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Picture from le Blog de Caroline Fourest.It’s all about a “positive acceptance not a negative tolerance.” Ruth Lea, British economist.

The issue of multiculturalism has recently been put under spotlights by David Cameron’s first speech as Prime Minister on radicalisation and the causes of terrorism, where he stated that “multiculturalism failed”. French and German leaders Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel soon proclaimed that they shared this position.

Before asking ourselves if multiculturalism in Europe has been a failure we should try to understand how multiculturalism is defined. Generally multiculturalism is perceived as a “choice” of society in which every culture has the right to exist and there is no real link, no real interaction between communities. The other way to define multiculturalism is the “choice” of society to recognize all cultures, which peacefully coexist, but with at the same time a common identity. It is what is called “unity in diversity”. The absence of interconnectivity which characterises the first interpretation of multiculturalism is probably the factor which leads to the failure of this system.

Historically, the British model of multiculturalism has been opposed to the French model of assimilation. In the French model, unity is more important than diversity. In fact, principles such has the unité et indivisibilité du peuple français (unity and indivisibility of the French people), laïcité de l’Etat (secularity of the State) or identité nationale (national identity) are fundamental basis of French democracy.

The definition of “European” as well as British, Spanish or German has changed throughout the years and is in constant evolution. European countries have to find a model which suits their tradition but at the same time encourages the integration of people from minorities, which are established in Europe. They need to feel and be part of a common European path without forgetting their roots.

We should not forget that people from minority backgrounds have to make constant efforts in order to learn the language and the habits of the country where they live in, while often encountering social exclusion and discrimination in many areas of public life. The perfect model would maybe be the one in which minorities are perfectly integrated in Europe but at the same time see that value is given to their culture.

Multiculturalism in Britain is not recent, and has successfully been practiced for decades. So is multiculturalism the main problem? Today, when talking about this issue, public opinion tends to refer almost exclusively to the Muslim community ignoring the other minorities. The fear of “Muslim invasion” fed by some right wing extremist is probably causing this dangerous amalgam.

European Alternatives is trying to analyse this issue by fostering debate on these subjects:

  • Multiculturalism vs. assimilation:what are the positive/negative aspects of both models? Is there a mid-way between the two?
  • Breach of fundamental rights: Is assimilation a threat for fundamental rights such as freedom of thought, freedom of speech, equality of all before the law or respect for private life?
  • The issue of representation: would a better representation of minorities in the media or in politics favour the successful integration of minorities? Should affirmative action/ quotas be introduced in some areas?
  • Redefining national identity: What is the perception of the national identity in each EU country? What makes people feel part of a country? How are European citizens from ethnic minority backgrounds perceived in each EU countries? Is there a European identity? Do ethnic minority Europeans feel it more/less/equally than others?
  • Government intervention:should the Government play a more active role on this issue? Are laws such as the French ban on the headscarf necessary?
If you would like to know more, you can check out the following links:Multiculturalism
BBC News, UK Politics, State multiculturalism has failed, says David Cameron”, 5 February 2011,  (English, text+videos)
Youtube, Trevor Philips on multiculturism (06Feb11)
Youtube,Europe at a Crossroad: Assimilation No, Integration Yes – the Story of Malmo, Sweden” (Part 1 and 2) (English)

Assimilation, «Interdiction du voile intégral: l’exception française», 11.04.2011, (French)