Barcelona: Inclusion within Diversity


Álvaro de Vasconcelos*


The Barcelona Process can be seen as an exercise in the politics of inclusion. It aims to establish a regional group – over time, a community of democratic states – in the Euro-Mediterranean region, a region that contains a massively pluralist cultural and religious reality.  It is, furthermore, based on the principle of unity within diversity. In this respect, the process of Turkish democratisation and its accession to the European Union is a powerful stimulus to Euro-Mediterranean integration in that it illustrates the innately positive outcomes of a logic that emphasises what disparate individuals and entities share through democratic inclusion, rather than focusing on civilisational cleavages or highlighting imagined or real divides.  This is a crucial point to bear in mind in order to prevent a rhetoric approach to cultural dialogue from taking the place of the critical debate about democracy and human rights.

Identity-Based Nationalism: The Curse of Our Times

The events of 11 September provided us with terrible additional proof (if such were needed) of the resurgence of identity-based nationalism rooted in a totalitarian vision.  It is a vision which, in its absolute rejection of fundamental rights, adds up to nothing less than an overwhelming capacity to provoke destruction and cause human suffering. Bosnia, which was subjected to the barbarian brutality of Serbian identity-based nationalism, and Rwanda, where the international community impassively permitted genocide on an almost unimaginable scale, only differ from other parts of the world experiencing similar processes in terms of magnitude and duration of their experiences. The humanitarian crisis in the Sudan, again of catastrophic proportions (officially declared to be genocide although strangely eliciting no appropriate response), shows that limiting international security to combating transnational terrorism is not only mistaken but costly in terms of human lives. At the same time, political parties with the primary purpose of defending national identities threatened by cosmopolitanism and multiculturalism have appeared in Western Europe.

Because of their awareness of the grave dangers of identity-based nationalism and the concomitant popularity of the “clash of civilisation” thesis, many people who oppose both phenomena focussed on initiatives such as “dialogues between civilisations” as means of neutralising and preventing confrontation and potential conflict. This view cannot be dismissed out-of-hand, and cultural factors are undeniably important in promoting solidarity among peoples. But they are certainly not the sole, nor even the strongest, ties that generate convergence and solidarity. For example, public attitudes and perceptions towards the war in Iraq have been similar in Europe and in the Muslim world and have been independent of the attitudes and motivations of leaders and governments. Equally, the attitudes of Muslim and non-Muslim Europeans towards the Arab-Israeli conflict, for instance, have been similar.    

There is an alternative to “tolerant coexistence” which involves recognising that, despite different cultural and traditional heritages, every person is first and foremost a member of a common human family and, as such, needs to enjoy the same basic rights. This has been the fundamental conviction that allows democratic states and regional communities such as the European Union to be created. In the words of Jacques Derrida,[1] what is at stake is a “feeling of hospitality” based not on recognition of “the other”, when of a different origin, nationality, religion or “civilisation”, as being intrinsically different, but on a recognition of “the other” as intrinsically similar: in other words, as an equal. This distinction is not as trivial as it may appear at first sight:  let us not forget the dangerous theory that exists about “levels of tolerance” as far as social inclusion is concerned – in short the limit on the number of migrants that any given host society can integrate. Such a theory stands as a useful reminder of how crucial this distinction really is.

«Huntington» in Reverse

Many regarded the polarising response of the US administration to the events of 11th September 2001 as part of the “clash of civilisations” for all forms of terrorism were labelled as undifferentiated “threats to national/international security” and amalgamated into a single entity. This was achieved, also, through the artificial construction of non-existent links between Al-Qaeda and the secular Iraqi dictatorship. As a result, Saddam became a target in the “fight against terror” with the tragic consequences that are now widely acknowledged. This is only one of the aspects of the “war on terror” waged by George W. Bush, however: another, more perverse consequence has been its view of “Islam” as a global problem. This has not been articulated in the conservative sense proposed by Huntington[2], who suggested that Islam is intrinsically incompatible with democracy and that migrants and anti-Western multiculturalism constitute a threat to the identity of the West. The Bush administration, however, has adopted the transformative approach proposed by Bernard Lewis[3], namely that Muslims are the “sick men” of the world and in urgent need of a “grand project” that will cure them of their ills by injecting them – forcefully if need be – with a large dose of democracy and modernity. This approach is based on treating the issue of Islam as a religion as an amalgamation of radical currents of political Islam with those advocating religious purity. The idea of spreading democracy in the Greater Middle East and the largely rhetorical initiatives conceived to promote that end are part of the “grand project” to “democratise Islam”, as was the occupation of Iraq. This is why the region targeted by the US is the Greater Middle East stretching from Marrakech to Bangladesh. Yet the debate about the Greater Middle East and Iraq has once again demonstrated that democracy is, above all, a national issue and depends first and foremost on internal factors. This is not to say that international action is worthless – it was invaluable in Chile and Portugal, for instance – but that it is only able to help by supporting internal developments. The target for international assistance for democratisation should not be a “culture,” but instead specific social and political forces. This makes a relationship between equals possible, whereas making Islam the policy target establishes a new bipolarity that identifies the West as the Christian world.

Inclusion and Diversity

The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership is essentially an attempt to widen the European Union’s area of peace, democracy and prosperity to the South through integration. The parties to the 1995 Barcelona Declaration reaffirmed their commitment to “develop the rule of law and democracy in [their] political systems” and underlined the importance of education on human rights and fundamental rights. The extraordinary merit of the Declaration was its eschewal of civilisational bipolarity and its affirmation of the possibility of integrating culturally diverse countries in the same project as long as it achieved genuine convergence around democratic values, as had happened in Europe. The principles and aims of the Barcelona Declaration are as relevant today as they were in 1995, only they are now on the regional agenda in a way that was not the case a decade ago. Indeed, its aims and principles are at the heart of the debate in all Mediterranean countries today, whether in Lebanon where there have been democratic elections, in Egypt with its difficult reform process, or in Morocco, which is debating democratic transition.

When the EMP celebrated its tenth anniversary, EuroMeSCo published a report examining the results achieved by the Partnership.  It sought to ascertain whether it had met expectations, evaluating the acquis of the process in detail – both the potential and real acquis – and assessing the extent to which the original aims had produced tangible results.[4] This was not an easy task if one considers that processes of inclusion are long, drawn-out affairs and that long-term effects are more easily identified with greater hindsight than that offered by ten years of experience. The key conclusion is that the Barcelona Process did not contribute significantly to promoting the necessary conditions to ensure Euro-Mediterranean inclusion. It failed to do so because, despite the principles enunciated in the Declaration, stability, the containment of political Islam and the constraint of migration flows were prioritised. The EuroMeSCo Report concluded that it would be necessary to review the links between development, security and democracy and to abandon the erroneous view that has dominated during the past decade, that development brings with it security and stability and perhaps even democracy in the long run. The causal sequence linking economic reform to democratisation did not work in the Mediterranean.  In fact, some of the countries that underwent greater economic growth were those that undertook the most modest political reforms, and vice-versa. Meanwhile, political Islam in its various guises has become an unavoidable reality. Thus, the European Union is now confronted with the need to involve its Southern partners in a process that prioritises political issues even as it develops an effective policy of economic inclusion. In other words, the Union must now adopt a holistic policy toward the region, based on the democratic principles of the Barcelona Declaration. Democratic pluralism is a fundamental condition for guaranteeing the success of a policy of inclusion within diversity. Putting politics first means the acceptance of the great diversity of political actors in the region – including “Islamists” – and their inclusion in a common project. It also means accepting the autonomy of civil society. The need to develop better mutual understanding and combat negative Western perceptions about Islam should not serve as a pretext to ignore, in the name of cultural relativism, the urgent need for political reforms and measures to protect human rights. Inter-cultural dialogue is no substitute for pluralism, be it cultural or political.

Europe’s Responsibility

The success of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership depends largely on the degree to which the European Union and its member states act consistently with the Union’s model of integration and its motto of unity within diversity. Any cultural or, what would be worse, religious definition of Europe spells self-inflicted defeat. One of the key merits of the European Constitution was precisely the fact that it did not define the Union in religious or cultural terms. Unfortunately, since that project failed there have been calls for a re-opening of the debate about the identity of the Union. But if the Union defines itself as a bloc with frontiers drawn along civilisational lines, its model for integration will not survive. For this reason it is crucial for all current and future citizens of the Union that the merits of Turkey’s membership bid should be assessed solely according to the criteria that, mutatis mutandis, also applied to Portugal or to Poland.

Turkey’s accession is bound to have – is already having – an important impact on other southern Mediterranean partners. Moroccan elites, for example, share the aspiration to a “European destiny” seen as compatible with a parallel aspiration to deeper integration within the Maghrib with large sections of the society. What is at stake is a vast process of Southern inclusion into the “European space” that may differ in form from country to country, but is, nonetheless, vastly ambitious. Its success will ultimately depend as much on the ability of Southern countries to succeed in the process of democratisation as on the ability of Europe to remain true to its values and affirm itself as an espace monde. In other words, on Europe’s ability to practise open integration consistent with the principles of political democracy, cultural and religious diversity, and freedom of citizen participation. [5]

A crucial aspect of this larger issue is the way in which the states of the Union deal with the issue of migration and migrant communities. These communities should be seen as central players, both in economic and in political terms, in the process of Euro-Mediterranean inclusion. The revolt in the French banlieues, which some – mostly outside France -- are keen to portray as a practical exercise in the “clash of civilisations”, has demonstrated the urgent need for measures inspired by the spirit of “hospitality”, designed to overcome discrimination and marginalisation, and to encourage “newer” European citizens, including those of southern Mediterranean origin, to become politically active.

In the run-up to the 10th Anniversary Barcelona Summit in November 2005 the current relevance of the EMP in the transformed international context, and the need to come up with answers to the problems of a region that now dominates the global political agenda, were hotly debated. The outcomes of the Summit show all the difficulties that lie ahead for building a Community of Democratic States, arising not only from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the definition of terrorism, but in particular from the pace of reforms, the role of civil society and institutional ownership. The agreed action plan constitutes an acceptable blueprint to move Euro-Mediterranean inclusion forward.  The ability to implement it, however, will crucially depend on the ability to find just solution to the very problems on which it was not possible to reach a consensus during the Summit.

* Director, IEEI, Lisbon.


[1] Jacques Derrida, De l’hospitalité (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1997).

[2] See: Samuel Huntington, Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004), and Álvaro de Vasconcelos, «Os Erros de Huntington», Público, 12 July 1996.

[3] See: Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong? (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002). 

[4] EuroMeSCo Report, Barcelona Plus:Towards a Euro-Mediterranean Community of Democratic States, February 2005 (

[5] See: Open Integration, The European Union and the Mercosur and the International System, A Euro Latin American Forum Report, Lisbon, March 1995.