Strength through diversity is Europe’s best hope

What is strength through diversity? What does achieving this entail? You might laugh, but swimming provides us with some useful clues.
Swimming can lend the EU some lessons | Photo: Alamy

By Tamara Makoni

Tamara Makoni is an inclusion and cross-cultural specialist and founder of Kazuri Consulting

11 Jan 2024

In varietate concordia (‘united in diversity’) has been the European Union’s motto since 2000. It speaks of shared values and encourages looking beyond individual nation states towards working together, as Europeans, towards peace and shared prosperity. 

Two decades on, the EU has undergone significant shifts. The 15 member states have become 27, rural populations have decreased year after year, the baby boom has given way to the grandparent boom, and global events like Brexit and the conflict in Ukraine have inspired new migration trends. While the EU’s official website talks exclusively of cultural, tradition and language diversity​,​ in reality our differences go beyond that: they range from religion, age, and ethnicity to gender, sexual orientation, political beliefs, and beyond.  

Under these circumstances, is the EU’s motto still fit for purpose? I believe so. But I also believe we should carefully reassess how to keep living out our shared values. From my experience as an inclusion specialist, strength through diversity is our best hope to remain united in diversity.  

For the EU to harness strength through diversity, we must view every type of diversity as equal and valuable

This prompts important questions: What is strength through diversity? Also, what does achieving this entail? You might laugh, but swimming provides us with some useful clues.  

There are four main strokes in swimming, each requiring a different technique of moving and coordinating the swimmer’s body. ​​In a medley relay, swimmers take part in teams of four with each team member assigned to perform a separate stroke. Each must perform their unique task well in order for the team to achieve collective success: a great example of strength through diversity. 

In EU terms, our shared goal is implementing meaningful solutions towards peace and prosperity. If we define ‘meaningful solutions’ as solutions that work for all communities without leaving anyone behind, it's clear that understanding the diverse experiences and needs that exist within the EU is essential. This matters because navigating today's world is a medley, not a one-stroke event. Meaningful solutions are our best tool to secure the strength we need to survive it.  

So, how do we achieve strength through diversity? 

The crux of the medley relay is that each skill is valued equally​​​​​. No​ one individual can provide all the necessary skills. If the team overall excels on one side but exhibits weakness in another skill they lose the race. Similarly, everyone fails if one swimmer is excluded or not enabled to the same degree as the others. For the EU to harness strength through diversity, we must adopt the same mindset: view every type of diversity as equal and valuable, and ensure voices that represent diverse experiences are heard. Removing barriers to access, and widening participation are the tools that will make us stronger and better equipped to collectively face what lies ahead.  

The climate crisis, war, migration and political polarisation are just some of the challenges awaiting us in 2024. Getting through this will require strength as well as unity. Now is the time to acknowledge and embrace the diversity that makes all of us Europeans, ensure greater representation in decision-making, and support policy that prioritises our collective safety, dignity and wellbeing.