Where does the European Union stand on Migrant Integration Policy?

22 July, 2020

Most Member States are experiencing migratory phenomena and are confronted with integration challenges. Today, there are around 22 million third country nationals legally residing in the EU. Evidence shows that they tend to be to disproportionally affected by unfavourable outcomes in terms of education, employment and access to basic services. Hence, more has to be done by the European Union to ensure their integration. This would generate social opportunities and economic gains for the European Union too. To begin with, migrants, when effectively integrated, may allow to maximize the use of the labor force and skills already available in the EU and to improve the productivity of the EU economy. Additionally, integration can constitute a decisive factor in helping Europe to address some of its challenges: ageing population, prosperity and security.

Action Plan on the Integration of third-country nationals

The Action Plan on the Integration of third-country nationals, adopted by the European Commission on 7 June 2016, represents the current European framework that supports European Member States’ efforts in developing and strengthening their integration policies and promotes cooperation and policy coordination in the field of migrant integration. The Action Plan touches upon five main priority areas;

First, through the Action Plan, the Commission supports the implementation of pre-departure and pre-arrival measures. In this regard, the Commission launches projects to support the efforts of local communities and engages with Member States to strengthen the cooperation with selected third countries on pre-departure measures.

Second, recognizing that education is among the most powerful tools for integration, the Commission considers this area among its five priorities as well. In particular, it promotes and implements actions mainly directed at providing tools for language assessment and learning to third country nationals, and aims at ensuring the participation of migrant children in Early Childhood Education and Care.

Third, the Commission recognizes that finding a job is a fundamental element to become part of the host country’s economic and social life. Therefore, it promotes good practices and supports projects to enhance migrants’ integration in the labor market and migrants’ entrepreneurship. Further, under the New Skills Agenda for Europe, it supports the validation of skills and the recognition of qualifications for the newly arrived third country nationals.

Fourth, it is among the European Commission’s priorities to grant migrants access to basic services, as these represent basic conditions without which integration is not possible. In this regard, the Commission supports European Member States in providing temporary accommodation and health facilities to newly arrived migrants. Further, it additionally promotes the exchange and learning of best practices to provide better and more targeted services, especially in the health sector.

Fifth, the Commission is committed to foster active participation of third country nationals in all aspects of community and societal life. Through the Action Plan, it is launching projects to promote intercultural dialogue, foster social inclusion and fight discrimination. Further, it is promoting migrants’ participation in cultural life and sport.

The Commission has supported the implementation of the aforementioned projects and actions through dedicated funding and more broadly through instruments strengthening the cooperation of different actors working on integration at international, national and local levels.

Shortcomings of the Action Plan – what should we learn from this experience?

Right now, it is too early to draw any decisive conclusion about the effectiveness of the Action Plan since the monitoring and evaluation is still ongoing. However, a few considerations can already be made.

A first consideration concerns both the rise of an anti-immigrant rhetoric and its effect on the Action Plan. In the past years, this rhetoric reduced the political will of European countries to invest in the integration of third country nationals and, consequently, also, the leverage that the Action Plan could have had on national policies. In this regard, the Commission should propose concrete action in the shape of projects and programs to fight hate speech and contrast discrimination. This would have a double effect: on the one side the Commission would reduce the barrier to political action, on the other, it would generate a direct positive impact on migrants’ integration.

Moreover, even if the Commission recognizes that migrants’ integration is a challenge that connects to multiple policy areas, it does not envision any mechanism to regulate the investments of Member States in the various policy fields. European Member States, which could freely decide in which policy field to concentrate their efforts, concentrated most of their investments in vocational training and employment support. However, a more equal distribution of actions across all policy areas is needed to ensure a more comprehensive and effective integration of migrants in host countries. This is a concern that needs to be addressed in future policy developments.

There are still considerable differences even in the integration support and the use of funding across European Member States. This disparity seems to constitute a concrete barrier to the integration of third country nationals in the European Union. More incentives should be put in place to promote the use of the available tools to those countries which are more reluctant to do so.

How will EU’s migrant integration policies be shaped under Ursula von der Leyen?

Ursula von der Leyen promised that she would make migration a “core topic” of her presidency. Ylva Johansson, the Commissioner in charge of the ‘Home Affairs’ portfolio, additionally underlined that integration will be a key element of the new agenda for migration. This commitment has been reflected in the Commission Work Programme 2020, which outlines the will of the Commission to present a new Action Plan on Integration and Inclusion between October and December. It will be fundamental that the Commission will take into consideration the weaknesses of the current Action Plan to ensure a more effective impact on migrants’ life.

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