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Speech on the occasion of the european day of migration and integration : ‘Migrants: actors and vectors of intercultural dialogue’ - Aachen (Germany)

Speech on the occasion of the european day of migration and integration : ‘Migrants: actors and vectors of intercultural dialogue' - Aachen (Germany)
Monday, 19 November 2007

Mr Minister Laschet,

Mr State Secretary Altmeier,

Mr Mayor Linden,



Ladies and Gentlemen,

The desire to improve one's situation by moving from one place to another is a defining characteristic of humanity.

How else would we find homo sapiens all across the globe?

It is certainly true for Europe, throughout its history: in most countries, large parts of the population – often including the majority communities – did not arrive until Roman times or later.

Today, modern means of travel have greatly facilitated long-distance migration, whereas even the most advanced means of migration control are limited in their effectiveness.

So the question is – how do we respond to the inevitable?

Throughout Europe, the debate on migration is too often characterised by hostility and resentment.

The public debate is marked by a fear that those of different colours, cultures, languages and religions will undermine our existing ways of life.

In fact, I believe that it is precisely when we do respond negatively to migration that conflicts and divisions are most likely.

Instead, we most recognise the enormous opportunities and advantages that migration can present to our societies; indeed, only then will we be able to benefit from them.

In our shrinking, globalising, multi-polar world, it is no longer possible for any country or region to ignore its neighbours; nor is any country or region strong enough to confront today's challenges by itself.

In this context, mass migration – itself a defining feature of globalisation – can bring many advantages:

o Opportunities for dialogue, trade and exchanges of ideas

o A context for building mutual understanding and respect

o The creation of common interests and joint activities

Even from a selfish perspective, migration can reinforce the social and economic prospects of our societies:

o Supply of skills in shortage, such as health care and information technology

o Young, industrious workers, for whom our lower-paid sectors offer attractive opportunities

o Contributions to social security and pension funds

And I would include, amongst the benefits to host societies – proving our commitment to human rights, by offering refuge to the persecuted.

Properly managed migration can also be valuable to countries of origin, through the wages sent back to support families and the acquired skills that returning migrants take home with them.

The greatest challenge in achieving these positive outcomes, however, is integration.

There is much for us to be proud of – and to seek to preserve – in our democratic societies, founded on respect for equality, justice, human rights and the rule of law.

These are universal values that can and must apply to everyone, without exception.

Nevertheless, we must recognise that these concepts may be unfamiliar in practice to people from certain cultures and backgrounds.

Education of migrants, of all ages, is thus essential to their understanding and acceptance of our societies and value systems.

Effective education and integration can only be achieved through a two-way process and must never be coercive, arrogant or patronising.

It is essential, therefore, for the host society to understand the cultural background of migrants, their fears and aspirations.

All too often, it is the second generation of migrants that becomes alienated and radicalised by discrimination and a lack of opportunities.

To avoid this, host societies must scrupulously respect the rights of migrants and be vigilant against any form of discrimination.

We must not allow ourselves to be accused of hypocrisy or double standards: in our own words and deeds, we must be seen to uphold the values that we expect migrants to respect.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Events such as this conference, if properly organised, can play an important role – in terms of political, public and media impact – in forming positive, constructive opinions and attitudes of both migrant and host communities to their shared existence.

I am extremely pleased that this event has been properly organised, bringing together not only politicians from local, regional, national and European levels, but also members of migrant communities, including successful politicians, businessmen and young people as well as religious leaders and academics.

It is essential that we do not talk about migrants, but with migrants.

I would therefore like to thank my co-hosts, Mr Çavuşoğlu, Chairperson of the Assembly's Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population, and Mr Laschet, Minister for Inter-generational Affairs, Family, Women and Integration of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia, along with our partners from the European Parliament and the Charlemagne Prize Foundation, for their extremely successful efforts.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The key to integration is inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue.

Just as the success of this conference will depend on having brought together a wide variety of actors, so must the wider inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue take place at all levels.

It must be conducted through dynamic, flexible contacts between religious leaders, leaders of migrant communities, politicians and the host authorities.

It must address real, concrete issues of importance in the everyday lives of both migrant and host societies.

Above all, the dialogue must be based on a shared commitment to our common values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

A dialogue that involves elected representatives of faith communities – in other words, people who owe their position to the freely-expressed will of those they represent – is a useful way of promoting the understanding of, and encouraging participation in the democratic process.

Under my presidency, the Parliamentary Assembly has made a priority of inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue.

A pan-European body of 318 democratically-elected parliamentarians from our 47 member States, the Assembly's membership includes representatives of all Europe's cultures and religions, making us an ideal and privileged forum for inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue.

We look forward to continuing our work next year, as a central contribution to the European Year of Inter-cultural Dialogue.

In this connexion, I am glad to announce that the Parliamentary Assembly from the Council of Europe together with the CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly have reached an agreement to continue the tradition of joint conferences and to devote the following one, to be held on 3 April 2008, to migration issues.

Another part of our contribution to the European Year of Inter-cultural Dialogue, I am sure, will come through the inauguration of a European Day for Integration and Intercultural Tolerance: a clear and visible sign of our shared commitment to making this goal a top political priority for Europe.

I therefore wish you all a most interesting, rewarding and stimulating conference – I have no doubt that it will be – and look forward to seeing the results of your work in practice.

Thank you.