their actions (‘they retreat’) but become separate from the rest of society, and minorities are not subject to their actions and are ‘forced’ to act against their will; and 2) the behaviour of minorities is a reaction, rather than a decision, against ‘a policy’ and not against a majority. The combination of the two interpretations offers a solution to the problem: Cultural diversity can be managed if there is a change in policies and within minorities so that minorities would be able to make a desirable decision and not become separated (as a reaction) or dominated (being forced).

To deal efficiently with cultural diversity, the CoE proposes its own model, thereby rejecting already existing models. I consider this phenomenon to be a meta-narrative. According to Roe, a meta-narrative is ‘the candidate for a new policy narrative that underwrites and stabilizes the assumptions for decision making on an issue whose current policy narratives are so conflicting as to paralyze decision making’ (Roe 1994:4). The meta-narrative diminishes polarization and offers consensus and common ground for a new narrative. The two sources of conflicts are associated with two different models of integration: assimilation and multiculturalism. The narrative form is reflected in the emphasis on change over time, which explains why a new model is needed (Kaplan 1986). The effectiveness of narrative relies on presenting both models as a part of the past: Assimilationism and multiculturalism are viewed as unsatisfying answers to the problem of preventing conflicts derived from cultural diversity. Indeed, as mentioned above, they have led to conflict and are themselves part of the problem. The story line in the CoE White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue (2008) is related to consultation, or gaining legitimacy as a part of a participatory and deliberative process, because different actors agree on the same story, thus reflecting a broad consensus:

One of the recurrent themes of the consultation was that old approaches to the management of cultural diversity were no longer adequate to societies in which the degree of that diversity (rather than its existence) was unprecedented and ever-growing. The responses […] revealed a belief that what had until recently been a preferred policy approach, conveyed in shorthand as ‘multiculturalism’, had been found inadequate. On the other hand, there did not seem to be a desire to return to an older emphasis on assimilation. Achieving inclusive societies needed a new approach, and intercultural dialogue was the route to follow (CoE 2008:9).

In chronological order, assimilationism and then multiculturalism belong to the past (‘old approaches’, ‘no longer adequate’), are ‘inadequate’ in the current situation, and have failed. The ‘old approaches’ entail contrary ways of understanding integration and the ways in which majority and minority groups should coexist, producing retreatment (multiculturalism) or domination (assimilationism). Furthermore, two additional problems are attributed to each model: Assimilation supports the majority’s values and does not operate impartially, and multiculturalism tends towards cultural relativism. ICD can solve the problems inherent to these failed approaches:

Unlike assimilation, [ICD] recognises that public authorities must be impartial, rather than accepting a majority ethos only, if communalist tensions are to be avoided. Unlike multiculturalism, however, it vindicates a common core which leaves no room for moral relativism. Unlike both, it recognises a key role for the associational sphere of civic society where, premised on reciprocal recognition, intercultural dialogue can resolve the problems of daily life in a way that governments alone cannot (CoE 2008:20).

The chronological development of integration policies is important, as they are represented as ‘preceding models’ and radically opposed models. As a meta-narrative, ICD corrects the faults of both extremes: There is no imposition by authorities of the majority’s values, but some common values are needed. The solutions to the problem will be found in interaction between people to avoid imposition and isolation and a major role of civil society, as governments cannot satisfactorily ensure exchange and mutual understanding of individuals’ everyday lives. The state can and must intervene in integration, but its success depends on the involvement of civil society, where identities are constructed and (re)negotiated.

Assimilation is presented as ‘violent’ and ‘forced’ (CoE 2005a:23): It is not an appropriate narrative for cultural diversity because it promotes a homogenous model of society. It was replaced by multiculturalism, which also was rejected by the CoE. The problem with multiculturalism is that it fosters ‘communal segregation and mutual incomprehension’ and contributes to ‘the undermining of the rights of individuals – and, in particular, women – within minority communities’ (CoE 2008:19). This highlights a new dichotomy between individual and collective rights. According to this premise, the good intentions of multiculturalism did not succeed because the collective will was imposed on the individual. It reproduced the same dynamic as assimilation (i.e., some individuals are forced to assume the rules of others).

The CoE White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue (2008) makes it clear that neither of the two models were ever fully applied. However, the meta-narrative illustrates that ICD includes the positive aspects of both models. Furthermore, it stresses the necessity of a new approach: ‘It takes from assimilation the focus on the individual; it takes from multiculturalism the recognition of cultural diversity. And it adds the new element, critical to integration and social cohesion, of dialogue on the basis of equal dignity and shared values’ (CoE 2008:19). Thus, ICD tries to redefine the individual-group relationship by including dialogue, which integrates both the individual (equal dignity) and the collective (shared values). In these terms, ICD is the only model that can solve the conflicts derived from cultural diversity. The story line (i.e., negating the validity of the other two models) will be more persuasive if ICD and its implications in policy making are well defined.

Defining intercultural dialogue

The intercultural dialogue approach combines the community of humanity with individual dignity and creates a scenario in which the separation between immigrants and a host society within the nation-state is not accurate. The respect for liberal values is ensured because they affect all individuals as equal members of the same community. The existence of this common framework is a necessary prerequisite for making ICD possible. The CoE defines ICD very precisely by including three elements: co-existence of individuals, groups, and the common background. The definitions of ICD in the Opatija Declaration and in the White Paper emphasize the importance of democracy, but they differ in their main focus: In the Opatija Declaration, culture is the core value, whereas the White Paper uses integration instead:

This term [ICD] covers the tools used to promote and protect the concept of cultural democracy, and encompasses the tangible and intangible elements likely to foster all forms of cultural diversity, manifesting themselves in multiple identities, whether individual or collective, in changes and in new forms of cultural expression (CoE 2005a:26).

The emphasis on cultural diversity, multiple identities, and the community of humanity reveals that culture is tied to globalization rather than to a homogenous understanding of citizenship within the borders of the nation-state. The same vision of ICD, including its political, economic, social, philosophical, and religious elements, can be found in the White Paper as part of cultural democracy. However, the role of culture is more diluted here:

Intercultural dialogue is understood as a process that comprises an open and respectful exchange of views between individuals and groups with different ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic backgrounds and heritage, on the basis of mutual understanding and respect. […] Intercultural dialogue […] fosters equality, human dignity and a sense of common purpose (CoE 2008:17).

ICD is an instrument to develop inclusive societies and prevent marginalization, prejudices, stereotypes, and, broadly speaking, conflicts caused by failed integration. Consequently, the integration perspective on ICD promotes mutual understanding and equal access to the public sphere. It is also based on rights and duties, which are not only demanded for certain groups (minorities) but also apply to the whole community. The importance of the common is maintained and integration is seen as a way of achieving social cohesion. Thus, ICD, unlike assimilation, fosters mutual recognition as a consequence of cultural diversity.

In the CoE definition of ICD, religion acquires remarkable relevance. This is emphasized by the San Marino Declaration on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue (CoE 2007) and its inclusion into the White Paper. As mentioned in the Opatija Declaration, interfaith and interreligious dialogue must be viewed in terms of its cultural and social implications. The cultural dimension avoids considering religion only as a matter of faith and makes it possible to include it in the common heritage without colliding with individual beliefs of the members of the community. Likewise, religion is approached through the perspective of human rights as freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, thus synthesizing the universality of rights with individual consciousness.

The CoE addresses the challenge of religious co-existence in cultural and political terms: ‘Religious practice is part of contemporary human life, and it therefore cannot and should not be outside the sphere of interest of public authorities, although the state must preserve its role as the neutral and impartial organiser of the exercise of various religions’ (CoE 2008:22). The CoE distinguishes between two kinds of dialogue in relation to religion: dialogue between public authorities and interreligious dialogue between religious communities themselves. Thus, religion is a responsibility of the religious communities and not of the State, but some dimensions of religion (such as human rights, democratic citizenship, common values, peace, and solidarity) are incorporated into a common agenda.

The policy of the European Commission on intercultural dialogue

Cultural diversity: strengthening identity

In the policies of the EC, cultural diversity is mostly described as enrichment, but these policies also recognize that growing diversity may lead to tension (EC 2005b). Thus, cultural diversity as a problem should be managed. The EC’s main concern is to reconcile diversity with the common European identity.

The increasing diversity of cultures and languages is attributed to globalization, but the situation described in the policy documents refers more concretely to the EU. There are a variety of reasons for diversity, and they affect all levels of policies (national, regional, transnational). The enlargement of the EU, with the accession of 12 new member states from 2004 to 2007, presents a challenge to the construction of the EU and the integration of its members. Immigration has become a major issue, and the ageing of the population and the need for a highly qualified workforce are also important factors. Finally, the development of a single market has intensified mobility of EU and non-EU citizens within the European borders.

The EC’s solution to the problem of cultural diversity involves the use of ICD to bring people together (EC 2005a). The aim is to engage ‘citizens into the management of the complex reality of our societies and to instigate active and opened European citizenship based on common values’ (EC 2005a:6). The need to combine cultural diversity and common values appears repeatedly in the EC policy documents. This harmonization must be understood at different levels, as the focus on diversity and the common can vary.

The new context of globalization drives the EU to use cultural policies in order to be recognized outside the EU. This is manifested in multiple areas, including strengthening cultural industries and promoting local access to cultural diversity in third countries; defending human rights (including cultural rights); preventing conflicts and promoting peace; and conveying messages about Europe’s identity and experience with building bridges between different cultures. Thus, cultural diversity requires the diffusion of European identity and values in different fields.

Within the EU, globalization is also given as the reason why cultural diversity as enrichment should be preserved: ‘respecting and promoting cultural diversity in Europe, in a world where globalization pushes towards homogeneity’ (EC 2005b:6). The common heritage responds to efforts to develop a common identity, whereas the recognition of diversity mainly refers to nation-state cultures. Cultural policies also assume a more economic dimension due to globalization: ‘in the context of a global economy with regard to enhancing the employability, adaptability and mobility of artists and workers in the cultural sector as well as the mobility of works of art’ (EC 2007:8). The conception of cultural diversity as the circulation of cultural works emphasizes tangible elements.

At the national level, cultural diversity is an issue of integration: Dialogue and mutual understanding must be enhanced and ‘rights and obligations of immigrants should be developed’ (EC 2005b:7). In EC documents on immigration policy, ICD facilitates the nexus between immigration and integration in order to establish common basic principles on integration. Although there is no explicit claim regarding diversity, ICD seems to be relevant in a dynamic, two-way process of mutual accommodation; however, the EC principles point rather at immigrants’ obligations (i.e., respecting basic EU values, participating in the labour market, having basic knowledge of the host society's language, history, and institutions).

Institutionally, four different areas of action are addressed: 1) labour market in the High Level Group on the Social Integration of Ethnic Minorities; 2) education of children from immigrant backgrounds through the 2010 Education and Training process; 3) the ability of the host society to adjust to diversity through the 2007 Year of Equal Opportunities; and 4) ICD to promote dialogue in daily life and at work through the 2008 European Year of Intercultural Dialogue (EYICD). Thus, ICD does not represent a global approach to integration and is limited to interaction, whereas diversity is assessed through the conflict prevention perspective and antidiscrimination measures. Immigrants are expected to adapt to the European values by means of civic education and learning the national languages (EC 2006b:8). Despite the announced intention of combining unity in diversity, the weight of the common identity is strong and the actual degree of diversity assumed within this framework is questionable.

The desirable balance between the European common identity and diversity has different meanings and fields of policy action at the different levels: Outside the EU, an effort to promote the EU is required; inside the EU, national diversity must be preserved; and within nation-states, immigrants must adopt European values in a two-way process of integration. The needs of the labour market influence these three areas strongly: The first two are located in the sphere of cultural policy and the latter in integration policies.

Moving away from multiculturalism

Within the EU, there is a need to make sense of cultural diversity within European societies. This narrative does not appear clearly in the documents used to prepare the EYICD and instead is found in documents on integration and in statements of the European Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security, Franco Frattini. The overall vision of immigration is explained in terms of labour market needs and border controls aimed at combating irregular immigration. Indeed, the control of the European borders becomes an instrument to regulate national integration, as expressed by Frattini: ‘It cannot exist a good policy to control migratory flows without an active European policy. National policies for integration are not enough for people who enter in Europe’ (EC 2006a). The labour market is another framework that determines the extent of integration. The potential of the EU competitiveness strategy can only be maximized if residing immigrants ‘are given opportunities to integrate into the host society and economy’ (Frattini 2007b:5). Even combating social exclusion is tied to the global goal of increasing economic competitiveness, as reflected by the Lisbon Strategy (Joppke 2007:17).

It must be emphasized that the only immigrant category targeted by EU integration policies consists of regular non-EU immigrants from third countries. This strategy reflects the fact that member states hold competences in integration matters within national borders, and this makes it difficult to imagine harmonization on this issue at the EU level. Exchanges of best practice and benchmarking based on regional and national experiences are promoted by the EU, but they cannot be imposed on national policies.

The EC has no meta-narrative similar to that of the CoE. There is no opposition between two models, and no well-defined model is presented as an alternative. However, a chronological story exists in which one model, namely multiculturalism, has failed and the changes that need to be accomplished require a new model. One way of moving away from the mistakes attributed to multiculturalism is to stress individual rights instead of collective rights:

We must therefore rethink and promote a culture of rights that can compensate for the errors of sustaining an incorrect multicultural model which in today’s Europe has failed. A model based solely on recognising religious and cultural groups is limited in its ability to recognise individual rights. Treating as one entity and giving priority to groups’ values and rights can sometimes be at the expense of individuals within that group (Frattini 2007a:2).

In this way Frattini questions the objective of claiming collective rights and does not consider identity criteria (religion and culture) to be enough to obtain rights as a group. The relationship between individual and collective rights is perceived to be controversial: First, it is implied that inside the group collective rights hamper individual rights, and second, outside the group equality between individuals is violated according to the traditions of the different cultures or religions. According to Frattini, multiculturalism is not an option anymore; it is depicted as an ‘incorrect’ model that ‘has failed’. The new model should not only solve the problem of cultural diversity but also correct the misconception that cultural diversity is promoted by multiculturalism and, thus, ‘compensate for the errors’.

The conflict between collective and individual rights is not the only conflict attributed to multiculturalism:

The dark side of the ‘old’ migration strategy includes the fact of integration problems, often taking the form of the deliberate denial of Europe’s founding values and principles. Until a few years ago, our chosen multicultural approach allowed some cultural and religious groups to pursue an aggressive strategy against our values. The targets of this ill-conceived ‘attack’ were individual rights, equality of gender, respect for women and monogamy (Frattini 2007b:5).

In this discourse, Frattini presents integration problems as a conflict between the values and principles of cultural and religious groups and European founding values and principles (i.e., the opposition between diversity and the common). Referring to an ‘old’ strategy fixes the line between the past and the present, and the use of the ‘the dark side’ emphasizes the negative consequences of the previous model. Although multiculturalism was ‘our’ approach, it caused a confrontation between European and non-European groups. When Frattini describes the main values and principles that were ‘attacked’ by these external groups, most of them refer to the universal values of liberal democracy rather than specific cultural or religious values (monogamy is the exception). The dichotomy between individual and collective rights is complemented by the dichotomy between opposing common and external values, where the common occupies the place of universality. In the multiculturalism model, diversity is represented as a threat.

In the EC, multiculturalism has been abandoned and been replaced by a new approach in which the priority lies with individual rights and common European values. Although it is defined as a two-way process, integration consists mainly of immigrants learning the norms and culture of host societies (Frattini 2006). Dialogue requires an exchange between two parties, but in this case overcoming barriers, misunderstandings, or conflicts depends on the efforts of the newcomers to learn the language and culture of the host society. This perspective leans towards assimilation because immigrants are required to assume the principles and values of the majority. Nonetheless, the narrative, both in Frattini’s statements and in the policy documents, does not mention a concrete model as a solution to diversity; it merely underlines the adhesion to common European values.

Rejecting multiculturalism and approaching civic integration as a model for integration allows the EU to distance itself from some of the principles of multiculturalism and, at the same time, strengthen a common identity, which is culturally under construction, against an external identity. In other words, the emphasis on common values has a double effect: Non-EU immigrants must assume these values, and it is presupposed that they exist and are shared by all EU citizens. The story line begins with the wrong way of dealing with diversity, but it does not offer an explicit alternative; rather, reinforcement of common EU values is envisaged as a solution. The focus on the common and the individual approach is taken from assimilationism, but this is not included in the story because multiculturalism is presented as the cause of all wrongs and, at the same time, retreating to assimilationism is avoided. The narrative assumes that multiculturalism was a European model shared by all countries and that is has now been abandoned everywhere.

The non-definition of intercultural dialogue

Unlike the CoE narrative, the EC narrative on integration does not introduce ICD as a new model that goes beyond multiculturalism and assimilationism. In fact, the EC documents do not contain a clear definition of ICD. In the EC’s announcement of the EYICD, its motivations and objectives are described, but no definition of the concept of ICD is provided. The difficulty in defining ICD is a consequence of the perception that it is an instrument and not a value in itself. It is vaguely considered as a ‘general theme’ (EC 2005a:4). The EC attaches many different objectives to ICD, and this contributes to its imprecision:

Significant intercultural dialogue initiatives have been launched or planned, for example in the fields of culture, lifelong learning, youth, citizenship, combating discrimination and social exclusion, combating racism and xenophobia, policy on asylum and the integration of immigrants, audiovisual policy and research (EC 2005a).

ICD is considered a matter for both cultural and integration policies, and it has a role in international relations and in the knowledge-based economy. These multiple goals contribute to the lack of a clear definition and make it difficult to implement ICD as a tool to make cultural diversity feasible in different contexts. However, these goals also mean that ICD should contribute to ensuring peace in external relations, enhance exchange between artists and cultural workers inside Europe, and facilitate integration of immigrants within the member states.

ICD is used instrumentally in EU policies through the application of two main principles: mainstreaming and subsidiarity. In mainstreaming, ICD is incorporated into various fields and is approached from different points of views. It is an advantage to extend the presence of ICD to other policies, but this also contributes to the non-definition of ICD. Subsidiarity means that ICD can take place beyond national borders, where ‘the European citizenship dimension associated with the dialogue’ (EC 2005a:8) is insufficiently considered. EC policies should correct this problem, but the proposals must not affect areas where member states have exclusive competence. In practical terms, subsidiarity means that cultural policies (related to cultural industries and mobility) and education policies could be developed more in the European sphere. However, integration policies can hardly be developed at the EU level, as nation-states defend their competences within this area.

In terms of the role of religion in relation to ICD, the narrative of integration includes cultural and religious groups. The incompatibility of the cultural values of different religious groups is stressed. However, formulations of policy documents are more cautious; they refer to religion in relation to immigration and integration, but the topic is excluded from the EYICD agenda and its documents. The EC is reluctant to include religion, which has been criticized by some members of the EP. However, there is agreement in the EP about the need to recognize religious values as a major part of ICD and cultural diversity. Erna Hennicot-Schoepges (member of the EP) states that: ‘We can no longer keep such taboos [like religion] in our society. We must move forward and tackle the difficult issues. Religions and their rejection are a key factor in the process of social identification, integration and exclusion’ (EP 2006b).

The exclusion of religion from the ICD agenda does not reflect a distinction between private and public or between religion and culture; rather, it is an attempt to avoid controversy, especially when cultural diversity is represented as enrichment and intercultural conflicts are silenced. Moreover, although ICD refers to multiple fields, the cultural approach (together with education and youth policies) dominates and complements the EU framework in areas of competitiveness, mobility, and cultural industries. The non-definition of ICD makes it difficult to identify a single approach and its dimensions, including religion.

Conclusion: Intercultural Dialogue – A New Model for Europe?

Kymlicka (2010) shows his surprise about the expanding consensus regarding the failure of multiculturalism and how this view has been assumed by a large organization such as the CoE, which speaks on behalf of 47 member states. On the other hand, Megías Quirós (2008) defines the new EU integration policy as a mix of moderate assimilation and interculturalism. Herein, I have explored the CoE and EC policies on ICD and have shown that they share the need to move away from multiculturalism. However, while the CoE tries to develop ICD as a proper alternative, the EC has a less defined concept of ICD in relation to the EU economic and labour market agenda. In the EC, ICD is barely represented, whereas civic integration is heavily weighted. It seems that the CoE documents has influenced the EC’s vocabulary, but the EC has not attempted to develop a similar model.

The CoE and the EC both identify the same problem, namely cultural diversity, as emerging from a similar conjuncture, namely globalization. Beyond this, the similarities are fewer than might be expected. The idea of preventing conflicts, which is used by the CoE, is encompassed in a new language on cultural diversity that is aimed at eliminating the majority/minority categories and finding a balance between universal and singular. However, the attempt to construct a new discourse on cultural diversity is not without risks: Conflict could still result in a negative conception of intercultural relations; the elimination of the distinction between majority and minority could reproduce an asymmetric relationship between them because they do not have the same access to power; and the universal could be replaced by European values, thus excluding others. The EC does not deal with these complexities because it is limited by current EU policies. The enlargement of the EU, the renewed Lisbon Strategy on employment and competitiveness, and the integration of immigrants within nation-states are issues that influence the representation of cultural diversity as a problem. In summary, the CoE takes cultural diversity as a starting point, whereas the EC examines its current policies and considers how the cultural dimension should be included. This difference in perspective affects the clarity of ICD policies and the definition and objectives of ICD.

The problem to be solved (i.e., cultural diversity) requires a change in policies. The CoE and the EC share the view that previous integration models have failed and are no longer useful. Originally, ICD was a broad concept applied to different fields, but the CoE focuses specifically on integration when it explains why ICD has become necessary. Thus, the CoE’s narrative narrows the scope of ICD and presents integration as the main reason to promote a new model. The narrative reveals that the concept of culture is too ambivalent and that not all of the implications of ICD can be covered by the same story. I have sought an equivalent narrative within EC immigration policies because I believe that the potential for ICD exists mainly in the elaboration of an integration model. While the CoE considers assimilationism and multiculturalism to be approaches that must be overcome but that are still useful in some ways, the EC is more concerned with rejecting multiculturalism and strengthening European identity without intervening in national policies.

When ICD is offered as a solution, the deficiencies of the EC’s narrative become apparent. The critique of multiculturalism has not resulted in a counter-narrative or proposal of an alternative model. The lack of a definition of ICD in the EC policy texts reinforces this impression. In fact, the concept of ICD is vague and is related to multiple fields under a mainstreaming strategy. Thus, the objectives of such a model are blurred; they combine art and the cultural industry without any clear distinction between the two. In contrast, the CoE definition of ICD offers a valuable starting point for developing relations between people with different cultural backgrounds and integrating antidiscrimination policies. However, the emphasis on religion, which is strategically avoided by the EC, moves ICD to a more ambiguous area, and the limits between private and public and the relationship between culture and religion need to be further explained. Otherwise, the new model could allow old prejudices and conflicts to be reproduced.

The articulation of a more elaborate version of ICD is limited, and efforts initiated by the EU regarding the EYICD have not been productive enough. The non-definition of ICD, the confusing uses of culture, and the implications of these issues for cultural policies are some of the reasons for this lack of productivity. Another reason is that the EC makes ICD a complement to already existing policies and approaches. ICD seems to legitimise the EU’s economic model, adding the cultural dimension rather than proposing an alternative model to deal with cultural diversity. However, these limitations could be overcome if the framework established by the CoE would have a stronger impact on EC documents, and especially if interculturalism was presented as an integration model. ICD could then be articulated as a broad way of understanding how human relationships influence various fields. Otherwise, it is quite possible that the framework of civic integration will become narrower and move closer to assimilation without any possibility of institutionally developing any kind of ICD.

Although ICD narrative sounds like an attractive alternative compared to some of the problems associated with multiculturalism, such as ghettoisation and violation of human rights, it is still unclear how ICD makes a difference in comparison with assimilationism. Due to the nature of the CoE and the EC, policies are aimed at the regional level and local actors without affecting national legislation. If the main responsibility of developing competences in multicultural settings falls back on the citizens, there is no guarantee of ensuring a new paradigm. In this sense, public policies must promote the existence of spaces for intercultural exchanges and make integration as a two-way process a reality.


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About the Author

Óscar García Agustín, PhD, is currently associate professor affiliated with the project ‘Talking Culture’ (financed by the Danish Council for Strategic Research) and teacher at the Department of Culture and Global Studies at Aalborg University, Denmark. His research interests include intercultural communication, discourse and policy analysis. In 2010 he published the book Discurso e institucionalización (Discourse and institutionalization).

Author’s Address

Department of Culture and Global Studies
Kroghstræde 3, room 2.211
Aalborg University
9220 Aalborg East