Multiculturalism in Europe

Europe is home to many cultures and, in an attempt to promote a peaceful coexistence, the European Union have been supporting integration and social cohesion policies in order to better receive the migrants, but around 2002 the rhetoric had changed. Nicolas Sarkozy in France, Jose Maria Aznar in Spain, David Cameron in the United Kingdom and Angela Merkel in Germany (the only one that remains in power) were some of the voices that began to talk about the failure of the policy of multiculturalism after 2010..

When the EU accepted new member States in 2004 and 2007, fears of a massive wave of migrants from the East to the West of Europe resulted in the establishment and maintenance of immigration restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians to countries like France and Germany.  Now with the refugees crisis, more pressure has been mounting on member states to receive more migrants, alongside the rise of right wing political parties have been a reality around Europe, which creates an hostile environment for multiculturalism policies.

The current problems Europe faces are not related to the cultural mosaic that characterises the old continent, but rather because of the increasing acts of racism and xenophobia against immigrants. While has been a failure of multicultural policies in European countries to achieve the desired goal of peaceful integration of foreigners, assimilation should not be seen as the solution.  Migrants have the right to keep their cultural background, but common values have to be shared and traditions respected in order to keep a peaceful coexistence.

In Germany, for instance, Turkish people and other southern Europeans who arrived to work in German factories were considered as “Gastarbeiter”(or ‘guest workers’). As Merkel said in 2012, Germans thought they would be back to their countries after two years, but instead they brought their families. Over decades, German nationality was denied to these people as the “Jus Sanguinis” rule only permitted those with German parentage to get German nationality. The policy of multiculturalism in Germany was developed to not approach the Turkish immigrants during years.

In 1998, when France won the World Cup, it was considered a model country on issues of multiculturalism. Nowadays reality is not quite the same. France is facing troubles, as the far right movement is rising, treating immigrants as scapegoats. One of the newsworthy cases is about the use of the burqa by Muslim women, but there are other worrying cases that illustrate this clash of cultures in Western Europe. The recent economic and migrant crisis that affects Europe has opened the discussion about multicultural societies.

In the last years we have not only seen high levels of social unrest, but also a ‘cultural unrest’- a term created in 2008 by Moufakkir to refer the passage of a euphoria to an antagonist of cultural relations. The cultural unrest comes in the wake of the culture shock. For example, the Netherlands, often seen as among the most liberal countries, has been changing their multiculturalism policies. As in France, this can be explained by several factors including the increasing vote share being won by ultranationalist political parties.

In a case study about the relations between Dutch and Moroccans, it is noticeable  that Dutch citizens who have visited Morocco are more open and easily accept Moroccan immigrants in Netherlands. On the contrary, people who have never had contact with Morocco have a pessimistic view of Moroccan immigrants. Travel tends to change the way people think about a country and its local population, making those who travel more willing to accept immigrants in their own country.  Thus travelling opens minds. The Erasmus programme, designed by the European Commission to develop a more tolerant and open society across Europe, is a great example of this.

In an article from the Migration Integration Policy Index about Europe’s multicultural policies, we can conclude that EU members States have accepted several EU common policies on multiculturalism, but what happens is that those policies mainly refer to cultural rights leaving aside the immigrants participation in the social and political life. Developed by Queen’s University at Kingston in Ontario, Canada, the Multiculturalism Policy Index analyses the development of policy between 1980 and 2010 in twenty-one Western democracies. It shows a correlation between the increase of legislation concerning multiculturalism and the increase in the foreign-born population.  

However, another study carried out by the Science Centre Berlin for Social Research shows that multiculturalism policies stagnated around 2002, when far-right political parties began to rise in Western Europe. This also coincides with September 11, which created more differences between national citizens and immigrants rights.

Multiculturalism policies have shown that they have long-term effects, but the rise of right-wing political parties in Europe are leading politicians to opt for short-term policies with often detrimental repercussions. European Governments are leaving their multiculturalism policies behind in an attempt to control the rise of the nationalist movements, but Europe needs more multiculturalism as it faces one of the greatest mass-migration in its history. The Old Continent has been a cultural mosaic and governments should act to preserve their rich cultural diversity, bringing tolerance and respect for all those who have decide to live in Europe.