ESSAYAndrea Pavón-Guinea [Spanish version]

  1. Introduction

The recent terrorist attacks in European soil, together with the rise of the Daesh, the civil war in Syria and the refugee crisis have underlined the critical importance for European intercultural dialogues with the Islamic world, placing the interdependence of the European Union (EU) and its Southern neighborhood on the spotlight. The European Union is focusing their resources on civil society initiatives that based on soft power may contribute to radicalization prevention. Through the creation of the Anna Lindh Foundation for the Dialogue between Cultures, where all the Euro-Mediterranean partners are represented, the European Union has an unparalleled instrument for bringing peoples from both shores of the Mediterranean together and for contributing to the improvement of Euro-Mediterranean relations through people-to-people engagement.

  1. Intercultural dialogue in the Euro-Mediterranean relations

The abovementioned interdependence between the European Union and the South Mediterranean basin began[1] to be regulated by the so-called Barcelona Process in 1995[2].

The Barcelona Declaration formally initiated the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP), which is a multilateral framework of relations ‘based on a spirit of partnership’ that aims at turning the Mediterranean basin into an ‘area of dialogue, exchange and cooperation guaranteeing peace, stability and prosperity’. The Barcelona Process recalled one of the founding principles of the European Union: common objectives need to be addressed in a spirit of co-responsibility (Suzan, 2002). The Declaration’s goals are threefold (also known as the EMP’s three ‘baskets’): the creation of a common area of peace and stability through the reinforcement of security and political dialogues (political & security basket); the construction of a zone of shared prosperity through and economic and financial partnership (economic & financial basket); and the promotion of understanding between cultures through the exchange of civil societies – the so-called inter-cultural dialogue – (Social, cultural and human affairs basket).

More than twenty years after the Declaration, the recent events of today’s politics in the European Southern Neighborhood have further underlined the critical importance for European security of dialogues with the Islamic world in a variety of issues. If European officials had rejected Huntington’s ‘clash of civilizations’ thesis when it was first articulated, they started considering it as a plausible scenario after September 11: a scenario, however, that could be partly averted by making efforts through the third basket of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership in the form of enhanced dialogue and cultural cooperation (Gillespie, 2004).

  1. Counter-radicalization through intercultural dialogue: The Anna Lindh Foundation

Emphasizing that dialogue among cultures, civilizations and religions throughout the Mediterranean Region is more necessary than ever before in order to promote understanding among them, the Euro-Mediterranean partners agreed during the 5th Euro-Mediterranean Conference of Foreign Ministers in Valencia (2002) to establish a foundation that distinctly deals with inter-cultural dialogue. This way, the Anna Lindh Foundation for the Dialogue between Cultures (ALF), based on Alexandria (Egypt), became operational in 2005. Being the first properly Euro-Mediterranean institution, it coordinates a region-wide network of over 4,000 civil society organizations belonging to the 42 UfM[3] partners.

Despite being created in 2005, the last few years have seen a dramatic growth of interest in intercultural dialogue as a means of radicalization prevention. For instance, the Mediterranean Forum of the Anna Lindh Foundation, hosted in Malta in October 2016, acknowledged the importance of intercultural dialogue in counteracting extremism. Furthermore, the outcomes of the Forum found that intercultural dialogue is already embedded in the policy discourse, evidenced by references to the Anna Lindh Foundation and its intercultural dialogue mandate in the new European Neighborhood Policy (18.11.2015) and HR Mogherini’s Strategy for International Cultural Relations.

However, it has been the recent terrorist attacks in Europe the ones that have highlighted the urgent need to tackle the phenomenon of radicalization[4] that may lead to violent extremism and terrorism. In this regard, the prevention of radicalization[5] is a key part of the fight against terrorism, as was highlighted in the European Agenda on Security[6] in 2015. It is worth mentioning that the majority of the terrorist suspects implicated in those attacks were European citizens, born and raised in EU Member States, who were radicalized to commit acts of political violence. It evidences the ‘transnational dimension of Islamist terrorism’ (Kaunert and Léonard, 2011: 287) and the changing nature of the threat, whose drivers are different from, and more complex than, previous radicalization phenomena: ‘Radicalization today has different root causes, operates on the basis of different recruitment and communication techniques; it is marked by globalized and moving targets inside and outside Europe and grows in various urban contexts’[7]. The following map shows the number of Jihadi arrests in European soil in 2016.


Source: Europol (2016)


Consequently, against the background of the rising prominence of the ‘clash of civilizations’ discourse in the aftermath of the 9/11, the Anna Lindh Foundation could be understood as an alternative and non-confrontational response to the US-led war on terror (Malmvig, 2007). It aims at creating ‘a space of prosperity, coexistence and peace’ through ‘restoring trust in dialogue and bridging gaps in mutual perceptions’. It thus represents the idea that encouraging understanding between cultures and exchanges between civil societies is a crucial element of any political and strategic program aimed at neighboring Mediterranean countries (Rosenthal, 2007). In other words, the creation of an area of dialogue, cooperation and exchange in the South Mediterranean is a key external relations priority for the European Union. Not only that but with the launching of the Anna Lindh Foundation, the EU recognizes that for the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership to work, dialogue between people – not just political elites – becomes essential.

This focus on civil society engagement is crucial in tackling radicalization processes, that precede the phase of violent extremism and future terrorist practices. For instance, the United Nations’ Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force[8] has argued that the state alone does not have all the resources necessary to counter radicalization and therefore need partners to carry out this task. Involving civil society and local communities enhances trust and social cohesion and can be a means to reach segments of society that governments may have difficulty to engage with. The European Union has also highlighted the importance of local actors, who are usually best placed to prevent and detect radicalization both in the short-term and the long-term[9].


Intercultural dialogue may thus be seen as a desirable tool to address the phenomenon of radicalization in the region of the South Mediterranean, where the legacies of a colonial order demand that ‘more credible interlocutors need to be found among non-governmental agents’ (Riordan, 2005: 182). The European Union will ought to abandon its existing ’donor mentality’ and move towards real partnerships and people-to-people confidence building measures (Amirah and Behr, 2013: 5), holding the assumption that practices based on dialogue and mutuality may offer a promising framework for improving the European Union’s relations towards the South Mediterranean, and particularly, for countering radicalization processes occurring both in and outside Europe.

[1] The first attempt to regulate such interdependence was the launch of the Euro-Arab Dialogue (1973-1989); conceived as a forum for dialogue between the European Community and the Arab League, their efforts nevertheless were frustrated because of the international tensions of the Gulf War and the Arab-Israeli conflict (Khader, 2015). 

[2] The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership has been complemented by the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) in 2004. Modeled on the enlargement policy, its underlying rationale is the same: “Attempting to shape the neighborhood by exporting the EU’s norms and values” (Gstöhl, 2016: 3). In response to the conflicts in the ENP regions, the rise of extremism and terrorism and the refugee flows to Europe, the ENP has been revised both in 2011 and 2015, calling for a focus on stabilization and further differentiation among the ENP countries. The ENP is based on differential bilateralism (Del Sarto and Schumacher, 2005), and abandons the prevalence of the principle of regionality that was inherent in the Barcelona Process.

[3] The Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) was created by 43 Euro-Mediterranean Heads of State and Government on 13 July 2008 at the Paris Summit for the Mediterranean. It was launched as a continuation of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (Euro-Med), also known as the Barcelona Process, which was established in 1995.

[4] Although there are different types of political extremism, this article focuses on Islamist extremism and jihadist terrorism, since violent Sunni extremists have been responsible for the largest number of terrorist attacks worldwide (Schmid, 2013). It is also worth noting that ‘a universally accepted definition of the concept of radicalization is still to be developed’ (Veldhuis and Staun, 2009: 4)

[5] Since 2004, the term ‘radicalization’ has become central to terrorism studies and counter-terrorism policy-making in order to analyze ‘homegrown’ Islamist political violence (Kundnani, 2012)

[6] The European Agenda on Security, COM (2015) 185 of 28 April 2015

[7] The prevention of radicalization leading to violent extremism, COM (2016) 379 of 14 June 2016

[8] First Report of the Working Group on Radicalization and Extremism that Lead to Terrorism: Inventory of State Programmes (2006)

[9] The prevention of radicalization leading to violent extremism, COM (2016) 379 of 14 June 2016



Amirah, H. and Behr, T. (2013) “The Missing Spring in the EU’s Mediterranean Policies”, Policy Paper No 70. Notre Europe – Jacques Delors Institute, February, 2013.

Council of the European Union (2002) “Presidency Conclusions for the Vth Euro-Mediterranean Conference of Foreign Ministers” (Valencia 22-23 April 2002), 8254/02 (Presse 112)

Del Sarto, R. A. and Schumacher, T. (2005): “From EMP to ENP: What’s at Stake with the European Neighborhood Policy towards the Southern Mediterranean?”, European Foreign Affairs Review, 10: 17-38

European Union (2016) “Towards an EU Strategy for International Cultural Relations, Joint Communication to the European Parliament and the Council” (­ture/policies/strategic-framework/strategy-international-cultural-relations_en).

European Commission. “Barcelona Declaration and Euro-Mediterranean Partnership”, 1995.

Gillespie, R. (2004) “Reshaping the Agenda? The International Politics of the Barcelona Process in the Aftermath of September 11”, in Jünemann, Annette Euro-Mediterranean Relations after September 11, London: Frank Cass: 20-35.

Gstöhl, S. (2016): The European Neighborhood Policy in a Comparative Perspective: Models, Challenges, Lessons (Abingdon: Routledge)

Kaunert, C. and Léonard, S. (2011) “EU Counterterrorism and the European Neighborhood Policy: An Appraisal of the Southern Dimension”, Terrorism and Political Violence, 23: 286-309

Khader, B. (2015): Europa y el mundo árabe (Icaria, Barcelona)

Kundnani, A. (2012) “Radicalization: The Journey of a Concept”, Race & Class, 54 (2): 3-25

Malmvig, H. (2007): “Security Through Intercultural Dialogue? Implications of the Securitization of Euro-Mediterranean Dialogue between Cultures”. Conceptualizing Cultural and Social Dialogue in the Euro-Mediterranean Area. London/New York: Routledge: 71-87

Riordan, S. (2005): “Dialogue-Based Public Diplomacy: A New Foreign Policy Paradigm?”, in Melissen, Jan, The New Public Diplomacy: Soft Power in International Relations, Basingstoke, England: Palgrave Macmillan: 180-193. 

Rosenthal, G. (2007): “Preface: The Importance of Conceptualizing Cultural and Social Co-operation in the Euro-Mediterranean Area”. Conceptualizing Cultural and Social Dialogue in the Euro-Mediterranean Area. London/New York: Routledge: 1-3.

Schmid, A. (2013) “Radicalization, De-Radicalization, Counter-Radicalization: A Conceptual Discussion and Literature Review”, ICCT Research Paper, March 2013

Suzan, B. (2002): “The Barcelona Process and the European Approach to Fighting Terrorism”. Brookings Institute [online] [accessed 14 August 2017]

Veldhuis, T. and Staun, J. (2009) Islamist Radicalisation: A Root Cause Model (The Hague: Clingendael)

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