Europe’s existing ethnic, cultural, religious, and linguistic diversity has been continuously enhanced by migration. This variety is an advantage for European long-term development, competitiveness and position in the world. However, many immigrant and ethnic minority communities experience less solidarity and certain barriers in participation in societal life and decision-making process in their host countries. Consultative bodies at the local and national level stimulate and encourage public and social participation by immigrants and improve integration policies by communicating the views of immigrant  and minority representatives to governmental and other stake holders. Dialogue platforms may occur at the local, regional, or national level, but they may also occur ‘across national borders’ between civil society actors in one European country or other European countries. The latter has become increasingly pertinent for societal integration in a world of globalised sensitivities, travel, and communication.

In the countries of the Baltic Sea region, there are consultative structures in the area of integration on national and/or local level. However, there is a growing dissatisfaction with the effectiveness of dialogue processes. Since across Europe, dialogue platforms have emerged across Europe in an unplanned-uneven manner across many different sectors, this Project helped to systematise the role of consultative bodies in the area of integration in the participating countries of the Baltic Sea region. The importance of dialogue platforms is pointed out in several strategies. Common Basic Principles (A Common Agenda for Integration) provide that integration is a two-way process of mutual accommodation by all immigrants and residents of Member States and that dialogue platforms offer a good opportunity for frequent and meaningful interaction at different levels between residents, with and without immigrant backgrounds. Promotion of inter-ethnic dialogue is a priority also for the countries of the Baltic Sea region, it is distinctly pointed out in the Estonian Integration Strategy 2008-2013, Empowerment against exclusion – the Government’s strategy for integration of Sweden and in the National Programme for Strengthening Civil Society 2008 – 2012 of Latvia. Therefore, exchange of experiences and development of joint tools is crucial for the field.

Drawing on the experience outlined first edition of the Handbook on Integration on the role of consultative bodies in enhancing integration and the chapter of dialogue platforms in the Third edition of the Handbook on Integration, the aim of this Project was to elaborate further the “enabling factors” that can enhance the success of dialogue platforms (local, regional, national).

Definition

There are various definitions of dialogue platforms; in the context of the current project, we propose the following:

dialogue platform - a consultative body (or an event) for immigrant and ethnic minority background residents set up at local, national or regional level to provide a forum for consultation:

  1. between elected representatives and immigrant and ethnic minority communities to provide recommendation to integration policy, or
  2. within civil society between immigrant and ethnic minority communities and other non-governmental organisations to reach agreement on various issues of community life.

Thus, a consultative body can be either a tool for political participation, representation, defending and communicating the interests of foreign residents and ethnic minorities to decision-makers, or to be a mechanism of democratic deliberation within the civil society between different interest groups.