Cities and Regions for Integration

Integration of migrants and refugees is a priority for the European Committee of the Regions.
The #Regions4Integration Blog will bring you successful initiatives by town, cities and regions across EU. 
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Commissioner Johansson emphasises need to share good practice on integration 

The new European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, praised cities, towns and villages across the European Union for their work on integrating refugees and migrants on 3 December. The President of the European Committee of the Regions, Karl-Heinz Lambertz, welcomed the support, saying that migration in Europe needed "a fairer, more pragmatic and inclusive approach that supports regions and cities".

Commissioner Johansson was speaking on her second working day in her post at a gathering of around 400 local and regional politicians, 'Go Local: Supporting regions, cities and rural areas in migrants' integration'. The conference, co-organised by the European Committee of the Regions and European Commission, aims to promote a strong element of local and regional social investment in the EU's approach to migration. The European Committee of the Regions has been calling, in particular, for support for towns and villages, which, across the EU, are home to about one-third of refugees and immigrants.

Commissioner Johansson stated that: "As European Commissioner, I want to emphasise that one of our long-term goals is building a cohesive society, where each member feels respected and safe. That is why good integration will be one of my priorities. Integration is based on community and communities are built from the bottom up. That is why Go Local is such an important initiative and event." Commissioner Johansson also announced the award of new Emergency Assistance measures to Italy and Spain in support of their efforts to integrate recently arrived people.

The European Commission has called for a tripling in the principal fund through which integration work is supported – currently named the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund – from €3.1 billion in 2014-20 to €10.4 billion. The EU intends to channel most long-term funding for social inclusion through the future European Social Fund Plus (ESF+).Organisation of the conference was led by the European Commission's Directorate-General for Home Affairs and the European Committee of the Regions, whose President, Karl-Heinz Lambertz (BE/PES), in April 2019 launched the Cities and Regions for Integration initiative together with the then EU Commissioner Dimitrios Avramopoulos.

President Lambertz said, "We need to end scaremongering, do away with divisive, populist rhetoric and work with pragmatism, fairness and solidarity. Over the past decade, cities and towns across Europe have welcomed and supported refugees during a time of austerity. The Integration Initiative continues to grow, showing that villages, towns, cities and regions are helping integrate newcomers every day, and, in the process, creating inclusive communities. The Commissioner's presence today, to engage with regions and cities so early on in her tenure, demonstrates that Europe is not only listening, but willing to act locally".

Other speakers included Virginio Merola (IT/PES), mayor of Bologna and member of the European Committee of the Regions, Annika Annerby Jansson, President of the Skåne region in Sweden; Rutger Groot Wassink, Deputy Mayor of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, responsible for social affairs, democratisation, and diversity; and Oriol Amorós, secretary for equality, migration and citizenship in the Catalan government in Spain.

The conference included workshops on many of the areas of life in which local and regional governments are typically particularly important – housing, health, education, youth work, and sport – as well as areas where the European Commission offers its expertise to cities and regions, such as data, local strategies, and innovative financial instruments.

The EU currently offers support for integration projects through the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund, the European Social Fund, the European Fund for Regional Development, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, and Erasmus+.


Integration through the lens


On her second working day as the new European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson told an audience of about 400 local regional politicians and officials that integration should receive more money from 2021 and be mainstreamed across the work of many Commission directorates. The conference – Go Local: Supporting Regions, Cities and Rural Migrants' Integration – was co-organised by the European Committee of the Regions and the European Commission's DG Home, with other departments in the European Commission – responsible for health, culture, agriculture, regional policy, and agriculture – and the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency organising parallel sessions. Details of the day-long conference can be found here.

The conference was accompanied by a small exhibition designed to showcase integration initiatives taken by local and regional authorities. Attendees then voted for their favourite story. The winner of the 'Integration through Your Lens' exhibition was a photo of a refugee – Bushrah Alkhalaf – with her family, after she won a race at Cork City Sports in May. Bushrah and her family were resettled from Syria in January 2019. Bushrah started school in Ireland soon after and through school got involved in athletics. The HSE Cork Kerry Refugee Resettlement team have worked closely with Bushrah and her family, supporting them to adjust to their new neighbourhood and to get involved in local community activities. The photo is below.


Refugees finding work on Germany's stretched labour market

Germany's Die Welt carried an article on 3 November that highlighted both Germany's growing labour shortage and progress on integrating refugees and migrants. Bernd Fitzenberger, the head of the Institut für Arbeitsmarkt- und Berufsforschung (Institute for Labour Market Studies), is quoted as saying that Germany will need an annual inflow of 400,000 migrant workers to keep its working population stable and to tackle a growing skills shortage. Fitzenberger also says that integration of refugees is advancing at good speed, citing figures collected by his institute earlier this year that 38% of refugees who have arrived since 2015 are now employed. He noted that 48% of these jobs are in specialised areas, and "5% even work as specialists and experts".

Separately, an article published on the same day by the Süddeutsche Zeitung reports that the German Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) expects over 145,000 new asylum requests in 2019. This is down from 160,000 last year. At present, 35% to 38% of claimants are granted refugee status.


Fresh research on migration and integration

The latest edition of the journal 'International Migration', published on 24 October, has a large set of articles that might interest professionals engaged in integration and migration work.

Among the topics covered are:

  •  a global survey of aspirations and intentions to migrate ("being male, foreign‐born, highly educated, and having networks abroad are associated with higher probability of preparing for international migration");
  • perceptions of migration and diversity by local public administrators in Turkey, Greece, Hungary and Slovakia;
  • entrepreneurship among women who have migrated to Italy ("Policies that support associations, creating opportunities for gathering and exchanging with local residents and improving the presence of immigrant women in local institutions, could have the side‐effect of increasing participation by immigrant women in self‐employment");
  • how higher-education institutions in Norway are helping to integrate as well as educate Syrian refugees ("The findings highlight an urgent need in Europe to start an initiative for establishing a joint European qualification passport");
  • why asylum‐seekers choose Hungary as an entry point to the European Union ("The article finds no evidence to support recent claims by the Hungarian government that arrivals to the country are actually economic migrants and not asylum‐seekers");
  • the migration policies of provinces and states in Canada, Australia and the United States, and their dynamics.

Readers in Belgium might also be interested in looking at how nationality law is applied in Belgium. (It shows "how significant variation, mainly between different territorial offices, exists in the application of the law and how such variation contradicts the fundamental democratic norm of the equality of (aspirant) citizens.")


Major conference on 3 December: registration deadline

Regional and municipal politicians and authorities that are interested in discussing ways to integrate migrants have a major opportunity on 3 December, when the European Commission and the European Committee of the Regions will hold a conference in Brussels. Full details of the conference – Go Local: Supporting regions, cities and rural areas in migrants' integration – can be found on the conference's website.

If you are interested, register immediately – the deadline is 25 October.  

The agenda includes nine thematic sessions: sport, youth, housing, health services, improving access to basic services, communications, data, strategy-making, and 'innovative financial instruments'.

There will also be a session dedicated to helping cities and regions tap sources of EU funding. A reminder: the Commission has proposed that significantly more money should be available for integration post-2020.


Integration of migrants is a test of "governments' ability to manage social changes"

The integration of refugees and migrants into European society is about the "protection of human rights" but also public trust in democratic institutions, Tomáš Boček, Vice-Governor of the Council of Europe Development Bank (CEB), said on 10 October, noting that failures of integration could have long-lasting effects.

Mr Boček was speaking during the European Week of Regions and Cities at a workshop organised by the Bank at which by local and regional authorities shared experiences and lessons from their work on integration. The CEB's mandate is social and its lending promotes the values and principles of the Council of Europe, the continent's leading human-rights organisation.

"Social exclusion risks leaving long-lasting scars, such as inter-generational poverty," said Mr Boček. "This can fuel public distrust in governments’ ability to manage social changes and, from this perspective, it is no longer about human rights and refugees; it goes much deeper."

Claire Charbit of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said its studies indicated that "if diversity and social cohesion is an objective" for a local and regional government, "there will be less challenge with integration". She underlined the importance of local and regional leaders, saying that "there will be no integration without a mobilisation of sub-national governments".

Mr Boček noted the scale of the challenge – compared to actual needs, the billions invested in social inclusion by the CEB "often feels like a drop in the ocean", he said – but towns and rural areas in Europe often find "innovative solutions" by working with the local community, non-governmental organisations and businesses. The OECD's research also shows that smaller communities find it "much easier" to provide the coordinated approach needed in integration efforts, Ms Charbit said.

Both emphasised the importance of an effective relationship with central government. "An honest and viable partnership with central government is a precondition" for successful integration, Mr Boček said. Referring to the results of an OECD survey of 72 municipalities of varying sizes, Ms Charbit noted that "the need for good relationship with central government, even just basic information, is seen as even more important than funding" – and that all those surveyed complained about the quality of multi-level governance.

The work of two regions– Occitanie in France and Murcia in Spain – and the Caritas Benevento network in Italy was presented at the meeting, as well as the experience of Deryneia municipality in Cyprus. 

The event was hosted by the European Committee of the Regions, which has created a #regions4integration initiative to help collaboration between local authorities and channel their concerns into EU decision-making.


How the next European Commission foresees its work on integration

Margaritas Schinas left the European Parliament on 3 October with his major job done: over the course of a three-hour hearing, he had convinced MEPs that he could be a European Commissioner – a judgement officially confirmed on 4 October. However, a battle that goes to the heart of how the next Commission President sees his job – over the title of his post, Commissioner for Protecting our European Way of Life – was unresolved, with critics insisting that this gives a far-right framing to a set of sensitive responsibilities: security, border management, asylum, migration, integration, and education.

MEPs such as Sophia in 't Veld (NL/Renew Europe) said. "My advice to you: drop the dog whistle and work with us for the next five years for a European Union that is open and inclusive." Describing himself as a 'bridge-builder', Mr Schinas rejected the idea that the title would be "instrumentalised by the extremists", but said he would work to ensure a "positive" interpretation of it. He did not say whether he would ask his boss, Commission President-elect Ursula Von Der Leyen, to change the title ("In Europe we discuss, then we agree…that’s it. That’s my answer"); but the European Parliament will continue to press for a change.

In describing the values of a 'European way of life', Mr Schinas said that, "at its core, being European means protecting the most vulnerable in our societies" and that "being European means being open to the world, extending hearth and home to those who are less fortunate, [and] it means standing up for these values, for these rights, for these principles, across the globe."

In his work on social inclusion and integration, Mr Schinas said it would be a "huge mistake" to adopt a "'Brussels knows better than everybody else' approach", continuing: "We must not promote inclusion as a top-down instrument, from us to you. We need to listen to people, to regions, to municipalities, to people on the ground, civil society and I pledge that you will see me a lot on the ground."

He made clear that integration will rise in importance during the next Commission. "This new drive for inclusion across all spheres must include a strong and renewed push to further the integration of third-country nationals," he said, going on to say that "I intend to build on the 2016 action plan on the inclusion of refugees and migrants and additional funds in this area." Longer-term integration of migrants and refugees will be incorporated under the new European Social Fund Plus, which will allow us to have more tools and more resources to support inclusion initiatives."

In response to questions from MEPs such as Magid Magid (UK/Greens) and Evin Incir(SE/S&D) who asked for local authorities to have direct access to integration funds, Mr Schinas said that the European Parliament, as a co-legislator, had a role to play in ensure direct access and the Commission will see ways to help local authorities better. The European Investment Bank will also be more involved in integration-related projects, he indicated.

The hearing can be watched here. A European Parliament briefing on Mr Schinas and his new role can be found here.


Spotlight on the European Commissioner-elect responsible for integration

This evening, from 18:30, the next European Commissioner-elect responsible for the integration of refugees and migrants will go before the European Parliament, to face a three-hour grilling about his new post and his aptitude for it.

He is Margaritas Schinas, a one-time Greek member of the European Parliament who is very familiar with life at the top of the European Commission. He has served in the cabinets of two European Commissioners – Loyola de Palacio and Markos Kyprianou – and, latterly, as the chief spokesman for the outgoing Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker. At various points, he has also headed the Greek operations of the Commission's directorate-general for economic and financial affairs (DG ECFIN) and acted as deputy head of the Commission's in-house think-tank.

With his knowledge and experience of the EU unquestioned, Mr Schinas is likely be quizzed heavily about the title of his position – Vice-President-designate for Protecting our European Way of Life – as well as about his policy prescriptions and how he will organise the Commission's efforts to meet its objectives in a sensitive area.

He is the only commissioner whose mission letter refers to "integration", where it is grouped with "Skills, education and integration".  President-elect Ursula Von Der Leyen wrote: "You will lead the Commission’s work on making our communities more united and cohesive. As part of this, you will coordinate the work on improving the integration of migrants and refugees into society."

The most contentious points may well relate to his responsibilities for "finding common ground on migration" and "coherence of the external and internal dimensions of migration" – and how he sees this as reflecting his task of 'protecting the European way of life'. MEPs have been highly critical of the title, arguing that it echoes far-right rhetoric.

The President-elect's explanation in the mission letter is: "Protecting our European way of life requires making sure workers are equipped to thrive in our evolving labour market. A declining workforce and a digital and basic skills gap brings into sharp focus the need to equip people with the tools and knowledge they need. It also highlights the need for well-managed legal migration, a strong focus on integration and ensuring our communities are cohesive and close-knit. This is both an opportunity and a necessity for Europe."

The hearing can be followed here. The opening statement will also appear on YouTube.


Lessons from Vivarais-Lignon

The #regions4integration initiative aims to bring together communities – particularly from towns and rural areas – that are working on supporting and integrating the refugees and immigrants in their midst. There are communities in Europe that have been so for generations and sometimes centuries – and one of them, the region of Vivarais-Lignon, in south-central France, is the subject of a new book by an anthropologist.

Maggie Paxson, author of "The Plateau", went to Vivarais-Lignon equipped with a training that taught her "how to study the ways people conceptualize and then interact with outsiders" and with the hope of deriving "lessons there about how groups of people can resist the call to violence, exclusion, and bigotry". Vivarais-Lignon is remarkable, she said, for "collectively risking their own lives, time and again, for the sake of strangers" displaced by religious wars between Catholics and Protestants, the French Revolution, the Spanish civil war, the Holocaust, and now, by strife, in central Africa, eastern Europe, and the Middle East.

Did she find lessons? Yes. In communities such as Vivarais-Lignon's, help is a habit, with strangers treated "as human beings, full stop" and a set of social practices. The rest of us can develop the habit by "having been catalyzed to do good, in a moment", her work suggests.

Ms Paxson's summary be read in this article published by Time on 19 September.