Social Cohesion Research and Early Warning

The Department
Social Cohesion Development and Research  
Social Security
Access to Social Rights
Social Policy for Families and Children


Dialogue platform on ethical and solidarity-based initiatives for combating poverty and social exclusion
Awareness raising seminars
Methodological tool to develop co-responsibility for social cohesion
Annual Forums
Series Trends in social cohesion
Methodological Guides



INTERACTING IN DIVERSITY FOR SOCIAL COHESION: frameworks and references to adapt the organisation and competences of social services to the demands of a pluralist society

7-8 December 2009, Council of Europe, Agora Building, Strasbourg (France)


The purpose of this conference organised in partnership between the Council of Europe, the European Commission and the Province of Quebec is to discuss the social and operational challenges, in particular the acquisition of intercultural competences, facing public institutions, especially in the field of personal services, as a result of interaction with cultural diversity. In a changing Europe, public establishments have to respond to the growing demands for change coming from users.

Interaction, therefore, comprises forms of institutional accommodation in order to ensure that access to rights and services is non-discriminatory and of the same quality for everybody – also from the point of view of communication and understanding – especially those from different linguistic, cultural and religious background or for whom special treatment must be provided because of their particular situation. 

Institutional “accommodations” in Europe are often part of a “common sense” ethic, depending for the most part on the level of commitment of the public authorities (particularly local and regional authorities) and the service operators working in line with a proactive vision of non-discrimination against migrants and minorities. This has given rise to practices introducing pragmatic flexibility within several structures, particularly health-care services, social services, child and family protection services and also education.

Nonetheless, these European practices are circumscribed in legal frameworks which protect the resident populations from all forms of discrimination, whether direct or indirect. Alongside the instruments recognising the universality of human rights, there are others relating more specifically to non-discrimination, such as the Council of Europe’s Social Charter and the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages , the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 12, Protocol 14 and the European Union’s Directives on equal treatment of people irrespective of racial or ethnic origin (2000/43/EC), equal treatment in employment and occupation (2000/78/EC), the proposal to extend equal treatment beyond the employment sector (COM (2008) 426 of 2 July 2008), and various pieces of national legislation such as the Equal Treatment Act in the Netherlands and the Equality Act in the United Kingdom.  

Institutional “accommodations” deriving from the application of these instruments are sometimes implicit in nature in Europe, contrary to the situation in Quebec where they are part of an explicit policy of interculturalism (1). This experience which will be analysed during this conference sheds light on the institutional or private efforts to help make things move forward in line with the need to accommodate specific demands. The result is therefore a significant “achievement” for society encouraging others to follow suit. This does not mean that exceptional treatment is the rule, but rather that the obligation for individual accommodation may give rise to a structural transformation of institutions, particularly social and educational services.

This conference will deal primarily with the following topics:

  • the advantages and limits of the concept of reasonable accommodation for interaction in social services in relation to the European frameworks of non-discrimination (2). In this context, a comparative analysis will be made of the role of the courts in promoting accommodation in institutions;

  • an analysis of the “accommodations” which social workers, mediators and other service operators employ in Europe, and the forms of mediation in place;

  • training in intercultural competences;

  • an analysis of the role played by institutional language in securing a full understanding of rights, rules and procedures in a pluralist society.

 In brief, this conference, which also serves to promote the Council of Europe’s White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue, is seeking to open up a European debate on the most appropriate mechanisms for the introduction of social services and structures which reflect the pluralism of society and which, in this way, will contribute to social cohesion.

(1) See the Bouchard-Taylor Report (2008). Building the future - A time for reconciliation. Consultation Commission on Accommodation Practices Related to Cultural Differences.

(2) Including extension of this framework beyond people with disabilities (Directive 2000/78/EC)