Text Box: Living together

Combining diversity and freedom in 21st century Europe

Key points

·         The report “Living together: Combining freedom and diversity in 21st century Europe” was presented in Istanbul on 11 May 2011, after a consultation period of seven months.

·         It was elaborated by a Group of Eminent Persons appointed by Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjørn Jagland. Chaired by Joschka Fischer, the group included Emma Bonino, Timothy Garton Ash, Martin Hirsch, Danuta Hubner, Ayse Kadioglu, Sonja Licht, Vladimir Lukin and Javier Solana. The Group’s rapporteur was Edward Mortimer.

·         The report identifies the threats associated with rising intolerance and increasing diversity of the European population and makes specific recommendations on how to deal with them.

The group was formed on in cooperation with the Turkish Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (November 2010 – May 2011). Its report is divided in two parts: The threat to Council of Europe values and the proposed response.

The threat of rising intolerance in Europe

The risks identified in the report include:

·         Intolerance and discrimination towards several groups (Roma, immigrants and asylum seekers, religious groups);

·         Resurgence of xenophobic parties and rising support for them;

·         Illegal migration and the vulnerability of those concerned;

·         The rise of isolated, parallel societies linked to the phenomena of migration and poor social integration;

·         Islamic extremism and the misconception of Islam as a religion of violence;

·         The loss of democratic freedoms and freedom of expression as a response to terrorist threats and religious freedom.

The report identifies the reasons behind these risks:

·         Insecurity: Despite Europe being one of the safest and most prosperous areas of the world to live in, the economic crisis and unemployment have affected a large part of the population.

·         Immigration: Increase in migration into Europe has had an impact on employment and crime rates and the way in which these phenomena are dealt with by public policy and in the media.

·         Harmful stereotypes and distorted images in the media: Minorities, including migrants are often demonised in mainstream media through the reporting of stories related to the myths circulating about them, such as crime or welfare abuse.

·         Crisis of leadership: The report associates the above reasons to the scarcity of leaders in Europe, both political and religious, which can inspire confidence with a clear vision of Europe’s destiny and a strategy to get there.

The response

The guiding principles for the proposed response are Council of Europe values: Human rights, democracy and rule of law. The Group states that these must be applied to citizenship, religious choice, freedom of expression. Equal opportunities and ethical public discourse in all areas are also seen as fundamental.

The main actors identified to implement the report’s recommendations are educators, mass media, employers and trade unions, civil society, religious groups, local administration, European and international institutions and their member states.

Examples of best practices existent in the Council of Europe’s work by these actors are cited, such as the members of the Intercultural Cities network, as well as other independent initiatives in Europe.

The report makes a number of strategic and specific recommendations to respond to the threats identified. They are directed not only at the Council of Europe and the European Union, but also the member states, their local and regional authorities and civil society within them.

The Group makes 17 strategic recommendations. These include respect for migrants’ faith and cultural identity and the importance of learning the local language. Citizenship and voting rights, xenophobia and negative stereotypes are also mentioned as key strategic areas.

Authorities are urged to end discrimination of any kind in education, employment, housing, media and other aspects of public life.

Asylum seekers, although they may not be granted the right to remain in Europe, should not forfeit their human rights. Member states of the Council of Europe should share the burden of dealing with those recently arrived.

Finally, the Group calls on all Europeans, and particularly the main European institutions, to reach out to the neighbouring regions at a time when they have demonstrated their commitment to universal values of freedom and democracy upheld by Europe.

The main specific recommendations are on the following topics:

·         Integration of migrants: Focusing on legislation, the Group recommends that it should be reviewed and adapted to be in line with human rights standards. Strong political statements should be made on the importance of successful integration.

·         Citizenship and voting rights: Member states are encouraged to facilitate the acquisition of citizenship by those permanently residing on their territory. Voting rights at local level should be extended to permanent residents.

·         Asylum and humanitarian issues: the Council of Europe and the EU should design an asylum regime in line with human rights standards applicable to the pan-European context. New standards should also be considered for the reception and detention of irregular migrants. Detention is only to be used as a last resort, making use of the alternatives proposed.

·         Education, youth and intercultural dialogue: Intercultural competency is recommended as a core element of school curricula and informal education. Mobility of students and educational staff should be increased.

·         Media: Journalists are encouraged to end dissemination of stereotypes about particular ethnic groups, who should be given the chance to tell their own version of the story. Regular encounters between main media networks should organised by the Council of Europe to implement guidelines on training, ethical and content production issues.

·         Roma: Roma should not be returned to countries where they may face degrading treatment. Segregation of Roma children should be abolished. Access to the labour market promoted, included hiring Roma in public administration. Annual monitoring reports should be issued as follow-up to the Strasbourg declaration on Roma (October 2010).

·         Local and regional action: Civil servants dealing with migrants should be trained. Inter-regional and municipal co-operation should be encouraged, including between European and non-European entities. The Intercultural Cities programme should be developed, and national networks established.

·         Working with neighbours: The Groups urges the Committee of Ministers to grant a special status to countries on the southern and eastern coast of the Mediterranean and Central Asia willing to adhere to the European Convention on Human Rights. These countries should be invited to join as full members such bodies of the Council of Europe as the North-South Centre or the Venice Commission. Partnership between the Council of Europe and the League of Arab States should be proposed.


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                                                                                                                           Updated: August 2011