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5th World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue. High Level Panel – “Mobilising intercultural dialogue for concrete transformative action”

Baku , 

As delivered

Ministers, distinguished guests and speakers, ladies and gentlemen,

It is always a pleasure to speak about Intercultural Dialogue at these World Forum events.

After all, the Baku Process brings together groups of like-minded people, who share a common understanding about the importance of openness and inclusion.

This is positive and affirming.

But I am also aware of the underlying message of this Forum’s theme – and this panel’s topic, specifically.

Yes, intercultural dialogue is vital, but it is not simply an end in itself.

It must be the foundation stone for policy, for practical measures that harness the benefits it can provide for every individual in our communities.

At the Council of Europe, we have implemented a number of programmes designed to do just that.

First and foremost among these is our Intercultural Cities programme.

Now over ten years old, this initiative was born of our view that it is wrong to present new arrivals with a binary choice: assimilation or multiculturalism.

Rather, people should work together to forge a community of shared values in which all identities matter and all people are valued equally.

This is about more than managing diversity – it is about celebrating it – and reaping the rewards.

Because the evidence suggests that there is a competitive advantage to be gained from diverse communities, a diversity dividend, that pays out for all residents.

When we build trust through everyday contact with people from all backgrounds;

When we ensure that we live, learn and work side by side;

When we take the proactive steps required to open our institutions and public spaces to everyone;

This is when equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities stop being mere words and become lived realities;

And it is where, as external studies have shown, local tensions are defused, local services improve and local economies grow, with new jobs created.

Everybody wins.

Local examples are shaped by local circumstances, but the Intercultural Cities network grows ever wider.

Having started as a European project, it now includes around 135 cities spanning five continents –

Among these, the leadership of individual mayors, the commitment of local councils, and the drive of individual policy coordinators have all played essential roles.

Between them they have provided the commitment, the cross-cutting policies and the proper budget that create true intercultural cities –

Cities where newcomers are welcomed, support – including language learning – is provided, and segregation is prevented.

The rapid expansion of this network has brought new and inspiring innovations:

Anti-rumour campaigns that stamp out untruths and prejudice;

Bespoke action to tackle the root causes of Islamophobia, prevent extremism and foster personal interaction;

And the development just last year of a methodology to support local police and law enforcement agencies to better adapt to the diverse societies that they serve.

Other activities encourage interaction and co-operation in schools, in business and private enterprise, and in managing the sudden arrival of new migrants, so that they too can contribute and thrive.

What we are seeing are the principles of our Intercultural Cities replacing barriers with bonds.

There are other positive developments on the horizon too.

Let me give you just three examples.

First, intercultural integration academies are springing up, offering crash courses to a number of cities in one country, so that each can learn from the others and adopt best practice.

Recent academies were held in Greece and Ireland; Sweden and the United Kingdom are planning their own later this year.

Second, the goals of the Global compact for Migration will be pursued at the local level, helping ensure that new arrivals bring mutual benefits to their new communities.

This new policy framework is being developed in partnership with the OECD, Welcoming America and the Migration Policy Group.

Alongside our recent work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, it is an indication of our willingness to work with others.

After all, success is something to share – and, of course, to measure.

So the third positive development is that the Intercultural Cities network will begin this year to use big data and Artificial Intelligence to assess the impact of intercultural activities.

This will provide more insight than ever before on what kind of initiatives work best and under which circumstances.

In turn, the evidence that technology generates will help to ensure that future activities are tailored to the specifics of the communities they serve.

In my address this morning, I mentioned other work that my Organisation is doing to ensure that intercultural dialogue results in concrete transformative action:

Activities in the fields of education, youth, culture and more.

Indeed we have a detailed Action Plan on Building Inclusive Societies – and we are proud of its impact.

But all-round co-operation is vital to the coherence of this concept.

If national integration policies are less than inclusive, the picture is incomplete.

Worst still, intercultural progress can even be undermined.

Regulations on education, housing and employment, and on entrepreneurship, police and justice, and the conditions for family reunion and citizenship – these and many more policies fall to national authorities in conjunction with local government, or entirely within their remit alone.

So for interculturalism to succeed fully – for the diversity advantage to be realised in full – we need to harmonise local and national policies: we need multi-level governance with a common approach.

This is indispensible.

That’s why our Inclusive Integration Policy Labs are working towards a national policy framework which can be used as a template for individual countries to adopt and adapt.

The success of this – all of this - depends on political will.

However, when the benefits can be measured and proven, the demand will surely follow.

So yes, this Forum is an opportunity to learn from one another about best practice.

But just as important is finding additional ways to reach new people, at every level of government and society, and get the message out there that moving from intercultural dialogue to proactive policy is a winning strategy for all.

Ambitious, inclusive, and proven.

Thank you.