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European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy
Report on Intercultural trends Anna Lindh Foundation
Launching Ceremony Report on Intercultural trends Anna Lindh Foundation
Brussels, 15 September 2010
Thank you very much, President Azoulay, for your kind personal words. And allow me to reaffirm my personal commitment to stand on the side of those who fight against the cultural “clichés” you have mentioned and who try to bring “the two shores” of our Mediterranean Sea closer together.
Mister President, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to be here today at the launching of the first edition of the Anna Lindh Report on Intercultural trends. I would like, first of all, to thank the Anna Lindh Foundation for the invitation to be with them on this important occasion.
In the mosaic of cultures, ethnicities, religions and civilisations which make up our Euro-Mediterranean region, mutual understanding and dialogue are essential for peaceful coexistence and joint development. The Euro-Mediterranean partnership has consistently paid attention to the social, cultural and human dimension aspects of our relations and, particularly, to the dialogue among cultures. Understanding each other is instrumental to achieving the overarching aim of our Partnership: establishing an area of peace, prosperity, security and stability around our common sea.
Since the very early days the European Commission has been a staunch and wholehearted supporter of the Anna Lindh Foundation: financially, through contributing half of the Foundation’s budget, but also and above all politically. We are proud that we have done so and we have been impressed by the capacity of the Foundation to work in what have been difficult circumstances. Thanks to the combined will and strength of its national networks and to its ability to conduct professional work in an independent manner, it has all the elements needed to live up to the high expectations of its founders. Ever since its creation, the Foundation has done remarkable work for fostering dialogue between cultures in the region with the support of all Euro-Mediterranean partners. Thanks to its extensive presence throughout the region, it is ideally placed to observe Euro-Mediterranean societies and report on their evolution.
I was fortunate enough to take part in the last ALF Forum in Barcelona in March. By gathering more than a thousand organisations, the Forum offered an exceptional opportunity to hear the voice of Euro-Mediterranean civil society. The message brought to us, public institutions, was that dialogue should be at the centre of our relations and that it could help us further enhance our co-operation. It clearly asked for dialogue instead of conflict. It urged political leaders to harness the fact that dialogue and political will are necessary for the resolution of conflicts in the region. Dialogue among cultures is not just co-operation on culture: it also has its full place among the instruments of conflict prevention and resolution and it can also play an important part in our joint efforts to fight against poverty and to advance democratisation. I found this message highly inspiring: I think many of us heard it and are trying our best to live up to this challenge in our daily work.
The report we are launching today is, again, an important source of inspiration. The rigorous, scientific and qualitative approach that has been used makes it a precious tool to enhance our own understanding of ourselves. This report has moved the essential debate on Mediterranean identity away from intellectual meetings and brought it to the man and the woman in the street by asking around 13,000 people from 13 countries what the “Mediterranean” and the “Euro-Mediterranean” mean to them. What has come out of it is a lesson of humility, a message of hope, and an important tool for further strengthening Euro-Mediterranean relations.
What do I mean by a lesson of humility?
The report gives us useful insights into the low levels of mutual knowledge that exist in the Euro-Mediterranean region. It is interesting to see throughout the report that, when someone from the Northern or the South-Eastern part of the Mediterranean tries to guess what “the other shore’s values” are, they often get it wrong. This is the case, for instance, with the importance attached to certain values while bringing up one’s children.
Another example is the perception of the media. For a majority of the people in our region, the experience of “the other shore” does not come through travelling or first-hand contact but rather through the media, which are rightly given a lot of prominence in this first edition of the report. Media undoubtedly play a crucial part in intercultural dialogue: far from simply “carrying” news, they greatly contribute to shaping public opinion. According to the report, a majority of respondents feel that they do not find in the media the type of information that may enhance their view of “the people on the other shore”.
What this shows is simply that we must continuously seek ways to move beyond our natural ignorance. When we are offered a chance to reach beyond stereotypes, we all come to realise that reality on “the other shore” is equally diffuse, complex and diverse as it is in our own country. This is abundantly highlighted in the analyses included in the report, most of them written by distinguished and experienced observers of Mediterranean societies. More than ever we need to think how education, human contacts, culture and many other aspects of our work can help combat and refute inaccurate perceptions of each other. This includes working together with the media to promote cultural diversity, ensure balanced reporting and analysis, counterbalance the radical opinions that outshine far too often the moderate views of the large majority of our citizens.
Why a message of hope?
Because the report demonstrates that, despite the recurrent tensions and difficulties in the Euro-Mediterranean region, there are positive trends pointing towards a deeper shared awareness of our common future.
At a time of uncertainty, notwithstanding the recent re-opening of direct Middle East talks, the Euro-Mediterranean citizens surveyed underline the positive aspects of Euro-Mediterranean relations; they express, as stated by High Representative-Vice President Ashton in her foreword to this report, “that the Euro-Mediterranean exists as a political and geographical area for cooperation and, even more importantly, that the Mediterranean exists as a socio-cultural partnership and that it can be further developed”.
Beyond the Union for the Mediterranean itself, the report shows very clearly that we, Euro-Mediterranean citizens, share most of our values — and that, even when we may diverge, respect and understanding for those differences are essential. It also highlights the very high levels of curiosity that prevail throughout our region about other countries, their ways of life, their culture, their economic conditions and even, to a lesser extent, their religious beliefs and practices. This may be one of the most positive and optimistic messages in the report: curiosity about “the other” remains a deep-rooted feature of Euro-Mediterranean societies, and one that we should justifiably be proud of.
Why did I say, finally, an important tool for further strengthening Euro-Mediterranean relations?
Because I believe this report and its recommendations will help us to address some of the challenges we are facing in the region. I hope that this is the first of a long series of documents that will provide us periodically with new information to help improve our policies and instruments and design new ones whenever necessary.
This is useful in the foreign policy remit but also in what we do within each and every of our countries. In diverse societies such as ours, dialogue between cultures has long ceased being only a matter of external concern. It requires domestic action just as much as diplomacy. It is about how we ensure circulation of ideas and information, how we address obstacles related to freedom of expression of thoughts and ideas, to mobility, to linguistic differences and many other aspects. It is about designing tools establishing the best conditions for an unbiased and deeper knowledge of the other.
I invite you to read this report with an open mind and to find there, yet again, the source of inspiration for our daily work that dialogue among cultures in general, and the activities of the Anna Lindh Foundation in particular, have been consistently able to provide.
Thank you very much.