Eurofound high-level Conference: Intercultural approaches to community-building and cohesion in European cities

30 November/1st December 2009,
Brussels, Belgium
- conference

Organiser: European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions

Logo EurofoundNew knowledge of intercultural relations and policies was at the heart of this high-level conference organised by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. Around 200 representatives of European institutions, city networks, research bodies and NGOs looked at the latest work of the CLIP network (Cities for Local Integration Policy for Migrants) and the Intercultural Cities project – which are both jointly supported by the EU and the Council of Europe - as well as a study by the Open Society Institute on ‘Conditions and Quality of Life of Muslims in European Cities’, and research on the relationship between religion and democracy by the Network of European Foundation (NEF).

CLIP presented the results of the third of its four research modules, on intercultural policies and practices. This comparative analysis of 35 European cities leads to shared learning and recommendations to policy-makers at all levels. The consensus across cities is that intercultural issues are socio-economic at heart; yet policies to improve intercultural relations and good intercultural governance are needed to complement structural integration policies such as those on housing and employment.

Given that the conference took place one day after the Swiss referendum, which produced a ban on minarets, the NEF study on ‘Conflicts over Mosques in Europe’, one in a series of three exploring the challenges of religious pluralism in democracy, received particular attention.

Platform Secretary General Sabine Frank contributed to a roundtable under the question “What can we learn from the conference?” She picked out the CLIP finding that in 30% of cities migrants are not represented in the city councils and related it to an example discussed at the Platform’s recent Vienna meeting: the Wiener Wahlpartie, an alliance which intervened in the Viennese local elections of Spring 2001 in protest at the fact that around a 5th of Vienna’s long-term residents are not entitled to vote. While this grass-roots movement led to the granting of municipal voting rights to foreign nationals, this was later overturned by the Austrian constitutional court. Sabine invited cities to pay more attention to progressive thinking at European level in this regard such as on a European Union citizenship based on residence (rather than on Member State nationality).

That Intercultural Dialogue remains a fuzzy term was evident even at this expert event. It covers many kinds of initiatives: public authorities engaging with ethnic minorities to identify their needs, civic dialogue involving diverse groups to prevent or resolve practical problems in cities, fully-blown policy consultations, but also cross-community socio-cultural events and artistic celebrations of diversity. 70% of CLIP cities invest in the latter, yet ‘intercultural dialogue through food, music and dance’ is often derided by those working on the ‘integration hardware’ of rights and opportunities for minorities.

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