European Cities: champions of migrant integration policy?

8/9th March 2012,
Amsterdam, Netherlands
- conference

Organiser: Eurocities

Eurocities logoInsights from the 5th Integrating Cities conference
“Making Integration Work in European Cities”

Cities are the poles of international migration and the theaters of diversity. No surprise therefore that city networks collaborate on the topic of integration. The strongest amongst them is Eurocities with around 140 full member cities from the EU or European Economic Area, which have at least a quarter of a million inhabitants, and a Brussels-based secretariat with 46 staff.

Eurocities launched the Integrating Cities process in 2006 in partnership with the European Commission to promote the implementation of the Common Basic Principles on Integration in cities.

The 6th Integrating Cities conference of this process took place in Amsterdam on 8-9th March. Platform for Intercultural Europe participated. Eight parallel site visits and master classes as well as eight workshops in addition to plenary sessions with model moderating and parallel audience polling made for a rich programme. Given that Eurocities is foremost a platform for the majors of European cities, the conference was marked by a degree of celebration of the efforts of cities in the field of integration. Yet reflection on the relationship with other political players wasn’t missing:

Are cities more progressive in tackling the realities of immigration than their national governments? What support do cities expect from the EU?

Keynote speaker Ricard Zapata-Barrero pointed out that cities are not always ‘holier’ than their national governments: “Growing ideological racism has been leading to local governments incorporating anti-immigrant measure in strategic actions.” Sometime this leads to a withdrawal from European cooperation. Some cities for example pulled out of the CLIP network (see below) because of changes in city government. Others continue to engage in European cooperation and pin hopes to the EU: As part of the audience polling during the ‘high-level policy dialogue’ of the conference, the role of the EU in integration policy was regarded as most important in terms of ‘influencing national governments where it has power, for example in the field of non-discrimination’ (41.5%), followed by ‘providing funding’ (28.8%), supporting transnational networks (21.2%) and providing practical tools (8.5%). However, the question ‘How well do different levels of government work together in integration policies in your context?’ was answered with ‘not well’ by 63.9% of the 147 strong conference audience. Pekka Sauri, deputy mayor of Helsinki confirmed this finding from the panel – he said there was “constant friction between the metropolitan and the national level in Finland”. Signe Faerch from the Committee for integration of the city council of Copenhagen confirmed the same for Denmark. Stefano Manservisi, Director General for Home Affairs at the European Commission commented in his keynote presentation on the distribution of competences between the EU and its Member States and encouraged the view that enhanced EU competences need not be looked at as a “transfer of sovereignty" but rather as “ a way of inventing new forms of governance.” Ahmed Aboutaleb, the Mayor of Rotterdam pointed out in his closing speech, however, that the EU needed to make a big shift from agricultural policy to urban policy.

What is there to the Integrating Cities process besides the conference series?

In 2010 EUROCITIES launched the Charter on Integrating Cities, which sets out cities’ eleven commitments to the integration of migrants in relation to cities’ duties and responsibilities as policy-makers, service providers, employers and buyers of goods and services. Access to culture is, by the way, not specifically mentioned amongst the acknowledged migrants’ rights.

Three additional cities signed the charter on the occasion of the conference: Madrid, Rennes and Riga, bringing the total signatories to 30. Ramon Sanahuja i Velez, chair of the Eurocities Migration and Integration working group, pointed out that due to the Charter, migrant integration and equal opportunities become core elements in cities’ comprehensive vision documents. The charter also provided an incentive to make service provision by cities an “ongoing process of intercultural orientation”. However, it was also the case that external factors interfered with cities’ capacity to meet the charter commitments.


How does Eurocities check on the implementation of the Integrating Cities charter?

Eurocities started the EU-funded MIXITIES project - Making integration work in Europe’s cities - in November 2010. Peer reviews and benchmarking are the key methods of this project; the content focus is on anti-discrimination policy, diversity competences in public services and introductory courses for newcomers. Peer Reviews were held on each of these themes respectively in Gent, Barcelona and Stockholm in 2011. 17 member cities and London-based community investment company MigrationWork participate. Toolkits on the three topics were presented at the Amsterdam conference as well as a video on migrant youth’s view on integration. The testimonies of 4 young people from Barcelona, 8 teenagers from Ghent and 2 young adults from Sweden about their experiences as immigrants are probably intended to enhance the empathy of the viewer (205 viewers on YouTube to date).


“Is integration still the right paradigm?” Should cities target policies at migrants?

The conference audience was also polled on the question ‘Is integration still the right paradigm for your city?’ In fact they were asked twice in order to see whether the conference itself had shifted opinions: Those who answered with ‘yes’, where in the majority at the beginning of the ‘high level policy dialogue’ (53.5%) and in the minority at the end of it (48.6%) – although the differential between the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ votes where not huge at either moment. The proposition of a paradigm shift had perhaps not been outlined clearly enough for people to vote without hesitation – at least not in the plenary sessions. In one of the ‘master classes’, however, academics Bauke Prins and Sawitri Saharso offered a good overview of the debate over group rights – from early supporters such as Canadian philosophers Charles Taylor and Will Kylicka to later critics such as Susan Moller Okin, Necla Kelek, Unni Wikan and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Central to this debate is the development of policies against ‘traditional harmful practices’ such as Female Genital Mutilation, honour-related violence, forced marriages etc. and policy dilemmas such as avoiding stigmatisation and paternalism. They highlighted as exemplary policy measures which build on “identities which unite across cultures” such as ‘mothers of large families’ or ‘poorly educated women’. Professor Halleh Ghorashi continued the overview of thought development from Zygmunt Bauman (‘fluid modernity’) to Steven Vertovek (‘superdiversity’) and highlighted that the challenge of contemporary policies is to connect to identities formed through the ‘routes’ that people have taken, rather than where their ‘roots’ lie, and to assume ‘light communities’ (temporary, purpose bound) rather than traditional communities. Challenged about the persisting discrimination and racism, which disregard sophisticated differentiations of people, Ghorashi acknowledged that category-based policies such as affirmative action are still valid as temporary measures. Several participants pointed out how important the arts are in forming new communities as means and places for sharing stories, creating connections and developing new languages.


Eurocities in comparison to other city networks

In a workshop on “Transnational city learning on migrant integration”, several other city networks, which tackle migrant integration, were presented: the Intercultural Cities Network of the Council of Europe, the Cities For Local Integration Policies (CLIP) network of the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, and the European Coalition of Cities Against Racism (ECCAR).

Such networks serve the internal purpose of mutual learning, which can extend from information exchange to training offers to joint target-setting and compliance checks. They might also assume the external functions of lobbying and campaigning, which can again vary in intensity from information provision to positioning to agenda-setting, all depending on the resources of the network. City networks also vary in the extent to which they penetrate a city’s administration, i.e. how many of its departments and what levels of its hierarchies. Many cities are members of several networks, and their officials sometimes bemoan their over-lapping offers and also demands for collaboration. But a ‘tidying up’ of the network landscape seems nevertheless impossible because of the differences in their territorial reach, the covered policy areas and their membership conditions.

  • The Intercultural Cities network comprises 45 cities from the expanse of the Council of Europe, but also beyond. It covers 14 policy areas and is based on the concept of "intercultural integration", which “fosters a strategic vision of diversity as an asset, and the adoption of joint-up strategies harnessing efforts across administrative silos and a partnership between public authorities, civil society and media.” The ‘Intercultural Cities method’ provides a look at participating cities through “an intercultural lense", i.e. expert and peer reviews of their policies, governance and practice. Based on a questionnaire involving 66 questions grouped in 14 indicators, cities are also ranked in the Intercultural City Index. One of those questions is ‘How intercultural is cultural and civil life?’ The city average for the sub-index on cultural and civil life is 77/100. Individual cities’ assessment point out their strong points, but also recommendations in relation to what other cities do, e.g. “using interculturalism as a criterion when allocating grants to associations and initiatives”. Intercultural Cities also produces thematic papers, for example on ‘Cultural Policy for the Intercultural City’.
  • The CLIP network supports the cooperation of 30 European cities on the social and economic integration of migrants. It operates under the aegis of Eurofound (EU agency on living and working conditions, industrial relations and managing change in Europe) and is supported by a group of specialist European research centres. The CLIP network structures the sharing of experiences through the medium of separate city reports and workshops covering four research modules. The topics of these modules were: housing (segregation, access to, quality and affordability of housing for migrants), equality and diversity policies in relation to employment within city administrations and in their provision of services, intercultural policies and intergroup relations (particular focus on the experiences of Muslim communities, as Islam is the largest ‘new’ religion in CLIP cities), and ethnic entrepreneurship. The CLIP network has concluded its work and is looking for new funding to continue. See the Platform for Intercultural Europe’s report on the Eurofound high-level Conference: Intercultural approaches to community-building and cohesion in European cities.
  • ECCAR is a network of technical experts who are interested in sharing experiences with policies to fight racism, discrimination and xenophobia. It was established with the support of UNESCO in 2004 and encourages joint awareness-raising actions. 104 municipalities from 22 European countries have joined the network and adopted the "Ten-Point-Plan of Action", which commits cities to monitor racism, to establish a system of data collection and to develop appropriate indicators. Berlin, Madrid and Graz are driving forces within ECCAR.

The sixth Integrating Cities Conference will take place in Tampere on 9-13 September 2013

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