Intercultural dialogue is promoted both by the Council of Europe and the European Union through their policies and programmes in the field of youth and in other sectors, such as Education, Multilingualism, Culture and Integration.

In the Council of Europe it is understood as an ‘open and respectful exchange of views between individuals, groups with different ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic backgrounds and heritage on the basis of mutual understanding and respect. It operates at all levels – within societies, between the societies of Europe and between Europe and the wider world' (White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue- 2008). The awareness and understanding brought by intercultural dialogue are seen as means of reconciliation and tolerance, as well as preventing conflicts and ensuring integration and the cohesion of society.

In the European Union, intercultural dialogue is seen as ‘an instrument to assist European citizens, and all those living in the European Union, in acquiring the knowledge and attitudes to enable them to deal with a more open and more complex environment'(Decision concerning the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue -2008).

Intercultural dialogue is the political target and framework of educational programmes which have intercultural learning in their objectives or approach. Therefore intercultural dialogue and intercultural learning are two different, not competing, interdependent and interconnected concepts. Moreover, the educational approaches and programmes where intercultural dialogue purposes can be found may not have "intercultural" as an explicit dimension: interfaith dialogue, inclusion of cultural minorities (eg Roma), peace education and conflict management, human rights education, global education.

Council of Europe

Promoting intercultural dialogue contributes to the core objective of the Council of Europe, namely preserving and promoting human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

As from 1993, when the First Summit of Heads of State and Government (Vienna) affirmed that cultural diversity characterised Europe's rich heritage and that tolerance was the guarantee of an open society, the Council of Europe started several actions contributing to intercultural dialogue. These include the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (1995), the establishment of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance and the launching of the European Youth Campaign against racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and intolerance ("All Different – All Equal").

The years 2000s gave a new impetus for intercultural dialogue, which brought to the ‘Faro Declaration on the Council of Europe's Strategy for Developing Intercultural Dialogue', adopted by the Ministers of Culture in 2005, which suggested preparing a White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue.

In 2006-2007, the youth sector of the Council of Europe organised, in partnership with the European Commission and the European Youth Forum, the European Youth Campaign on Diversity, Human Rights and Participation, using the same logo of the successful All Different All Equal Campaign launched 10 years before.

As a result of this political process, in 2008 the Council of Europe Ministers of Foreign Affairs, launched the White paper on intercultural dialogue, which was preceded by a large consultation with civil society. This document constitutes the milestone of intercultural dialogue policy in Europe and a new version has been published in 2010. Moreover, as a follow up, in 2011 the Parliamentary Assembly published the Recommendation 1962 (2011)on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue.

In line with the White paper process, in 2008 the dimension of intercultural dialogue was also included in the Declaration on ‘the future of the Council of Europe youth policy: AGENDA 2020' made by the Ministers responsible for youth of 49 countries in Europe. Intercultural dialogues is included in the priority ‘Living together in diverse societies' where emphasis is put also on conflict prevention and management, post conflict reconciliation, support to young refugees, asylum seekers and displaced persons, and the promotion of global solidarity and cooperation.

The Directorate general of Democracy of the Council of Europe has several programmes on intercultural dialogue in the youth sector and beyond. In particular, the North South Centre runs a programme on intercultural dialogue, including the following dimensions: migration, women as agents of change in Mediterranean societies, media as tools of dialogue, the reinforcement of democratic processes and human rights in the Euro-Mediterrenean region.

Finally, also the INGO conference has been working on the topic and published the INGO Toolkit for Conducting Intercultural Dialogue.

European Union

While the Council of Europe has been promoting intercultural dialogue also in view of conflict prevention and reconciliation, the European Union has been primarily focusing on the development of intercultural awareness and understanding of individuals, in view of European citizenship and mobility.

In the field of youth policy, the promotion of intercultural understanding is inferred in the Article 165 of the Treaty of Lisbon, encouraging the development of youth exchanges and the participation of young people in democratic life in Europe. In fact, the intercultural dimension has been an important aspect of the youth exchanges supported by the funding programme for youth since 1988. The attention of the European Commission on this aspect has increased in the years: in the decision establishing the Youth programme (2000-2006) only ‘intercultural preparation' of participants was mentioned, while in the aims of the Youth in Action programme (2007-2013) ‘intercultural dialogue' is clearly included. In order to support the activities financed under the Youth in Action programme, the European Commission created a SALTO - Support, Advanced Learning and Training Opportunities - within the European YOUTH programme, on Cultural diversity which organises trainings and issues publications on this topic.  Another important step towards the recognition of the importance of intercultural dialogue has been the inclusion of intercultural competences among the key competences for lifelong learning (2006) under ‘communication on foreign languages', ‘social and civic competences' and ‘cultural awareness'.

These policy developments show an increased focus on intercultural dialogue at EU level (at the same time as in the Council of Europe), which had its climax in 2006 when it was decided to declare 2008 the European Year of Intercultural dialogue, based on the article of the European treaty concerning culture (now article 167 of the Treaty of Lisbon). The decision states that intercultural dialogue is ‘at the heart of the European project and it is important to provide the means for intercultural dialogue and dialogue between citizens to strengthen respect for cultural diversity and deal with the complex reality in our societies and the coexistence of different cultural identities and beliefs. Furthermore, it is important to highlight the contribution of different cultures to the Member States' heritage and way of life and to recognise that culture and intercultural dialogue are essential for learning to live together in harmony'. The decision called for the cross-sectorial implementation of the purpose of the European Year and the Council conclusions of 22 May 2008 on Intercultural Competences follow this principle, recognising the intercultural dimension of the different EU policies and inviting member states and the European Commission to ‘promote intercultural competences through the existing instruments and initiatives in the fields of culture, education, youth and audiovisual policy, (…) and increase synergies between these fields with a view to developing intercultural competences.

In the renewed framework of cooperation in the youth field (2009), which was published just after the European Year, intercultural aspects are mentioned in the areas of action ‘Social inclusion' (‘support the development of intercultural awareness and competences for all young people and combat prejudice'), and ‘Culture and Creativity'. The flagship initiative ‘Youth on the Move', part of the Agenda EU2020 issued in 2011, promotes the development of intercultural competences of individuals through learning mobility.

Although the initiatives of the EU on intercultural dialogue are principally aimed at building a cohesive society within the EU, it promoted also intercultural dialogue between Europeans and the rest of the world, both opening the funding programme for youth to third countries and also launching initiatives such as the EU-China policy dialogue on culture launched together with the Ministry of Culture of China in 2009, which gave birth to the EU-China Year of Youth in 2011 and the EU-China Year of Intercultural Dialogue in 2012

Finally, in the framework of the Partnership in the youth field set up by the European Commission and the Council of Europe, the focus around the theme of intercultural dialogue has been reflected in several publications (Tkit on Intercultural learning, the Youth Knowledge Book Intercultural learning in non formal education ). Moreover, the EU-CoE youth partnership has been working on the project of setting up Indicators for Intercultural dialogue in Non formal education activities, in cooperation with various actors in the field, and especially with SALTO Diversity which conducted a research on intercultural competences.

Text drafted by Elisa Briga for the Partnership between the European Commission and the Council of Europe in the field of youth.