Looking Forward To The Future: Europe’s Societies Are Undergoing Change

At the end of my nine years as Director of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia -- now the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights -- I would like to share my experience in addressing racial discrimination. I want to focus on eight areas of needs and opportunities, which remain largely unexplored and which, I believe, need to be tackled more thoroughly in political and public debates. I am deeply convinced that, together, we can find forward-looking solutions that will better enable our changing societies to face the future.

We need a change in attitudes, from a climate of fear to a climate of hope.
Some 80 million people belonging to ethnic, cultural or religious minorities live in the European Union (EU) today, representing around 16 per cent of the population -- and the numbers are increasing. In the coming years, economic and demographic developments will create an even greater demand for immigration. The European Commission estimates that by 2030 the working population of the EU will decline drastically, falling by 20 million. In many cities, 30 to 40 per cent of children have an immigrant background; in some, it is as high as 60 to 70 per cent. The future of our society is in their hands -- they need a future to look forward to. Studies show that successful societies are those characterized by the three Ts: talent, technology and tolerance. We need to realize that countries with a clear, positive attitude to immigration are more likely to attain their potential.

We must place greater emphasis on the positive elements of immigration and make these advantages clear. This requires new ways of thinking, especially on the part of politicians and the media. A clear stance has to be adopted by politicians on the topic of immigration, pointing out opportunities while not concealing possible problems. The value of immigration should be emphasized in political manifestos and resolutions, action plans and party programmes. The scientific community should formulate and analyze pro-immigration arguments for public debate.

We must improve our ability to deal with our emotions, projections and prejudices -- in particular fear, envy and hate.
Fears and prejudices have a profound impact on the coexistence of immigrants, minorities and local populations. According to a Eurobarometer survey, 80 per cent of Europeans have had no negative experiences with minorities in their daily lives. Nevertheless, more than half have serious reservations against a multicultural society. Prejudice is often strongest in areas with a small proportion of minorities. In Germany, for example, Berlin-Brandenburg has an immigrant population of 2 per cent, but prejudice is higher than in Frankfurt, where the immigrant population is at 26 per cent. This shows, not that high levels of immigration lead to less prejudice, but that people's notions of reality are more powerful than reality itself.

Although we witness the reality of our multicultural society all around us -- on trains, in schools, in restaurants -- people have denied the reality of a multicultural society for decades, demonstrating just how deeply we are affected by the "fear of the other". As a result, addressing this pervasive fear of foreigners has scarcely had any influence on the social debates and formulation of policies concerning minorities or on public relations work. The issues of "dealing with emotions" and "otherness" must be incorporated into the development of strategies, action programmes and initiatives, and into public relations and the media. For example, specific curricula on "developing emotional competence" should be introduced in schools, as well as in the training of teachers and journalists. More consideration should be given to people's perceptions -- as opposed to mere facts -- both in analyses and in the development of approaches to the complex subject of immigration.

We must find new forms of collaboration among different sections of society in all occupational groups, with cooperation from the media.
Issues of immigration and social cohesion affect almost all areas of life -- culture and education, the economy, the labour market, to name a few -- and permeate every political level. We need sustainable forms of cooperation to implement holistic problem-solving approaches. National and local integration summits, commissions and councils will only gain acceptance if they involve immigrants themselves. Their members should include representatives of ethnic, religious and cultural minorities, immigrant groups, trade unions, employer organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), religious communities, political parties and the media. This would make it possible to reach common agreements and develop solutions. Cooperation with the media is of particular importance. Few other sectors have as much power to influence our feelings. Few other professions use images and music so effectively to stir up our emotions.

We need sustainable structures to create new forms of cooperation and an ongoing transfer of knowledge. We should, for example, organize annual meetings at the European level, where politicians, the media, the scientific community, NGOs, minorities and immigrants work together to identify key issues and monitor progress. We need to establish commissions, councils and other bodies, both locally and nationally, to facilitate broad-based participation, with the involvement of the media.

In all our projections, initiatives, publications and public statements, we must adopt a far more solution-oriented perspective.
Having worked for a quarter century in national and European institutions, I can safely say that our approaches are often too problem-oriented and not solution-oriented enough. Without a positive approach, we are bound to ignore clearly articulated needs for good practice and viable solutions. Solution-oriented approaches are far more effective, as they generate an entirely different kind of motivation and facilitate new, innovative initiatives. We expend too much energy on examining negative phenomena and make too little use of our capacity to do what is needed to create lasting change, devise practical solutions and, above all, implement them. The success factors behind examples of good practice should be analyzed, as should their transferability to other regions and countries.
We need a more energetic, innovative and long-term approach to follow-up processes, so as to boost the implementation of initiatives, proposals and recommendations. There is an abundance of publications with recommendations, resolutions and initiatives in almost all areas concerning immigration and multicultural society. Let us develop systems that will allow us to formulate recommendations in a more systematic and focused manner, and continually track and support their implementation. Some examples are: the establishment of a follow-up monitoring system with regular reporting on the progress of the recommendations made; an annual review process of the recommendations adopted, partly to ascertain whether they were sufficiently practical; and cooperation with international organizations, not just to formulate joint recommendations, but also to monitor their implementation.

Greater participation and involvement of minorities and immigrants in all strategic planning and democratic processes. Discussions still tend to be "about" and not "with" minorities. This is a missed opportunity to secure commitment for implementation -- a missed opportunity to give minorities and immigrants more opportunities to participate in, and identify with, democratic processes. It is also a missed opportunity to break down barriers between parallel communities. The inclusion of minorities and immigrants in strategic and democratic processes should not only be motivated by the formal issues of participation and genuine respect, but also, fundamentally, by the notion of "belonging". This desire to belong is the second most basic need in every human being, after the need for safety. These emotions of not belonging are experienced particularly by second- and third-generation immigrants, despite all their efforts to integrate. This experience of exclusion, of a lack of respect and acceptance, can lead to social isolation, resistance and violence. We need to involve ethnic, cultural and religious minorities and immigrants in drawing up initiatives and implementing projects. We should hold events, with wide media coverage, where these groups can speak for themselves and express their needs.

We need a broad public debate to establish what kind of society we want to become -- what our social identity should be.
We need an open and wide-ranging discussion on immigration and integration, which aims for a social consensus but does not fail to acknowledge the context. After all, we must ask ourselves -- and let others ask -- whether the problem of immigration is really what unsettles people. Perhaps we should also address other issues that provoke the fear of the other: globalization, unemployment, an uncertain future, social exclusion -- a sense of not belonging and of being helpless in the face of change -- fears and insecurities which affect many groups.

We should not shy away from debates on the future of a multicultural society, in its proper context. At the same time, we must avoid blaming "politics" or "the media" or "the education system". Much discontent is directed towards politics, for instance, and it is clear that too much has been expected of it in recent years. The issues of a multicultural society affect us all: majorities and minorities, each and every citizen. We must neither suppress problems nor set our expectations too high. But a public debate -- neither glossing over nor explaining away the many contradictions and dilemmas associated with a multicultural society -- would reveal society's inherent vitality and innovative power and contribute to positive change.

Dialogue gives us an opportunity to identify and confront what we have in common and what divides us. It also reminds us that immigration has never tested a society to its breaking-point, as the experience of recent ongoing peace processes has shown. Indeed, the best example of this is the European Union itself, the greatest peace project ever. This dialogue should be conducted within the framework of a larger debate about values, since that is the most appropriate context for a dialogue on integration.

We must make it clear that our society is economically, politically and culturally dependent on the ongoing interaction between people of different cultural, ethnic and religious origins. This is what underpins European unity and informs the ideals of the European Union. The "homogenous society" conjured up by so many has never existed in Europe. We must legally recognize and publicly acknowledge our cultural pluralism. At the same time, it must be made clear that, beyond all cultural differences, we are bound by certain shared fundamental values and regulations in society -- a respect for human rights and faith in constitutions and legal systems.

Civil society -- intellectuals, the media and NGOs -- should initiate and support this wide-ranging social dialogue within the Member States of the European Union. This could be done by drawing up a public manifesto, to be circulated widely in society and supported by cultural events (concerts, exhibitions). Interactive forums, possibly involving the Internet, could be held to facilitate broad-based discussions. In this way, we could initiate a process that is jointly spearheaded not only by European and national institutions, but also by civil society throughout Europe.

We need a united vision of a society that reconciles individual rights with the need for a just, social and compassionate society -- a European Union culture of human rights that is experienced in daily life. My vision is of a society of mutual respect and acceptance, in which we will breathe life into this "culture of human rights" together. It is a positive image of multicultural society, where the majority and the minority coexist with mutual respect for each other's different cultural values and modes of behaviour -- on the basis of human rights and shared legal systems.

I know that this is a hopeful dream, far removed from the reality of the lives of many people who face daily discrimination and humiliation. But I also know that when diverse groups commit to a common purpose, the efforts can have a lasting effect on attitudes and behaviour. I know that change is possible. Let us draw on our shared, diverse strengths to create a culture of human rights, which includes each and every one and gives us a sense of belonging.

A longer version of this article is available at www.fra.europa.eu