The Action plan on Integration and Inclusion 2021-2027: what implications for migrants?
10 January, 2021
On 24 November 2020, the European Commission has presented the Action plan on Integration and Inclusion 2021-2027, which outlines the approach that the EU will develop with a view to integration and social inclusion. “We will make sure that people who have the right to stay are integrated and made to feel welcome. They have a future to build – and skills, energy and talent”. With this sentence, the president of the EU Commission had revealed the goals of the EU at the State of the Union Address 2020.
What are the consequences for migrants on EU territory?
The Action plan starts from the premise that “migrants and EU citizens with a migrant background often face challenges in terms of discrimination and inequality in education, employment, healthcare and housing”, given also the difficulties of learning a new language, adapting to new social norms and new cultures. These four pillars – education, employment, healthcare and housing – indeed represent the cornerstone to strive for a more inclusive and integrated EU. In addition, a remarkable focus has been given to the Covid-19 emergency, which has impacted the lives of all EU citizens but, most of all, of the migrant population. Firstly, the plan deals with inclusive education and training, from early childhood to higher education. Secondly, it aims at improving employment opportunities and skills recognition, in order to value and strengthen the migrant communities’ contributions. In this case, a particular focus is given to the remarkable role of women, which through this Action plan are fully supported to reach their potential. Thirdly, the European Commission aims at promoting the access to health services, including mental healthcare, for migrants in the EU. Finally, the fourth pillar deals with the access to adequate and affordable housing. The Commission, thanks to funds such as the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+), wants to fight locally and regionally to overcome the great discrimination in the housing market that migrants have to face.
The idea is that a successful integration in the host society relies on the active engagement of both the host communities and people with migratory backgrounds. The concrete suggestions of the plan are various. Examples are the improvement of local and regional authorities’ capacity to involve local communities in the design and implementation of integration programmes, or even the financial support to volunteering actions co-designed by people with migrant background and the host communities. But there are also easier measures, as the introduction of an “integration award” for schools, organisations, sports and youth clubs and local communities that strive for the inclusion and integration of migrant population. In the new plan, there is a great focus on cross-cutting issues, like fostering partnerships between key integration players, tackling racism and discrimination, maximising the use and impact of EU funding for integration and inclusion, and promoting the active participation of migrants and EU citizens with a migrant background in host societies. For these purposes, the EU wants to monitor progress through digital tools, in order to be able to design integration and inclusion policies based on reliable evidence. The various and specific needs of different groups, like women, religious minorities, persons with disabilities, etc., are studied and taken into consideration as well.
It is interesting to notice how strong the desire to build a proposal that involves all the various actors of the host communities is. The fact that proposals are not top-down but are embraced, carried forward and implemented by the actors in the societies themselves is certainly a valuable element. Being able to involve the population at various levels and through localised but widespread instruments seems to be an effective way of truly including the migrant population.
The new Action plan: a change for the better or for the worse?
The 2020 Action plan aims at developing itself starting from the lessons learned and the achievements reached in the former 2016 plan. The EU Commission has also relied on the evidence and data which had been collected and presented by researches and studies like the one of Eurobarometer on integration. In addition, for writing the 2020 plan, the Commission has organized a public consultation and targeted consultation with Member States, local and regional authorities, civil society organizations, foundations and international institutions, social and economic partners but, maybe most importantly, migrants and refugees. The content of the 2016 plan is similar to the 2020 one, as it included pre-departure and pre-arrivals measures, education, employment and vocational training, access to housing and healthcare, active participation and social inclusion. It also attempted to strengthen the tools for coordination, funding and monitoring within the Member States.
The challenges addressed by the new plan relate in particular to the issues of employment, education, access to basic services and to the social inclusion of migrants. There are several reasons behind this choice. For example, migrants, and specifically girls and young women, are highly discriminated in the employment field. Further, migrants are more likely to face medical needs, which are related and caused by the lack of knowledge on how to access the services, along with language barriers, the lack of financial resources or the fact that migrants often live in disadvantaged areas where the access to health services is more difficult. By addressing these obstacles and gaps, the 2020 plan wishes to build the future actions for integration and inclusion of migrants.
Particular attention has been given to those categories, such as female migrants or girls, who appeared more fragile and weaker after the 2016 plan. This focus, which has been identified thanks to the analysis of the results of the previous plan, seems to mirror the current difficulties of population minorities. In addition, the spread of Covid-19 is a new aspect that urgently needs to be taken into account, as it has clearly changed the landscape from the previous plan. This tragic event poses new challenges for migrants, who feel the effects of the pandemic more than others. Here, too, work will be needed to ensure that the gap between the local and migrant population does not widen but instead narrows.
When examining the results of the researches of the Eurobarometer on Integration, it is remarkable to notice that few European citizens (37%) feel to be well informed about issues related to immigration and integration. The estimated proportion of immigrants in the various European countries is in 19 out of 28 cases, overestimated. Around 61% respondents do no interact weekly with immigrants and only half of European respondents (57%) state that “they would feel comfortable having any type of social relations with immigrants (manager, work colleague, neighbour, doctor, family Member including partner, friend)”. These figures show how much more work needs to be done in the field of inclusion and integration in the EU. The fact that interactions are so poor, and perceptions are so distorted can only contribute to the continuing disconnection between host communities and the immigrant population.
As the data show, 80% of EU citizens identify the European Union as a crucial actor in promoting cooperation between actors, in sharing “best practices” between Member states and in establishing integration measures by also providing economic support. It is therefore necessary to be positive and proactive, to bet on a European Union that, strong in its values and ideals, is able to be a real promoter of a new model of inclusion and integration. The new plan certainly has all the prerequisites to bring about positive change for EU communities, for example with regard to the idea of working with different actors in the host societies and of creating an interrelated system of inclusion and integration.