European Migration and Diversity

Concordia Discors Project


Integrating European neighbourhoods

17 October 2012


Policymakers and researchers in the field of migration gathered in Brussels for the conference ‘Integrating European neighbourhoods’, organised under the framework of the Concordia Discors project. 

“Unlike in the past, when nation states could enforce some kind of integration, nowadays they cannot do so. Therefore the role of informal ‘policymakers’ in the streets of our neighbourhoods is crucial,” said Ferruccio Pastore, Director of FIERI (International and European Forum for Migration Research), an independent research institute based in Turin.

“Local governments and communities are at risk of being left alone with their problems, without enough outside support,” Pastore claimed, calling for the role (and potential future role) of sub-municipal entities like quarters and districts – and their relationship with other governance levels – to be investigated more closely.

He presented the results of the Concordia Discors project, which he said had shown that "urban planning should be part of the integration toolkit" given the importance of space as well as socio-economic issues.

Drawing on the research, he said that conflict at neighbourhood level was actually a component of the integration process, rather than a problem in itself.

FIERI Senior Researcher Irene Ponzo said that at neighbourhood level, there were class, gender and generational cleavages, in addition to the more widely publicised ethnic cleavages.

Marco Martiniello, director of CEDEM at the University of Liège, said that despite the difficulty of comparing neighbourhoods between different countries, such projects should be continued. He called for the project's focus on the neighbourhood level to be mirrored in policy, which was "better than stigmatising part of the population". 

“The integration of the Roma communities of Eastern Europe is a more significant issue than integrating migrants,” said Hungarian Socialist MEP Kinga Göncz.

The MEP said the EU had been working on a Roma integration strategy. Despite the fact that the strategy would be integrated by member states, “it was important to show commitment at EU level given that some local governments aren’t doing enough”.

She warned that in this era of austerity, the state was becoming less and less present in local communities, leading to a surge in support for the extreme right in countries like Greece, where far-right parties were stepping in to fill the void by providing essential social services for the poor: and painting migrants as scapegoats in the process.

“Community initiatives are crucial for integration, but politicians at local and national level must also speak out regarding the importance of integration. Don’t allow the extreme right to dominate the limelight,” Göncz warned. 

Focusing on the local level is crucially important to integration, “because that’s where it’s messy – and it’s where it happens,” said Michael Keating, an independent expert who has led the development of excellent diversity, equality and cohesion practices at local, national and international level.   

“We need to strengthen dialogue between the local, national and EU levels, because no actor has the right answer on their own,” Keating said. “Strategies must inform how we deliver services,” he said, lamenting that "the voice of the local level is not heard enough at national or EU level".

Integration must feature in everything that a local authority does, but a distinct policy for integrating migrants is not necessarily required, Keating argued. Rather, tackling inequality, strengthening cohesion and building community leadership should be at the heart of all local policies, he said.

“Create the space for creativity and social constructs to emerge. It’s a neighbourhood level-issue, not just a question of grand design,” said Nicos Trimikliniotis of the Centre for the Study of Migration, Interethnic and Labour Relations at the University of Nicosia, arguing that the law was sometimes too blunt an instrument to deal with the complex realities of migration issues.

“You need specific goals and policies to achieve them, otherwise you risk talking rubbish,” Trimikliniotis argued.

“Policy at national level must create the systemic space in which the micro-level can operate and in which solidarity can emerge. Coordination between levels can be a major problem,” he said. He argued that policy must be centred on "learning to live together" by addressing urban and social issues, rather than overtly focusing on "integration", which was not a term used by migrants themselves.

Recalling his work as an advisor to the Cypriot Interior Ministry, Trimikliniotis said that during the Zaragoza meeting of the EU Justice and Home Affairs Council under the Spanish EU Presidency, ministers could be divided between those who considered integration to be a cultural issue, and those who saw it as a social issue.

He warned that cultural elements must not be overlooked, despite the tendency of some people to use them "as a stick to beat certain groups up". He called on policymakers to take into account both cultural and social issues, because focusing on diversity could lead to equality issues being overlooked.

"The 'right to the city' must become 'a right to the neighbourhood," Trimikliniotis argued. In this context, "new democratic processes of consultation" were needed, not just to produce local leaders, but also to represent the population from the ground up.   

“Responsibility for integration is a shared competence under the Lisbon Treaty, so look for partnerships and interaction between all levels of responsibility,” said Luc Van den Brande, a Belgian member of the Committee of the Regions (CoR).

“Integration happens locally. It’s there that people live and experience problems together. Policy can’t be designed in an abstract manner in Brussels […]. We need a renewed European agenda for integration. The Committee of the Regions wants a combination of the bottom-up and top-down approach, based on the principle of subsidiarity,” Van den Brande said.

“Subsidiarity means making clear the interaction between multilevel governance, not reopening treaties or anything like that. Subsidiarity means understanding that it’s not just the EU institutions that implement EU policy. It’s about the local level too,” he explained.

“Rely on experience on the ground. We don’t need to build new institutions. Focus on pragmatic and practical cooperation between policymakers,” said the CoR official, adding: “Integration policies must be pursued via coordinated action between the EU, national, regional and local levels.”

“We must rethink Regional Policy. Create a new Cohesion Policy approach based on territorial pact, inclusion and the integration of entire communities,” Van den Brande advised.

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