E.g., 04/25/2024
E.g., 04/25/2024
The Challenges of Integration for the EU

The Challenges of Integration for the EU

Migration is a growing and permanent part of Europe's future. Two factors have led to pressure for a more effective EU strategy to promote the economic, social, cultural, and political integration of migrants and the next generation: recognition of the failure to integrate past migrants effectively, and concern about rising support for the far right. European countries have differing views on both the goals of integration and the most appropriate strategies to achieve it. Nevertheless, the EU does have at its disposal several unique levers to make an effective contribution to the development of integration policy, complementing the primary responsibility of its member states.

Diversity of Integration Experiences

Some 13-14 million third-country nationals live in the EU, some four percent of the population. A number of patterns, however, make the issue more significant than this statistic would suggest. Immigrants remain concentrated in particular regions and cities, and may remain excluded even after they and their second-generation offspring have become nationals. EU nationals can themselves face barriers to integration outside their own countries but within the union (e.g., Portuguese immigrants in Northern Ireland).

Net migration into Europe is increasing, and is now the largest component of population change. Migrants, moreover, come from a far wider range of countries, and bring a greater diversity of languages and cultures, than in the past. Some European states have only recently become countries of immigration, with no experience of integration strategies.

Migrants bring significant economic and cultural benefits. Some newcomers are very successful in the labor market and enjoy positive relations with other residents. But there is substantial evidence that many face disadvantages on all the key indexes of integration: legal rights, education, employment, criminal justice, health, living conditions, and civic participation. Moreover, migrants and the second generation can be well integrated on one index (such as intermarriage), but not on others (such as high unemployment).

Migration's Permanence and Impact

One of the factors leading to an increased focus on integration at the EU level is the belated recognition that migration will be a permanent part of Europe's future. The workers who come to fill skills and labor shortages, refugees, overseas students, and family members who arrive to join immigrant relatives will require a level of incorporation, whether they stay temporarily or permanently. If states are to compete for the "brightest and best," potential migrants must be confident that they will not face discrimination and exclusion. Moreover, EU states cannot afford to neglect the talents of migrants already in the workforce.

Ten new countries will join the EU in 2004, leading to greater mobility of migrants (including of Roma communities). A desire to ensure that their arrival does not provoke tensions, and that the new EU citizens experience equality of opportunity with other EU nationals, also needs to be expressed in policy initiatives.

Public resentment of migrants and fear of difference leads to discrimination, community tensions, and occasional violence. In addition, it has contributed to the rise in support for far-right political parties, which successfully exploit people's fears and resentments. Public anxiety about Muslim minorities (in particular since the September 11 terrorist attacks), subsequent international conflicts, and vocal hostility towards Muslims in Europe all point to the need for a comprehensive integration strategy.

This need has yet to be addressed effectively at the national level. A minority of disillusioned, alienated migrants seeks an alternative sense of identity and purpose by joining fundamentalist groups, thereby further segregating themselves from mainstream society.

A Role for the European Union

The EU has long recognized that integration is a necessary part of a comprehensive immigration and refugee strategy. The 1999 European Council in Tampere found a new willingness to cooperate in developing that comprehensive strategy, addressing integration under the heading of "fair treatment of third-country nationals."

Primary responsibility for integration lies at the national and local levels. But EU goals in relation to immigration, economic growth, and social cohesion all require a focus on integration. The EU has the ability to address a range of issues vital to integration through post-entry rules on immigrants and refugees (e.g., in its directive on family reunification); its laws on racial and religious discrimination; targeted efforts for migrants such as the "Equal" program; and its (currently marginal) attention to integration in mainstream strategies on employment, social inclusion, and health.

Since the Amsterdam Treaty of 1999, the EU has had a mandate to require member states to address discrimination on grounds of race and religion. Directives now require member states to legislate on racial discrimination in employment, goods, and services; to establish a statutory body to provide assistance to individual victims; and to ban religious discrimination in employment by December 2003. The JHA Council in October 2002 asked the European Commission to come forward with proposals for a more comprehensive integration strategy. A communication from the European Commission on immigration, integration, and employment was published in June 2003.

Possible Roads Forward

An effective EU strategy will have to move beyond the provision of common minimum legal standards and information-sharing to the use of its unique levers to promote integration, including:

  1. Establishing a mechanism for dialogue and coordination among member states and across the Commission to develop and share good practice on essential elements of an integration strategy such as induction programmes for new migrants.
  2. Reviewing existing and proposed EU immigration and asylum measures to ensure that they provide migrants with a secure legal status, rights and responsibilities that reflect their temporary or permanent status, and the maximum possible access to the rights that promote integration—including employment and family reunification.
  3. Taking active responsibility for leading a balanced, informed, public debate about the reasons migrants are in Europe by putting into the public domain information about the contribution they make and barriers they experience, acknowledging public fears, and correcting misinformation.
  4. Promoting contact between people from different religious and cultural backgrounds and building a consensus that racial prejudice is socially unacceptable.
  5. Taking steps to promote a common understanding across member states of the barriers to integration and of effective steps to address them – within and beyond the labor market – through data collection, research, monitoring initiatives, and dissemination.
  6. Ensuring implementation of the EU discrimination directives and establishment of effective bodies to promote and enforce them.
  7. Engaging member states, the social partners, NGOs, and migrant organizations, learning from them, sharing ideas on good practice, and enabling migrants to contribute to decision-making, as an essential element of civic participation.
  8. Conducting a review to identify which EU policies, programs, budgets, and policy levers are most relevant to integration, including strategies on employment, social inclusion, and health, and ensure that integration objectives are mainstreamed within them.
  9. Reconsidering the bar on employment of third-country nationals within the Commission.

Conclusion: Obstacles to Agreement on EU strategy

There have been three obstacles to securing agreement on a substantive, EU-wide integration strategy. The first is fear of public resistance to migrants, and to EU involvement in their conditions of stay. Second, the key levers for integration (such as employment policy and family reunification) fall under the authority of different directorates-general at the European Commission, different committees in the European Parliament, and different ministries at the national level—with the usual barriers thus created to developing a coordinated strategy. Third, views differ across Europe on the goal of integration and appropriate strategies to achieve it. In practice, however, no member state is pursuing any of these positions to its extreme. Their own models are not immutable, and are evolving towards greater convergence. The European Commission, in its recent communication on integration, set out comprehensive measures which, if implemented, would make a significant contribution to the economic, social, cultural, and political integration of migrants across the European Union.

A version of this article was originally presented as a paper at the Greek EU Presidency's conference on "Managing Migration for the Benefit of Europe," May 15-16, 2003.