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What Policies are Needed to Turn Cultural Diversity into an Asset for Socio-Economic Development?

10 May 2013

Contemporary western societies are culturally and religiously diverse. Such diversity arises either from the process of state formation – when a national or multi-national state incorporated one or more sizeable native minorities – or from the process of international migration. There are countries that define themselves as multi-national states, recognising their internal diversity (e.g. Spain, the UK), and countries that define themselves as immigrant nations (e.g. Canada, the USA, Australia). Others, by contrast, hold on to a conception of the nation as a culturally homogenous political community where migrants, post-migration and native minorities are ‘an exception to the rule’ (e.g. Germany, Greece, Denmark).

Regardless of their self-conceptions as political communities, all these countries are faced with the socio-economic challenges that cultural and religious diversity poses for governance and social cohesion. These challenges relate to the issue of accommodating minority claims in the public realm and setting up appropriate institutional channels for minority representation and participation. An additional and perhaps most acute challenge today is the tension between social solidarity (in economic terms) and cultural diversity: what has been termed the ‘progressive dilemma’ (Van Parijs 2004; Pearce 2004; Banting and Kymlicka 2006). Notably the dilemma whether states should privilege policies that address inequality in general or group-specific disadvantage and the overall question of how economic solidarity relates to cultural diversity.

It is against this background that the HLPS  addressed, among others, the following questions: How can we make cultural and religious diversity an asset for growth? What kind of policies are needed to build culturally diverse but cohesive democracies today?

Discussions at the HLPS emphasised the need for monitoring the policies in place for fighting discrimination and ensuring equality of opportunity. Such monitoring can only be done through “ethnic statistics,” an issue that is controversial in many countries because there is a fear that it could lead to more rather than less discrimination as well as because it reminds of the painful past of ethnic and religious conflict in Europe.

The HLPS noted that there is an appropriate timing for each set of policies for fighting discrimination and disadvantage. As such, quota measures and affirmative action programmes are an effective tool for particularly disadvantaged groups (e.g. the Roma but not only). Their duration should be long enough to yield results (a few decades for instance, as social change does not happen overnight). 


Newly released

Policy Brief 

Cultural Diversity: Advantage or Liability?
Anna Triandafyllidou and Iryna Ulasiuk

Policy Papers 

Interculturalism, Multiculturalism, or Both?
Nasar Meer, Tariq Modood



Stefano Bartolini, Director, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies
Rajeev Bhargava, Professor, University of New Delhi
Ilze Brands Kehris, Director, OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities
Myrtha Casanova, President, European Institute for Managing Diversity
Irene Guidikova, Head, Cultural Policy, Diversity and Intercultural Dialogue Division, Directorate of Culture and Cultural and Natural Heritage, Council of Europe
Anthony Heath, Professor, Oxford University
Frans Jennekens, Head, Diversity Section, NTR
Yudhishthir Raj Isar, Professor, American University of Paris
Tariq Modood, Professor, University of Bristol
Ugo Pagano, Professor, University of Siena
Robin Scaflani, Director, CEJI- A Jewish contribution to an Inclusive Europe
Patrick Simon, Professor, Institut National d’Etudes Demographiques
Anna Triandafyllidou, Director ad Interim, Global Governance Programme and Director GGP Research Strand Cultural Pluralism, EUI
Iryna Ulasiuk, Research Assistant, GGP Research Strand Cultural Pluralism, EUI