Secretary General of EUROCITIES
“Current issues in local migrant integration policies in Europe”
Ü Eurasylum: On 8-9 March 2012, EUROCITIES and the European Commission organised the 5th Integrating Cities Conference, which aimed to address issues of migrant integration in Europe, and to exchange innovative knowledge and practice among local authorities. Can you highlight some of the key discussions and outcomes of this conference?
Ü Paul Bevan: In March this year, over 270 participants representing local authorities, national and regional governments, civil society organisations, migrants associations, researchers and EU institutions, among others, gathered in Amsterdam to address the most important issues concerning migrant integration today.
Integrating Cities is a platform for policy dialogue between EUROCITIES and the European Commission. The aim of the conference series is to promote cooperation between the European, national and local level on the implementation of the Common Basic Principles on integration underpinning the European framework for integration.
At this 5th edition of Integrating Cities, we wanted to take stock of where cities are with their integration policies today, in these rather troubled times, and how we can improve the coordination between the local, the national and the EU level with the aim to improve the outcomes for migrants.
As pointed out by Amsterdam deputy mayor, Andrée van Es, in the conference’s opening, “Cities stand at the forefront of European migration and integration”. This role is now widely accepted in many political declarations, but when the really important decisions on funding and legislation are taken, the perspective of local actors is often absent. As a result many member states design integration policies or spend the European Integration Fund on measures that will not necessarily lead to an improvement of the situation of migrants. And many discussions taking place in Europe are far removed from the concrete problems on the ground.
These assumptions were confirmed by an overwhelming majority of conference participants (80% allowing for a slight local bias of the audience) who, in a sort of opinion poll we conducted during one of the plenaries, reaffirmed the need of cities to play a more important role in integration policies.
We are nonetheless pleased to see that in response to these challenges, the European Commission communication on the new Agenda for Integration shows the commitment to improve participation of local and regional actors in EU integration policies by building a strategic partnership on integration with the Committee of the Regions and regional and city networks like ours. This is why we were happy that Stefano Manservisi, Director General of the Commission’s DG Home Affairs, emphasised in his keynote address the need for a bottom-up approach to integration policies, and discussed with us what form such a strategic partnership could take.
We believe that such a partnership needs to involve the national level. At the moment, we are speaking mainly among peers, among cities in EUROCITIES, among member states in the Council or in the network of national contact points for integration, and so on. What we need to do now is to look at where multi-level coordination of integration policies fails, and put an end to practices which have a deterrent effect on migrant integration.
In times where budgets for social inclusion are cut dramatically, we need to make sure that we become more efficient and spend money on measures that make a difference for migrants. We hope that Europe can offer a neutral ground and support for discussing in a cooperative spirit across the usual dividing lines, how to improve our policies and their coordination. We also need to set the priorities right. Everybody understands that we need to save money, but we cannot afford to abandon policies that promote social mobility and inclusion.
The Commission’s proposal for the new Asylum and Migration Fund, also discussed during the conference, is a step in the right direction. The proposal makes clear, at least in the integration strand of the fund, that the support of local policies is a priority, and that cities have to be involved in the programming in each member state. It is crucial that this is not only relegated to ‘paper’ commitments but really implemented with cities being present at the table when priorities are set in member states.
Apart from this overall topic of multi-level coordination, we had many more expert-led discussions in workshops on issues cities are trying to grapple with, such as introductory and language courses, supplier diversity, anti-discrimination, refugee resettlement, leadership and public commitment.
Ü Eurasylum: One of the outputs of this conference was the adoption by 14 city politicians of the ‘Amsterdam Statement’, which, amongst other things, acknowledges the “dwindling efforts and shrinking resources in many European cities to develop better integration policies across Europe, triggered by the economic and financial crisis but also by shifting political priorities”. Can you discuss some of the most noteworthy effects of the current economic crisis for local migrant integration policies, resources and priorities?
Ü Paul Bevan: Closely related to the overall theme of the conference, the Amsterdam statement is an effort of the politicians from our network present during the conference to call for a more constructive cooperation on integration across all levels of government.
We are at important crossroads for integration policy when austerity and recession are having a detrimental effect on integration programmes and funding. These are often one of the first places where governments look to cut budgets given that ‘integration’ is sometimes considered as a luxury rather than necessity. One thing governments are not asking is what would be the price to pay in the long run if migrant integration was left to its own devices.
For example, earlier this year, the Spanish government announced a decision to suppress the €67 million fund that had been created for support of integration, reception and educational support of migrants at regional and local levels, which was one of the good examples for multi-level cooperation. For the city of Barcelona the end of this fund means a budget loss of close to €3 million for its integration work.
But funding is just the tip of the iceberg, and the austerity and competition for resources are also having a deterrent effect on the discourse of migration and rise of anti-immigrant sentiment. An undifferentiated statement on immigration by a head of state can jeopardise the fruits of years of work of local actors on building trust and fostering social cohesion in their communities.
From this background, the Amsterdam statement is meant as a step towards national governments and the European Commission shaping a more constructive dialogue on immigration and integration together. As Eberhard van der Laan, the Mayor of Amsterdam, said during the Integrating Cities conference: “A Europe that recognises the importance of cities and their best practices for both EU and national policy is in our best interest, because it provides a twofold counterbalance to national policy, which is often too far removed from reality, and which as a result ends up to be overly influenced by frames and emotion.”
When you govern a city in which half of the population has a migrant or minority background, at least in some of its neighbourhoods, you just cannot afford to exclude one half, or play it out against the other. Politicians from Nantes, Copenhagen and Berlin reaffirmed during the panel discussion that while some people are talking about the failure of integration, many cities are going far beyond these discussions by trying to foster an inclusive local identity. In order to achieve this cities move away from targeted policies and services towards policies that, while addressing the whole population, provide mainstream services in a way that reach and cater to the diversity of their residents. In practice, this can translate for example into a city government designing strong policies against discrimination, avoiding ethnocentrism and paternalism, making their institutions reflect the diversity of the population and making sure that its partners reflect the same principles.
Such policies provide the basis for a strong identification with the city and more social cohesion. If you look at opinion polls like Eurobarometer, you see that people tend to put more trust into local than national government. Cities therefore have a huge potential to foster a local sense of belonging that all residents, including migrants, share, and that can, to some degree, counteract the negative effects of xenophobic discourses.
It was probably from the background of these experiences that half of our conference participants were saying in an opinion poll during the conference that integration, understood as policy for migrants only, can no longer be considered as the right paradigm.
Ü Eurasylum: EUROCITIES’ Charter on Integrating Cities, which was adopted in 2010, and which underlines the political leadership of cities in welcoming migrants, fostering social cohesion, promoting effective anti-discrimination policies and adapting institutions to better serve diversity, has so far been signed by 27 of Europe’s most important cities. Can you comment on the political significance and effects so far of this Charter?
Ü Paul Bevan: The Integrating Cities Charter is an ambitious political declaration that provides a reference for both our member cities and other actors, such as national governments and non-governmental organisations, by setting an ambitious example on what public authorities can do to promote migrant integration. It is based on 11 commitments to promote diversity and equal opportunities of their residents in their role as policy-makers, service providers, employers and buyers of goods and services. By signing up to this Charter, mayors demonstrate their commitment and leadership in designing better integration policies.
I think that the Charter also sends an important signal as a counter-balance to the current climate of anti-immigrant sentiment I alluded to before, and makes discussions on integration policies more productive, without neglecting the fact that there are many challenges.
But the Charter goes beyond the symbolic through the practical implementation of these commitments in mutual learning and monitoring. In our project “Making migrant integration work in Europe’s cities” (MIXITIES), which was co-financed by the transnational strand of the European Integration Fund, we used peer review methodology to evaluate local policies and practices on three themes of the Charter (anti-discrimination; promoting cultural diversity and introductory and language courses) in three Charter signatory cities (Barcelona, Ghent and Stockholm). Against a benchmark developed from the charter, peers from other signatory cities and migrant NGOs developed recommendations for the cities under review to inform the next steps of these cities in moving towards the Charter commitments. From this work we have also produced three toolkits for cities and other integration actors that provide a framework with which they can assess themselves or prepare a development plan.
We know that cities such as Copenhagen, Nantes, Oslo and Riga use the Charter, also outside the work in EUROCITIES, as framework and inspiration for their latest strategies and policy developments regarding integration and inclusion policies.
We have developed a monitoring system around the Charter in which EUROCITIES is collecting information on migration trends, policy developments and selected indicators from all signatory cities. We plan to publish the results at least bi-annually, starting this summer, in a report that should provide a good picture on migrant integration in European cities. We presented some initial results of this monitoring at the conference and believe that this document will fill an important information gap. I hope that the Charter and the 35 member cities of the EUROCITIES working group migration & integration it is linked to, provide a framework for cities to constantly improve their integration policies in spite of a very unfavourable context. It is incredibly important that a city can see that there are many other cities that have similar problems and show commitment in trying to find solutions.
What we need to achieve now, next to getting more cities on board, is to convince our counterparts at national and European levels to also step up their efforts in migrant integration and to improve their coordination with the big European cities.