‘More Europe’ needed to improve migrant integration

Radical proposals to improve the integration of migrants in Europe emerged at the ‘Europe’s Untapped Potential’ policy round table held by the MAX project[1] on 25 May 2021. Among the salient needs are a better system of collaboration between the EU and national governments, immediate language teaching for new arrivals, and a common system for the recognition of skills and qualifications. The COVID pandemic shows us that the EU’s migration policy needs rethinking from a more European point of view.

The online round table, chaired by UNITEE President Adem Kumcu, was organised to discuss the results of research carried out by Idea aisbl, which has identified 50 good and bad practices from 12 of the EU’s member states.[2]

Agnese Papadia of DG HOME noted that the contribution migrants make to European society has stood out during the COVID pandemic, with a recent survey showing that 13% of essential workers are of migrant origin. The good work MAX is doing fits well with the Commission’s Action Plan on Migration[3] adopted last November. Surveys show that people feel badly informed on migration, which implies the need to change the narrative. The tools that can do this are telling the stories of real people and organising encounters at the local level, just as MAX is doing. Migrant entrepreneurs are needed to restart the economy. However, work is needed on the recognition of competences, with the EU Skills Profile Tool for Third Country Nationals[4] playing a useful role. She is optimistic that work on MAX’s agenda will continue since the future Multiannual Financial Framework provides budgets for it.

Economy, society and culture – the research findings

The three researchers from Idea aisbl presented their key findings.

Professor Umberto Triulzi of the University of Rome ‘La Sapienza’ reported on migrants’ economic contributions, both to the labour maker and to public finances. All research agrees that migrants are compensating for the ageing of the population, meeting the demand for care, creating new businesses and sustaining pensions through the taxes they pay. As for immediate actions, he recommends that Member State government should enter into bilateral partnerships with migrants’ countries of origin, which is something that can be done immediately and would enable humanitarian corridors[5] to be set up to provide safe migration routes. In the longer term, more resources and improved governance are needed. Vulnerable migrants such as refugees and minors must be protected, and migrants’ access to SME networks improved. The best vehicle for this would be through tailor-made migration partnerships.

Addressing the social aspects of migrant integration, Professor Charlie Dannreuther of Leeds University noted that European integration is based on migration, and Europe needs migration, so why is it that it doesn’t want migrants? It has not addressed its colonial past. The New Pact on Migration and Asylum[6] adopted last September lacks ambition and does nothing to mitigate the dominance of national governments and local authorities, which often persist in classifying migrants as ‘the other’ and in raising a multitude of obstacles to integration, whether overwork, education, health or housing. Policy-makers need above all to listen to migrants, so that they can understand how to help, deliver better policies, bind into local dialogue, and keep Europe attractive to migrants. The agenda might include a European Year of Migration, a migration committee in the European Parliament, improved policy coordination through an Interinstitutional Migration Agency, scrutiny of national red tape, and a European Parliament that better represents all Europe’s population. The deployment of the European Structural and Investment Funds might be made conditional on a migrant integration policy.

On the issue of culture, Ola Nord, head of the City of Malmö European Office, noted that many migrants come to Europe from a home culture which has been shattered. Their integration would be vastly improved by two things: firstly immediate language teaching for all migrants in their arrival; and secondly a common skills and qualifications assessment system. A multi-level participatory partnership approach is needed in which the EU and the Member States work together.

It’s time to upgrade Europe

Reacting to the proposals, Ismail Ertug MEP[7] (Vice-president S&D, DE), pointed out Europe’s growing diversity – in his home country of Germany 39% of children born are of migrant origin, and migrant entrepreneurs employ two million people.[8] Nevertheless, migrants still face barriers and prejudice, and digital education is of paramount importance.

Professor Stefano Manservisi (ex-Director-General for Migration and Home Affairs and for Development) summed up in four points. First, he noted, we need to reframe the issue of migration away from ‘fixing a problem’ to ‘transforming together’. There is nothing illegal about migration – indeed Europe depends on it. Already, when we talk about people moving among EU counties, we talk not about migration but mobility and what Mario Monti called ‘globalisation at regional level’. The debate needs to be about upgrading Europe to get the most from mobility.

Secondly, where can we find the right mix of solutions? Increasingly this is at city level. It is the cities that are on the front line of migration, and where we can reshape relationships. The local level is best equipped to produce global citizens. But while the entry point and the effectiveness test are at local level, the ambition is Europe-wide.

Thirdly, the pandemic has been an accelerator of transitions. We do not want to create another exclusion, even by mistake. So the question is what migrants can contribute to the green and digital transitions – the potential is untapped both for newcomers and the existing population.

Finally, he pointed out that the COVID crisis has led to unanimous calls for ‘more Europe’, and the invention of a new European financial instrument. The usual ‘battle of competences’ between the Union and the Member States has been notable by its absence. The same thinking is needed regarding migration. The EU’s migration policy was developed to handle Schengen and is driven by a defensive logic. We now have the opportunity to rethink it.


Toby Johnson, UNITEE


[1] https://maxamif.eu/

[2] https://maxamif.eu/success-stories-map/

[3] https://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/sites/default/files/pdf/action_plan_on_integration_and_inclusion_2021-2027.pdf

[4] https://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=1412&langId=en

[5] https://www.humanitariancorridor.org/en/homepage/

[6] https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/priorities-2019-2024/promoting-our-european-way-life/new-pact-migration-and-asylum_en

[7] https://www.europarl.europa.eu/meps/en/96842/ISMAIL_ERTUG/home

[8] https://www.bertelsmann-stiftung.de/en/publications/publication/did/inclusive-growth-for-germany-5-migrant-entrepreneurs-in-germany-from-2005-to-2014