Welcome to the Institute of European Studies project to promote dialogue about EU-Canada relations. Here you will find traditional research in the form of brief policy papers and analysis. The site is also an interface for the public to express their opinions on EU-Canada relations in general and economic and environmental cooperation in particular. The site will hopefully act as a gateway to the wider news and opinion forums that are available.
Diversity in Europe: a Canadian approach or business as usual?
In the fall of 2010, the so-called ‘Group of Eminent Persons’ started working on a report on diversity and integration in Europe commissioned by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjørn Jagland. The group was chaired by the former German Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, and composed of, among others, Emma Bonino, Javier Solana, and Timothy Garton Ash.
After meeting for a year and a half, the Group came up with a report entitled ‘Living Together: Combining Diversity and Freedom in 21st-century Europe’. The conclusions are now being presented in several European capitals. The main recommendations of the report are summarized as:
‘The report holds firmly that identities are a voluntary matter for the individual concerned, and that no one should be forced to choose or accept one primary identity to the exclusion of others. It argues that European societies need to embrace diversity, and accept that one can be a “hyphenated European” – for instance a Turkish-German, a North African-Frenchwoman or an Asian-Brit – just as one can be an African- or Italian-American. But this can work only if all long-term residents are accepted as 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 accepted as an excuse for breaking it.’ (p. 5)
There couldn’t be a better time to advocate for diversity in Europe and for demanding that governments treat all citizens equally. However, it seems reality is moving in the opposite direction, as is usuallly the case with this kind of European documents.
The report identifies a number of threats to European values, and it’s worth noting that since the report was published all of those risks have manifested. For instance, it warns against the ‘rising support for xenophobic and populist parties’. Unfortunately, the influence of anti-immigration political groups in France, Denmark, Finland and Spain, and the racist policies implemented in certain Central and Eastern European countries have only increased in earnest. It also recommends giving foreign residents the right to vote in local elections, but this kind of proposal is being used by some parties to attack their political adversaries in countries such as Italy. It also urges States to correct ‘misleading information and stereotypes about migration’. However, some politicians from the Partido Popular, the main opposition party in Spain, recently stated, among other false assertions, that immigrants brought with them long-eradicated diseases. This party improved its results in the local elections held last week, so we can only hope these statements and the electoral results are not related. It’s equally urgent, continues the report, that States give their citizens ‘a more realistic picture of the situation of migrants and of Europe’s current and future needs in the field of migration’, but Denmark recently made a mockery of one of the EU’s fundamental freedoms--movement. This freedom is embodied in the Schengen Agreement, which Denmark essentially declared abolished in the country due increased crime rates for which foreigners were to blame. Previously, another of the report’s recommendations, the call on Europeans to confront asylum seekers with ‘appropriate solidarity and burden-sharing among member states’ was rendered a dead letter by Italy, France and Germany when they refused to welcome some of the 27,000 refugees that arrived at the Italian island of Lampedusa after fleeing from the war in Libya. France even blocked its border with Italy to prevent these Maghrebi migrants from crossing into its territory. Finally, the report suggest Europeans should ‘reach out to their neighbours in the Middle East and North Africa who are now so courageously demonstrating their attachment to universal values of freedom and democracy’. Governments have done just the opposite. Until last week, when the EU’s Higher Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, visited Benghazi as a diplomatic gesture of support for the Libyan rebels, Europe seemed to lack a clear idea of what it wanted with regard to the Arab revolutions, oscillating between fear of a massive wave of immigrants from North Africa and the endorsement of the democratic protests. Also, in the recent G-8 Summit in Deauville, European countries did nothing else but to acquiesce to Barack Obama’s plan to support the emergent Arab democracies.
The Group concludes by suggesting that the Secretary General of the Council of Europe appoints ‘a high-level special representative who would be mandated to bring the content of this report to the attention of political leaders and to monitor its implementation’ (p. 71). This recommendation seems rather pointless since those very political leaders are from the European governments currently hindering the arrival of foreigners and frustrating the goal of having diverse but cohesive European societies. It’s not very difficult to figure out where the report will end up: the waste basket.
There is a fundamental difference in the way Canada addresses immigration and diversity. While it’s undeniable that there are integration issues here as well, Canadians know this country was build by immigrants, and could not succeed without them. Therefore, the problem is not supporting this openness, which in itself is not in question, but to implement immigration and integration policies that stimulate the Canadian economy and enhance immigrants’ labour and social integration. In other words, Canada welcomes its diversity as an essential trait of the country, whereas the increasing heterogeneity of European societies is seen as a thorny political and social phenomenon, a problem that has to be solved or even reversed.
With its defence of diversity and call for acceptance of culturally and ethnically heterogeneous new European residents, the Council of Europe’s report advocates an approach to immigration and citizenship which in many aspects is far from that informing current European national policies, but closer to the Canadian one. However, it will be difficult to change the status quo unless European nations accept the idea that their citizens can have several identities; that they can be, for instance both British and something else (the report mentions different national origins, but we could think of religions and ethnicities as well), and not just British or something else. Until then, managing diversity in Europe will be business as usual.
Institute for European Studies
Photo: FlickrTagged as: