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Living Together As Equals in Dignity – Council of Europe

January 18, 2017

ltwdThe first chapter describes the consultation as well as the editing process of the White Paper and defines certain key terms.

The second chapter explores the phenomenon of cultural diversity, ascertains the universality of the Council of Europe’s values, presents various instruments and mechanisms, the Council of Europe uses in order to promote and protect these values and describes the risks, any society would face, if it chose to generally refuse intercultural dialogue.

The third chapter points out the opportunities and risks of intercultural dialogue, analyses the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches like assimilation and multiculturalism, describes the conditions, under which intercultural dialogue can become a successful endeavour and outlines the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue within the framework of the Council of Europe as well as the role, interreligious dialogue plays.

The fourth and fifth chapter list the basic requirements for the promotion of intercultural dialogue – democratic governance on the basis of the Council of Europe’s values; a political culture valuing diversity; democratic citizenship and participation; readiness to promote intercultural competency as well as readiness to acquire intercultural competences; the allocation of physical as well as virtual space for intercultural dialogue, and the willingness to engage in intercultural dialogue at international level – and provides practical examples regarding these requirements.


The Council of Europe believes that respect for, and promotion of, cultural diversity on the basis of the values on which the Organisation is built are essential conditions for the development of societies based on solidarity.

If there is a European identity to be realised, it will be based on shared fundamental values, respect for common heritage and cultural diversity as well as respect for the equal dignity of every individual.

 Promoting intercultural dialogue contributes to the core objective of the Council of Europe, of preserving and promoting human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

It emerged that no sphere should be exempt from engaging in intercultural dialogue – be it the neighbourhood, the workplace, the education system and associated institutions, civil society and particularly the youth sector, the media, the arts world or the political arena. Every actor – whether NGOs, religious communities, the social partners or political parties – is implicated, as indeed are individuals. And every level of governance – from local to regional to national to international – is drawn into the democratic management of cultural diversity.

Integration (social integration, inclusion) is understood as a two-sided process and as the capacity of people to live together with full respect for the dignity of each individual, the common good, pluralism and diversity, non-violence and solidarity, as well as their ability to participate in social, cultural, economic and political life. It encompasses all aspects of social development and all policies. It requires the protection of the weak, as well as the right to differ, to create and to innovate. Effective integration policies are needed to allow immigrants to participate fully in the life of the host country. Immigrants should, as everybody else, abide by the laws and respect the basic values of European societies and their cultural heritage. Strategies for integration must necessarily cover all areas of society, and include social, political and cultural aspects. They should respect immigrants’ dignity and distinct identity and to take them into account when elaborating policies.

Cultural diversity is not a new phenomenon. The European canvas is marked by the sediments of intra-continental migrations, the redrawing of borders and the impact of colonialism and multinational empires. Over recent centuries, societies based on the principles of political pluralism and tolerance have enabled us to live with diversity without creating unacceptable risks for social cohesion.

Europe has attracted migrants in search of a better life and asylum-seekers from across the world. Globalisation has compressed space and time on a scale that is unprecedented. The revolutions in telecommunications and the media – particularly through the emergence of new communications services like the Internet – have rendered national cultural systems increasingly porous. The development of transport and tourism has brought more people than ever into face-to-face contact, engendering more and more opportunities for intercultural dialogue.

The democratic values underpinning the Council of Europe are universal; they are not distinctively European. Yet Europe’s 20th-century experience of inhumanity has driven a particular belief in the foundational value of individual human dignity. Since the Second World War, the European nation-states have set up ever more complete and transnational human-rights protections, available to everyone, not just national citizens. This corpus of human rights recognises the dignity of every human being, over and above the entitlements enjoyed by individuals as citizens of a particular state.

Not to engage in dialogue makes it easy to develop a stereotypical perception of the other, build up a climate of mutual suspicion, tension and anxiety, use minorities as scapegoats, and generally foster intolerance and discrimination. The breakdown of dialogue within and between societies can provide, in certain cases, a climate conducive to the emergence, and the exploitation by some, of extremism and indeed terrorism. Intercultural dialogue, including on the international plane, is indispensable between neighbours.

Shutting the door on a diverse environment can offer only an illusory security. A retreat into the apparently reassuring comforts of an exclusive community may lead to a stifling conformism. The absence of dialogue deprives everyone of the benefit of new cultural openings, necessary for personal and social development in a globalised world. Segregated and mutually exclusive communities provide a climate that is often hostile to individual autonomy and the unimpeded exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

An absence of dialogue does not take account of the lessons of Europe’s cultural and political heritage. European history has been peaceful and productive whenever a real determination prevailed to speak to our neighbour and to co-operate across dividing lines. It has all too often led to human catastrophe whenever there was a lack of openness towards the other. Only dialogue allows to live in unity in diversity.

dialogue with those who are ready to take part in dialogue but do not – or do not fully – share “our” values may be the starting point of a longer process of interaction, at the end of which an agreement on the significance and practical implementation of the values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law may very well be reached.

Ethnic, cultural, religious or linguistic affiliations or traditions cannot be invoked to prevent individuals from exercising their human rights or from responsible participating in society. This principle applies especially to the right not to suffer from gender-based or other forms of discrimination, the rights and interests of children and young people, and the freedom to practise or not to practise a particular religion or belief. Human rights abuses, such as forced marriages, “honour crimes” or genital mutilations can never be justified whatever the cultural context. Equally, the rules of a – real or imagined – “dominant culture” cannot be used to justify discrimination, hate speech or any form of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, ethnic origin or other identity.

Freedom of expression, guaranteed by Article 10 paragraph 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights, is a sine qua non of participation in intercultural dialogue. The exercise of this freedom, which comes with duties and responsibilities, may be limited in certain specific conditions defined in Article 10 paragraph 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights. “Hate speech” has been an increasing concern of the European Court of Human Rights in recent years, and in its jurisprudence the Court has drawn the boundary, case by case, beyond which the right to freedom of expression is forfeited.

Some expressions are so gratuitously offensive, defamatory or insulting as to threaten a culture of tolerance itself – indeed, they may inflict not only unconscionable indignity on members of minority communities but also expose them to intimidation and threat. Inciting hatred based on intolerance is not compatible with respect for fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Convention and the Court’s jurisprudence.

In a multicultural Europe, education is not only preparing for the labour market, supporting personal development and providing a broad knowledge base; schools are also important fora for the preparation of young people for life as active citizens. They are responsible for guiding and supporting young people in acquiring the tools and developing attitudes necessary for life in society in all its aspects or with strategies for acquiring them, and enable them to understand and acquire the values that underpin democratic life, introducing respect for human rights as the foundations for managing diversity and stimulating openness to other cultures.

 Within the formal curriculum, the intercultural dimension straddles all subjects. History, language education and the teaching of religious and convictional facts are perhaps among the most relevant. Education as to religious and convictional facts in an intercultural context makes available knowledge about all the world religions and beliefs and their history, and enables the individual to understand religions and beliefs and avoid prejudice. This approach has been taken by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights and ECRI. In 2007, the European Ministers of Education underlined the importance of measures to improve understanding between cultural and/or religious communities through school education, on the basis of shared principles of ethics and democratic citizenship; regardless of the religious education system that prevails, tuition should take account of religious and convictional diversity.

Teacher-training curricula need to teach educational strategies and working methods to prepare teachers to manage the new situations arising from diversity, discrimination, racism, xenophobia, sexism and marginalisation and to resolve conflicts peacefully, as well as to foster a global approach to institutional life on the basis of democracy and human rights and create a community of students, taking account of individual unspoken assumptions, school atmosphere and informal aspects of education.

Town planning is an obvious example: urban space can be organised in “single-minded” fashion or more “open-minded” ways. The former include the conventional suburb, housing estate, industrial zone, car park or ring road. The latter embrace the busy square, the park, the lively street, the pavement café or the market. If single-minded areas favour an atomised existence, open-minded places can bring diverse sections of society together and breed a sense of tolerance. It is critically important that migrant populations do not find themselves, as so often, concentrated on soulless and stigmatised housing estates, excluded and alienated from city life.

You can download the paper here

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