Cultural diversity has been a constant feature of European history. It has been the source of many of our continent’s greatest achievements – but, when mishandled, has also played a part in some of its greatest tragedies.
That diversity has increased in recent decades, with new waves of immigration, and it will continue – for at least two reasons.
First, most of those who have come to Europe in recent decades, and their descendants, are here to stay. Many remain attached to the cultural heritage of their countries of origin. What is wrong with that? So long as they obey the law, people who come to live in a new country should not be expected to leave their faith, culture or identity behind. Indeed, this diversity can contribute to the creativity that Europe needs, now more than ever.
Second, Europe is ageing, which means that more immigrants are needed. Without them, the European Commission calculates that in the EU alone, over the next 50 years, the workforce would decrease by nearly 100 million, even while the population as a whole continues to rise. That is a recipe for decline.
So diversity is Europe’s destiny. It is shaping our future in a fast-changing world, and will continue to do so. It is therefore vital that Europeans respond to its challenges in a more effective and whole-hearted way – and, to be blunt, much better than they are currently doing.They cannot afford to mishandle it this time. Unfortunately, there are signs that they’re in danger of doing just that.
Those signs are there for all to see: rising intolerance; rising support for xenophobic and populist parties; discrimination; the presence of a population of undocumented migrants who are virtually without rights; “parallel” communities whose members scarcely interact with the wider society around them; Islamic extremism; loss of democratic freedoms; and attempts to curtail freedom of expression in the purported interests of freedom of religion.
Behind those signs lie deep-seated insecurity (stemming from Europe’s economic difficulties and sense of relative decline); the phenomenon of large-scale immigration (both as actually experienced and as perceived); distorted images and harmful stereotypes of minorities in the media and public opinion; and a shortage of leaders who can inspire confidence by articulating a clear vision of Europe’s destiny.
Our report – Living Together: Combining Diversity and Freedom in 21st Century Europe –offers a response rooted in Europe’s fundamental values: a blueprint for a more self-confident Europe, which willembrace diversity instead of shunning it and accept that there is nothing wrong with multiple identities. If one can be an African- or Italian-American, why not a “hyphenated European” –a Turkish-German, a North African-Frenchwoman or an Asian-Brit?
We believe there can be such a Europe, but only if all long-term residents in European countries are accepted as full citizens – and if all, whatever their faith, culture or ethnicity, are treated equally by the law, the authorities and their fellow citizens. Like all other citizens in a democracy, they should have a say in making the law, but neither religion nor culture can be an excuse for breaking it.
We propose 17 guiding principles, which we hope policy-makers, opinion leaders and civil society activists might use as a kind of handbook for diversity.
At a minimum, there needs to be agreement that the law must be obeyed, plus a shared understanding of what the law is and how it can be changed. Provided they obey the law, immigrants should not be expected to renounce their faith, culture or identity. Special measures are needed to ensure that members of disadvantaged or marginalised groups enjoy genuine equality of opportunity; and effort is also needed to ensure that members of different religious, cultural or ethnic groups get to know each other and work together in voluntary associations. Finally, we firmly uphold the right to freedom of expression, which must not be curtailed, by law or practice, to appease violent intimidation. At the same time, we believe that public statements tending to build or reinforce public prejudice against members of any group – particularly members of minorities, immigrants or people of recent migrant origin – must not be left unanswered. A central message of our report is ‘minimise compulsion, maximise persuasion’.
To apply these principles in practice, we urge states to extend the full rights and obligations of citizenship, including the right to vote, to as many of their resident population as possible, and – as an interim step – to give all foreign residents the right to vote in local elections. We also urge them to correct misleading information and stereotypes about migration, and to give their citizens a more realistic picture of the situation of migrants and of Europe’s current and future needs. We acknowledge their right and duty to control immigration, but also call on all Europeans to treat asylum seekers and migrants arriving in Europe fairly and humanely, with appropriate solidarity and burden-sharing among member states. We ask the Council of Europe and the EU to work together on a comprehensive, coherent and transparent immigration policy for the whole of Europe; and at the same time to reach out to our neighbours in the Middle East and North Africa, offering them the chance to participate, with an appropriate status, in European institutions and conventions.
If that route is followed, we are confident that Europe can be a better and more hopeful place than it is today.
The writers are the members of the Group of Eminent Persons empanelled by Thorbjørn Jagland, the Council of Europe’s Secretary General. Their report is posted on the Council of Europe website (www.coe.int/)
Joschka Fischer, Emma Bonino, Timothy Garton Ash, Danuta Hübner and Javier Solana are ECFR Council Members.
The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of its individual authors.