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In Search of Common Values amid Large-Scale Immigrant Integration Pressures
June 2017

In Search of Common Values amid Large-Scale Immigrant Integration Pressures

The rapid arrival of historic numbers of refugees and migrants in 2015–16 reignited discussions in Europe about the rights and obligations of visibly and religiously different members of society. Burqa or burqini bans, for example, have focused attention on the clash between different value systems.

Restrictions on Islamic Dress in Europe

This map displays restrictions on Islamic dress that have been proposed or passed, by country as of June 2018. Click on any of the countries highlighted in blue for a description of the proposed or enacted restriction, date and status, and possible penalty.

While immigration and other types of social change are frequently painted as enemies of common values, it is often unclear exactly which values critics see as under threat. European countries have employed a range of tools—from closed-door commissions of experts to national dialogues and massive online surveys—to better pinpoint the values shared by members of their societies, meeting with mixed success. The rise of populist, far-right parties and deepening polarization has complicated this process. Governments face the twin challenges of supporting newcomer integration at a time when the social values they are being asked to adopt are themselves in flux, and of strengthening institutions that mediate and resolve conflicts over values.

Drawing on examples of values-based conflicts, legislation, arbitration, and compromise from across Europe, this report explores the tradeoffs policymakers face as they seek to define and promote shared values. Key lessons learned include:

  • Programs that communicate and instill shared values are often narrowly targeted to newcomers, particularly refugees and asylum seekers; expanding them to include second-generation and temporary immigrants and the native born would help strengthen a common understanding of values and create room for dialogue between groups.
  • While policies that restrict minority practices may be politically popular, such measures run the risk of further alienating marginalized communities and should be used sparingly.
  • A number of institutions—including intercultural councils, mediation services, and local dialogues—have shown promise in mediating cultural disputes. Supporting such initiatives will broaden the options for resolving conflicts before they reach a crisis point and without invoking the full, symbolic weight of the justice system.

    This report was commissioned for a meeting of the Integration Futures Working Group, an MPI Europe initiative that brings together senior policymakers, experts, civil-society officials, and private-sector leaders to stimulate new thinking on integration policy.

    Table of Contents 

    I. Introduction

    II. A Crisis of Values?

    A. What Are Values?

    B. Social Change and Values

    III. Policy Responses: Major Choices and Tradeoffs

    A. Defining and Instilling Values

    B. Managing Conflicts over Values

    IV. Who Decides? Institutions that Arbitrate Values

    A. Courts

    B. Intercultural Councils and Mediation

    C. Quasilegal Bodies and Sharia Law

    V. Recommendations and Conclusions