Examples of EU integration

On 8 September I attended a debate in the European Parliament about the integration of third country nationals in the European Union. Among the invited guests were two passionate women from very different national contexts in Sweden and Poland.

Amanda Lind from Härnösand, a city in the north of Sweden, presented the city’s three factors for successful integration: firstly, there must be early involvement and intervention of the whole municipality, including training school staff, building apartments so people can stay in the city when they receive residence permits, and supporting validation of skills and early internships at workplaces. Secondly, it is important to create meeting spaces for migrants, refugees and all other people living in the city. These meeting places could be staffed by employees or volunteers who could share information on how to get in contact with schools or how to apply for internships, and civil society organisations could share details  about their activities. Thirdly, the city encourages cooperation with civil society, including financial support so they can contribute to successful integration through activities such as sports and develop new innovative ideas.

On the other hand, Marta Siciarek, from Gdansk in Poland, explained how grassroot activists had to lobby for several years for a city policy on integration. Not until the situation for Roma and migrants had worsened considerably did the Mayor finally acknowledge the need to develop a policy tackling social exclusion, discrimination and inequality. For one year now, the city of Gdansk has worked on defining integration measures in the areas of education, housing, employment and social and health care. The next step will be implementation. Encouragingly, people in the city of Gdansk feel ownership over this policy; discouragingly,  there is no similar push for integration at national level.

The EU does not have the competence to legislate on integration, although its EU action plan for integration encourages Member States to take action and make use of EU funds, said Antoine Savary from the European Commission. I highlighted that it would be interesting if the Commission could map when local or regional authorities have been convinced about the need to invest in integration thanks to a successful EU-funded project. This could influence national politicians, as it would both demonstrate the added value of the EU and integration.

Judit Tanczos shared some of Migration Policy Group’s thoughts on the EU’s latest proposals. Changes to EU rules on reception conditions and qualification standards will only marginally improve integration, and earlier access to employment (six months instead of nine) is already the practice in a majority of Member States, so it won’t really improve the situation either. Integration is only mentioned in terms of what entitlements migrants lose if they don’t fulfill certain conditions, and not as something Member States have to support. The proposal may also lead to Member States harmonising on short-stay residence permits, rather than aspiring towards longer permits. Social Platform and our members have raised similar concerns in dialogue with the EU institutions, and we will continue working on following the consequences of the EU’s proposals on migrants’ social rights.

British Green Member of the European Parliament Jean Lambert concluded that we can learn from the EU’s development work, as it has long tackled social exclusion, which is what integration is all about. Furthermore, we need to react to the EU’s mixed messages on integration, make EU funds more accessible and monitor whether it is reaching those people that it is meant for, and hold Member States accountable when they fail to commit to integration measures.