Luncheon with Rita Süssmuth
November 8, 2005
On November 8, the Migration Policy Institute hosted a roundtable luncheon
to launch a new book, Managing Integration: the European Union’s
Responsibilities towards Immigrants, published by MPI and the Bertelsmann
Foundation. The volume collects essays from experts who analyze
experiences and lessons learned with regard to integration across the
EU. Beyond introducing the book, the roundtable luncheon aimed
to discuss issues surrounding integration especially with regard to the
latest developments in Europe, including the riots in France.
The luncheon was moderated by MPI’s president Demetri
Papademetriou. The speakers included keynote panelist, Dr.
Rita Süssmuth, former President of the German
bundestag, member of the Global Commission on International Migration,
and the book’s co-editor; Annette Hauser, Director
of the Brussels Office of the Bertelsmann Foundation; Gregory
Maniatis, MPI’s European Fellow; and Michael
Fix, MPI’s vice-president and director of studies. The
luncheon was attended by a wide range of transatlantic government officials
Rita Süssmuth began by pointing out that it is impossible to deal
with migration while excluding integration. Süssmuth said
the new book provides a wonderful opportunity to have broader European
and transatlantic cooperation on the issue of migration and integration
because it is complex and touches upon so many different academic fields.
Süssmuth continued by comparing the US and Canadian experience. She
pointed out that in the United States and Canada there is a conception
that migrants and citizens need to learn to better live together and
this requires changes on both sides. She contrasted the US and
Canadian experience with the European one where an ethnically homogenous
conception of national identity is still prevalent. She explained
this European conception has delayed the discussion of integration and
focused the discussion on how much immigration European societies can
bear. Süssmuth added that this is a result of the lack of
clear conceptions of how to live with different cultures in Europe.
Süssmuth highlighted that it is possible to discuss immigration
not only in terms of its costs and benefits but also in terms of enrichment
and burdens. She noted that immigration in Europe is usually discussed
in terms of burdens and costs, but that this kind of rhetoric does not
involve a discussion of human capital of which Europe has a lot that
it does not employ.
Süssmuth then addressed what kinds of integration measures are
necessary. She explained that mainstream voices argue that only
language education is important for integration. Süssmuth,
however, said that multilingual citizens are a big advantage in a globalized
world, and pointed out that the model of language assimilation does not
allow governments to profit from its citizens’ knowledge of different
languages. She noted that many claim children cannot live in complex
multilingual environment; however, plentiful research points in the other
direction; children can indeed thrive in complex language environments.
Süssmuth debunked the notion that integration is not possible because
people are not interested in integrating. She said that this was
empirically untrue, and immigrants are interested in integrating. She
noted that the most positive integration work has been done by NGOs and
foundations and they are the organizations with the most experience.
Concluding with remarks about the ongoing riots in France, Süssmuth
noted that when we talk about integration, we also have to talk about
segregation because the communities in France and across Europe are highly
segregated and immigrants often live in despicable conditions.
Hauser opened by stating that different factors are forcing the EU to
come up with a coherent approach to migration and integration, including
globalization and European enlargement. She pointed out that the
book sets up a framework for the EU to deal with integration without
harmonizing policies because EU Member States will not agree to harmonization.
The book identifies core areas of integration, best practices, and ways
to implement bench-marking process. Furthermore, the books suggest ways
that the EU can create competition between states to create better integration
policies and ways that the EU can act as a transmission belt of ideas
between Member States.
Currents events France and Brussels and some cities of Germany, Hauser
stated, are a serious wake-up call. She stated that serious grassroots
organization is occurring among second and third generation migrants
from Africa with a Muslim background; like anti-globalization organizers,
they see that their measures are more or less successful. Hauser
noted that these events spillover to other countries, but, unfortunately,
Brussels has had no reaction to these events. Hauser concluded
by stating that the EU needs a public-private partnership to deal with
Maniatis opened by stating that ideas can be powerful and dangerous.
He said that one idea has saturated the entire EU: integration is
local. This has led to a desultory approach toward integration
on the European level. Maniatis pointed out that integration is
an EU issue because ideas, information, people, and goods flow so easily
across borders. This is demonstrated by the riots in France.
Maniatis then updated what was occurring with regard to integration
on the EU Commission:
- In Brussels between 1999 and 2004 much progress was made on asylum,
but integration and economic migration has gone nowhere with Francisco
Frattini, the new Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs. Frattini
drafted a Green paper on economic migration, which was unsuccessful.
- The Commission has been recently focused on two issues which emerged
from the Hague program; integration and radicalization and security. Radicalization
and security has received much more press. The integration communication
focuses on small ideas because the commission has no firepower on integration
and thinks in small terms. The communication tries to give Member
States guidance on common basic principles on integration. It
also advocates spending more money on integration and creating an EU
integration fund and forum. Maniatis said these are good ideas
but it remains to be seen if they will be influential.
- According to Maniatis, the problem with Commission is more a question
of efficacy rather than intentions. Civil servants are well-intentioned,
but there is no political leadership on integration, and the Commission
is quite hampered by the French and Dutch constitutional referenda.
Maniatis noted that the EU can play the important role of transmission
belt of ideas. He suggested two ways to do this:
- The EU could monitor the effectiveness of integration initiatives
Member State by Member State. So far, there has not been enough
resolve to do this. It is difficult for politicians to gather
information about how effective countries are teaching languages or
how quickly they recognize skills (i.e. foreign diplomas).
- The EU is in the position to ensure rights of residents at a higher
level than they currently have through European civic citizenship. The
most controversial aspect of civic citizenship would be to giving immigrants
the right to vote in local elections and the right to organize in local
Maniatis closed by noting that the EU is dealing with integration as
a local issue but integration is really a civil rights issue like in
the US. He stated that the EU needs a “Kennedy screaming
at George Wallace” to break down barriers.
Fix contrasted European integration with integration in the United States. He
noted that integration policy is an afterthought in the US, and there
is no federal office of integration policy. He stated that, while
immigration policy is remarkably inclusive, integration is ad hoc and
under-funded and falls by default to local and state authorities; this
raises problems of funding between different levels of government. Nevertheless,
Fix stated that a critical integration function in the US is birthright
citizenship, which may be under attack. Fix also noted that comprehensive
immigration reform which could lead to expansion of the immigrant population,
does not mention integration.
Fix contrasted the dominant approach used for immigrants in the EU with
a specific integration program the US has—the refugee resettlement
program. The resettlement program provides a comprehensive package
of reception, focused on shortly after arrival and employment and supports
a network of NGOs. Fix noted that when the flow of refugees to
be resettled is high, these NGOS do well. These NGOs have most
of the United States’ integration expertise, and when there is
no resettlement the United States loses its expertise in integration
because the NGOs go out of business.
Fix noted two other important integration duties performed by the private
- NGOs are critical in shaping immigration policies and integration.
- Public interest law firms are critical in defending the rights of
Fix pointed out that these groups are successful because of generosity
of philanthropy in the US.
Fix continued by stating that, like Europe, schools are a critical force. He
pointed out that there has been a quiet revolution in the US. The
federal government now requires that schools identify, test, and teach
immigrant children. They disaggregate students who do not learn
English, and they close the schools if they do not succeed. Fix
stated that this is working. Fix noted however, that progressive
education reforms are encountering demographic challenges:
- The immigrant limited English Proficiency (LEP) population is highly
spatially concentrated. 70% of LEPs are in 10% of schools.
- Over half of children who do not speak English well in the
US are not immigrants but are second or third generation residents
in the United States.
Papademetriou closed by summarizing the event. He reminded that
the real issue is to learn to live with one another. He also restated
the danger of conflating migration with other issues such as terrorism,
since this hinders discourse.
Papademetriou ended by emphasizing the importance of balancing the conversation;
there has to be talk about both the costs and the benefits of immigration.
He pointed out that for the first time there is a convergence of reactions
and a real conversation can begin; this conversation needs to involve
both the supranational and the local levels of government.
Commentary and Response
The floor was opened to comments which, the panelists answered at the
end of the commentary.
A participant questioned whether it is possible for the general public
to accept immigrants. She believed that the answer is no, and politicians
can only do so much.
She also pointed out that language is important but education is the
key. Finally, she stated that EU has to have an honest discourse
with citizens; the EU is in denial because they say they want to stem
immigrant flows, but more people keep coming.
Another participant stated that Dr. de Brouwer from the European
Commission was at MPI a few weeks ago and said that there would be some
coordination on immigration by 2010. He asked if there really will be
a policy by 2010 as it has already been a generation since immigration
policy cooperation started.
A third participant believed the situation in Europe is getting worse. Levels
of xenophobia and the anti-foreigner sentiment are rising according to
opinion polls, and there is growing support for far right parties in
many EU countries. Additionally, the increasing usage of referenda is
very anti-immigrant, not only in the rejection of the European constitution
but in Switzerland and in the US as well. Furthermore, the participant
stated that the terrorism link is made more and more frequently. Finally,
the participant noted that as a result of what is happening in France
today, even if the violence goes away immediately, anti-immigrant sentiment
will become more extreme in Europe.
A fourth participant noted that the conversation had skirted issues
of religion in integration and asked the panelists to respond to the
claims that integration policies could be linked to religious intolerance.
A fifth panelist suggested that civil society organizations may have
part of the answer. She noted that some NGOs are doing well but not enough
is being done. There should be more work done way to attract immigrant
NGOs to educate them about the importance of integration for their constituencies.
This is especially importance because anti-immigrant sentiment is pushing
these NGOs away from integration.
Dr. Süssmuth responded that she does not have a lot of hope that
there will be EU coordination by 2010, but restated that it needs to
occur. She concurred that there were lots of negative indicators,
but claimed that desperation was no answer and that on the contrary it
is a good time to start working on the issues. Süssmuth responsed
to the commentary with six final remarks:
Hauser responded that religion was not only a large problem in Member States
like Germany but also on the EU level, especially in the debate about Turkey. Ms.
Hauser noted that there is no governmental institution on the European
level that deals with religion, even though it touches on so many other
issues. Hauser noted that some type cross-cutting EU commission has
been proposed. She concluded on a somewhat hopeful note, arguing
the EU needed drama to move forward and perhaps the drama in France would
galvanize European action with regard to integration
- Even with an active civil society, you need a framework, which include
laws and public policy. These need to be provided for by the
- More time is needed to judge whether programs are successes or failures.
Often a program has only been implemented for a year and pundits claim
that it is a failure. This is unfair as programs take time to
- Currently there is no holistic approach to integration and immigration,
and having a holistic approach is necessary. Of course education
is essential, but there are other problems as well. For instance, after
immigrants take language and citizenship integration courses there
is no help in obtaining skills to get a job.
- Public opinion may be extremely negative, but there are many contradictions
in peoples’ opinions that we have to profit from. For example,
people claim they do not want immigrants, but then they want someone
to care for their mother. This is partly the fault of politicians
who do not properly explain why European countries need immigrants.
- Germany is trying to establish religion as part of the school curriculum. Germany
is working against a bad historical legacy because at first Germany
expected all immigrants to leave and were eager to have children segregated
in Koran schools. European societies neglected to take care of
different religions in public life, and now there are larger debates
about the role of church and state and state and society, looking how
to integrate them. Europeans are not familiar at all with different
- We could reduce problems by cooperating with migrants but we do not. Migrants
are missing in the public sphere.