29th Jun 2022

Anti-racism NGOs say intercultural dialogue money not well spent

European anti-racism NGOs have criticised the European Commission for giving money to activities during the European year of intercultural dialogue to EU governments, rather than to those who work directly to help minority communities.

"If the European Commission wanted multiculturalism and intercultural dialogue, it should have given at least half of the money to NGOs who interact with the very people they want to create a dialogue with," Bashy Quraishy, president of the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) told Euobserver.

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The organisation groups over 600 NGOs working to combat racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in all 27 EU member states.

According to the Indian-born, Pakistani-raised Dane, if each country chooses to spend the EU money according to its own definition of 'intercultural dialogue', the targetted minorities stand little chance of being involved in dialogue with the majority communities.

He targetted his home country Denmark for criticism: "The Danish government does not believe in interculturalism, they believe in Danish culture. The government did not invite a single local NGO to discuss the activities for the year," said Mr Quraishy.

Nonetheless, he praised the European Commission for its initiative, underlining that any focus on the sensitive issue of multiculturalism is valuable and that Brussels has been much bolder than member states on this issue.

However, EU policy makers should have required governments to spend the money according to an agreed definition of the words 'multiculturalism' and 'intercultural dialogue' before handing out the cash, he continued.

"The commission should have said: 'By interculturalism we mean that majorities with all their resources and money interact with minorities who do not have those things'. Ask them [the minorities] what kind of activities they want in the 'intercultural dialogue' programme. Their picture is completely different from that of the governments," Mr Quraishy said.

"My biggest concern is that this kind of year, like last year, which was the year of 'equal opportunities', becomes a symbolic gesture; talking and exchanging smiles and pleasant words," he concluded.

A small cake to share

The European year of intercultural dialogue has a budget of €10 million, plus money from EU capitals, to be spent on seven flagship multi-European projects and 27 national projects involving culture, education, youth, sport and citizenship.

It aims to encourage understanding, tolerance, solidarity and a sense of common destiny among people of all origins and cultures in Europe.

Out of the €10 million grant from Brussels, 40 percent is dedicated to campaigning and other public relations work for the year. Another third is directly invested in co-financing trans-country projects, leaving only €2.4 million, split between European capitals, to be freely allocated.

"There is incredibly little money to share after you have divided it amongst 27 member states to begin with," a Brussels culture attaché involved in the year's planning said, explaining that the administrative burden in splitting such small sums between not only governments but also NGOs would simply not be worth while.

"It seems reasonable that the commission gives the money to governments to handle, considering they are also supposed to counter with money from their own state coffers to finance the different projects," the attaché continued.

He said several countries had been sceptical of spending such large amounts on media campaigns and other PR work, and would rather have seen the money invested directly into concrete activities around the theme of intercultural dialogue.

"There was a divide between countries who wanted to spend more on 'emblematic projects' to raise profile, and those who wanted to allocate more money among governments and projects," he explained.

EU launches campaign for intercultural dialogue

To foster better understanding and communication between the diverse crowd that makes up European citizens, Brussels has launched a media campaign about its forthcoming "Year of intercultural Dialogue."


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