The make-up of Europe, in terms of culture, religious beliefs, ethnic groups and languages, is now more varied than ever thanks to EU enlargement, and increasing levels of trade and migration. While there are many benefits to this diversity, it also has the potential to create tension and misunderstandings.
“We can and should face up to the challenges of our continent's cultural and religious mix,” said Commissioner Ján Figel’ as he launched the campaign at an event in Brussels. “This may seem to be an extremely difficult task. But 50 years ago the idea of bringing our continent's diverse populations together under one umbrella, the European Union, also seemed to be beyond reach.”
Mr Figel’ was joined by a number of 'Ambassadors for Intercultural Dialogue' from Europe and beyond, including Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho, Slovak conductor Jack Martin Händler, Romanian film director Radu Mihăileanu, Slovenian conceptual artist Marko Peljhan, Catalan bass viola player Jordi Savall, Turkish piano player Fazil Say and Serbian Eurovision champion Marija Šerifović.
Paulo Coelho, the author of best-selling books such as the Alchemist, pointed out how culture was the “common denominator” for all communities throughout the world. “In these difficult moments in which the world is in danger, culture is the base to establish a dialogue,” he said.
The campaign has a total budget of €10 million to fund events and information activities throughout the EU, together with the co-financing of seven European projects and 27 national projects. The projects will cover urban culture, popular arts, the participation of young people, migration, media, exchange of local initiatives, video project or activities of immigrant communities.
Events will be taking place in Member States from January onwards. There will also be a series of debates in Brussels throughout the year, looking at a different aspect of inter-cultural relationships. Specific topics include media, arts and heritage, the workplace, religion, education and youth, migration and integration.
It appears that diversity is becoming a reality in the EU and is viewed positively by many people, according to recent research. Out of 27 000 people across the EU interviewed for a Eurobarometer survey in November, around two thirds said that they had had recent contact with someone from a different religious, ethnic or national background. Meanwhile, 72% believe that people with a different background enrich the cultural life of their country.