What European Union Strategy for Integrating Migrants?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The success of a common migration policy depends on the successful integration of immigrants into the host society. This conference report adresses what should be the policy objectives of an integration policy at EU level.

What European Union Strategy for Integrating Migrants?

The European Policy Centre and its strategic partner the King Baudouin Foundation held a Dialogue in their ongoing series on Migration to discuss “What European Union Strategy for Integrating Migrants.” The event took place in cooperation with the Bertelsmann Foundation. John Palmer, Political Director of the EPC welcomed participants. Annette Heuser, Director of the Bertelsmann Foundation in Brussels presented her organisation’s CD-Rom dealing with the issue. EU Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs, Antonio Vitorino, presented the Commission’s first Annual Report on Migration and Integration to the audience. A panel discussion featuring Rinus Penninx, Professor for Ethnic Studies and Director of the Institute of Migration and Ethnic Studies (IMES) at Amsterdam University, Don Flynn, Policy Officer at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants in the UK, Dr. Bernd Schulte, Research Fellow at the Max-Planck-Institute for Foreign and International Social Law and Helene Urth from the Directorate General for Justice and Home Affairs at the European Commission. Jan Niessen, Director of the Migration Policy Group moderated the panel discussion. This is not an official record of the proceedings and specific remarks are not necessarily attributable.

John Palmer welcomed the panelists and the audience and briefly outlined the EPC’s Work Programme on Multicultural Europe (to read more, please see www.theepc.be), which is jointly run with centre’s strategic partner, the King Baudouin Foundation.

Presenting the Bertelsmann Foundation’s CD-Rom, entitled ‘Managing Integration – the European Union’s responsibilities towards migrants,’ Annette Heuser underlined the importance of implementing integration projects in Member States. The CD-Rom was the product of a two-year research programme, which included a status quo analysis of the different integration models in EU Member States, and a thorough examination ‘best practices’ applied in the different Member States. It further introduced the wider use of the ‘Open Method of Coordination’ (OMC). The message was clear: transparent integration policies that attracted necessary labour migration – particularly high-skilled workers – were needed. These policies also had to build trust among the host country as well as the immigrant community.

The issues of family reunification, education, access to the labour market, social security, civic citizenship and political participation as well as religion and culture were identified as the core elements that needed to be addressed. The Open Method of Coordination could link all of these elements and increase transparency and competition for ‘the best minds’ among Member States, she said. However, the shortcoming of this method was that it depended solely on the good will of the Member States. There were other challenges ahead as well, she said, which included the need to engage in an open dialogue with all members of society taking their fears of added migration into account. Everyone needed to understand, however, that diversity was one of the core strengths of the EU.

Opening the expert panel discussion, Jan Niessen, said EU Member States had largely failed to integrate migrants. This was and indicator of a serious problem, that needed to be addressed by bringing the different stakeholders to define practical solutions. He stressed the importance of having this timely debate.

Integration: A local matter

Rinus Penninx emphasized that integration processes took place at the local not the EU level, which had consequences for the discussion of integration at the national and supranational level. Facilitation of integration policies at the local level needed to be the focus of any policy discussions on Member State or EU level. Integration processes were always context boun d, which meant that policy diversity was needed in addition to giving local politicians the opportunity to steer the process. A detailed understanding of how integration took place was necessary to develop functional policies. He was critical of the fact that minority groups were mostly unable to influence the policy-making process themselves. The European Commission, too, was limited to the voluntary agreement of Member States with respect to integration.

Professor Penninx saw different possible functions for the EU in the field of integration: framework-setting, where the EU should influence the way a society looks at migration and integration and norm-setting. Such norms should codify immigrant status, develop anti-discrimination policies and examined the extent to which immigrants have access to public institutions, and to the economic, social, political and cultural spheres of their host country.

The UK experience

Don Flynn underlined the controversial nature of the mere term ‘integration’ in the UK. In the late 1960s, immigrants to they UK had high expectations and a willingness to adapt to changes in their new environment. These were dampened quickly, as they encountered racism and discrimination from their host society. For this reason UK legislation had focused on race relations and combating discrimination. The issue of institutionalised racism, and not racism at street level, needed to be addressed. A negative development was the deterrence mechanisms that had recently built into the system, which had led to a severe decline in people applying for British citizenship. The strongest features of UK integration policies were still its anti-discrimination and anti-racist measures.

A view from the Commission

Helene Urth said that the EU needed to look at the existing policies of the Member States in order to define a coherent EU integration framework. She explained that the creation of the National Contact Points on Integration in March 2003 to develop cooperation and the exchange of information and best practice, was the first step in developing a coherent framework for integration. Presenting the main trends that had emerged from this forum she said that the need for civic education – the understanding of basic norms of the host society – was crucial. Many EU Member States were developing “introduction programmes” (Denmark, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, Hungary and Poland). These included language classes, facilitated access to the labour market and civic education. Access to political rights was an issue the Commission accorded particular importance to. She noted that more than half of the 25 Member States have given political rights at the local level. The importance of the recognition of professional skills and qualification of immigrants across the EU was a further focal point for the Commission. Housing questions and the fight against discrimination were also an issue in all Member States. A pooling of the information from the National Contact Points had evidence that access to the labour market was the overriding priority of national integration policies, followed by language learning and improving the educational level of immigrants. The main barriers to integration were the lack of infrastructure at the national level as well as the lack of financial resources.

Using the Open Method of Coordination

Bernd Schulte agreed with other panellists that there was a pronounced need for an EU framework on integration. He questioned, however, whether this framework should be legal or political. An ‘in-between mechanism’ such as the OMC could further a learning process about the challenges of integrating migrants into society. The OMC, as introduced by the Lisbon Council, set a number of goals in different policy fields, and was designed to help Member States progressively design their own policy and do so in a coordinated way, he said. It established guide lines with specific timetables for long, medium and short-term objectives, taking into account the specific needs of each Member State. Established European guidelines should be translated into national and local policies by establishing national targets. The results of implementing these policies should be put into national reports and sent to the Commission.

It would then be the role of the Commission as the coordinator of this process, to create benchmarks and transfer knowledge on successful ‘best practice’ schemes. The OMC was, however, based solely on voluntary cooperation from Member States and therefore sanctions could not be enforced if criteria were not respected. The OMC was an independent political process that supplemented the community method. However, it could significantly be improved by involving the European Parliament and local authorities, NGO’s and other social actors in this process.

The discussion that followed these initial reflections by the panel addressed questions such as the EU strategy toward undocumented migrants, the collaboration between the Justice and Home Affairs and the Employment and Social Affairs Directorates General in the European Commission and the usefulness of the Open Method of Coordination.

Introducing Commissioner Vitorino, John Palmer said that since the Commissioner’s arrival in office, he had given his post profile and become a good communicator, which was rare in EU institutions and elsewhere.

To read the Commissioner’s full speech, please click


The EU strategy

Commissioner Vitorino noted that the success of a common migration policy depended on the successful integration of immigrants into the host society. The Dialogue raised a number of sub-issues in addition to its core question: “What are the key factors in successful integration? What are the main barriers? What should be the policy objectives at EU-level – bearing in mind that integration is the primary responsibility of Member States? What kind of instruments should be envisaged?”

The existing EU framework provided first answers to these questions and the blueprint for an integration strategy had been set out at the Thessaloniki European Council in 2003. He briefly outlined the basic premises of this plan, stressing the elaboration of a comprehensive and multi-dimensional policy on integration for legally resident third-country migrants. While EU leaders had agreed to uphold the principles of subsidiarity in this respect, they were also convinced that these policies needed a coherent EU framework, with clear objectives and common basic principles. This would also facilitate the cooperation and exchange of information. He praised the creation of the National Contact Points for Integration highlighted by Ms. Urth and announced that a handbook on integration for policy-makers and practitioners would be issued in the autumn, based on the work conducted between the contact points. The European Migration Network, set up as a pilot project following the Laeken European Council in 2001 had been given the task of establishing a system for exchanging information on asylum, migration and countries of origin. The three-year pilot phase of this project was coming to an end in 2005, but had already set up a network of national focal points which now included almost all Member States. “I believe that the European Migration Network will be an important element in the development of a European strategy for the integration of migrants. A legal basis for its longer term future will be put forward by my successor early next year,” Commissioner Vitorino said.

The Annual Report on Migration and Integration

Speaking ahead of the presentation of the Commission’s first Annual Report on Migration and Integr ation, the Commissioner highlighted key points of its findings. Ms. Urth’s earlier comments were reflected in the report’s findings. Access to the labour market, education and training were identified as important elements. The acquisition of language skills for migrants was of particular importance. Housing and urban issues as well as access to health care and social services were also comparatively examined in the report. Other points which informed the analysis in the report was the involvement of immigrants in all aspects of society, including cultural, political and civic life, which were deemed as “essential aspects of a holistic integration model” in the Commission’s earlier Communication on Immigration, Integration and Employment.

The report examined the main trends in the Member States’ integration policies with respect to these areas and identified key factors and remaining barriers to integration. It had shown that the most important political priority and challenges in national integration policies arose from a commitment to reduce the employment gap between nationals and non-nationals and to improve migrants’ language skills and educational attainments. This was one of the issues that was now being tackled within the European Employment Strategy, Commissioner Vitorino said. Yet, integration into the labour market and increasing language education was only part of the answer. Increasingly, priority in national integration policies was given to the civic education of migrants, including knowledge on the fundamental rights and obligations of citizens, the equality of women and men and the basic norms and values that underpin the host society. On a positive note, participation by immigrants in the political decision-making process was growing, the report revealed.

Discrimination was highlighted as another challenge by Member States and there was a clear recognition to act in this field, although anti-discrimination policies were not always linked to Member States’ integration policies. Urban settlement and housing were still causing problems for many Member States, particularly in large European cities, where the immigrant population was rising.

Need for coherence 

Praising the range of existing legislation and practical instruments to ensure implementation of integration policies in Member States and on EU level, Commissioner Vitorino was critical of the lack of coherence with respect to the objectives which these measures sought to fulfil and to achieve overall consistency in the EU framework.

The Constitutional Treaty provided for certain provisions which could become the foundation for the future development of migration and integration policies, the Commissioner said. Above all, its provisions facilitated and improved the instruments for the establishment of an area of freedom, security and justice in the Union, although the possibility of harmonizing national laws and regulations was explicitly excluded. Nevertheless, the Constitution states that European laws may establish measures to provide incentives and support for the actions of Member States with a view to promoting integration and this should not be underestimated, the Commissioner said.

Supporting the points made earlier by Helene Urth, he highlighted the Commission’s proposal for more financial support for the common immigration policy and means to “give full content to European Citizenship.” The Dutch EU Presidency would have the launch of a new agenda for the political priorities in the field of Justice and Home Affairs as one of its main tasks, to follow-up the progress made since the Tampere Council in 1999.

“An EU strategy for integrating migrants is neither easy, nor something that can be done overnight,” Commissioner Vitorino concluded. But the Commission’s recent efforts provided practical insight into the issues that could facilitate the necessary exchange of views, research and new ideas . He believed that given the existing legislative framework and the future financial instruments, the “need to provide a more coherent structure will be recognized in the form of a simplified open coordination process as suggested by the Commission in 2001.”

The open discussion with the audience addressed the EU Member States’ integration capacities, challenges to existing integration schemes and questions on the Union’s anti-discrimination policies.

Concluding remarks

Concluding on the day’s discussion Annette Heuser highlighted two main points: integration policies were context-bound to the political environment and decision-making structure in which they were formulated and secondly that the “political instinct” of policy-makers needed to be reawakened to push them toward taking courageous, positivistic approaches with respect to immigration and integration. Those that were already actively engaged in promoting the positive impact migrants could have on the European labour market but also more widely, might have to be “less politically correct” when addressing the media and actively and aggressively point out the positive contributions made to host societies by integrated immigrants. Despite the emphasis on the principle of subsidiarity with respect to integration policies, Commissioner Vitorino’s presentation had underlined the important role of the Commission in setting out the framework for Member State action. Similar debates now had to raise provocative questions, such as whether an EU passport for third-country nationals and economic migrants should not be introduced.

Françoise Pissart said that migration without social integration could make societies fragile and could have an adversarial effect on those parts of society that were already worst off. The KBF’s work had proven that results at the ground level were often “very mixed” with respect to integration success. Local endeavours could only yield partial success and were often not transferable. However, there were similarities on all levels across all EU Member States that could be compared and shared. Civil society had to embrace these comparable “good practices” and work with other societal groups to champion functional solutions.

John Palmer thanked the participants and panellists for their contributions and underlined that the EPC-KBF partnership would be actively raising the issues debated under its joint Multicultural Europe programme.

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