Social Cohesion or Public Security

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A two-day forum organised by the Council of Europe will discuss how Europe can respond to growing feelings of insecurity among its citizens. Forum 2003, which takes place on 23 and 24 October at the Council's headquarters in Strasbourg, will ask why people are feeling less safe and less confident about the future, despite rising living standards.

I was one of the speakers in this Forum 2003.

My speech:

Policies for security or for inclusion? Participation of migrants in local elections as a contribution to social cohesion.

To put it stronger:

The non integration of immigrants in European societies is a threat to the fundamental values of the Council of Europe

In the Netherlands recently a survey was carried out concerned the perception of integration held by native Dutch people and immigrants.
When asked whether immigrants need to adapt Dutch norms and values for integration, 67% of Dutch respondents said that such adaptation was very important. Only 22% of the Turkish, 21% of Moroccans and 40% of Surnames and Antilleans agreed with them.
When asked to what degree should members of ethnic minorities adapt to the Dutch way of life, 34% of native Dutch said completely and 57% said to a large extent. On the contrary, only 5% of the Moroccan and none of the Turkish respondents chose completely as their answer. 50% of Moroccan and 41% of Turkish respondent said to a large extent.
Surprisingly, when asked if it is necessary to respect each other's religion, 24% of Turkish respondents felt it was necessary, followed by 26% of Moroccan respondents and 20% of those of Surinamese/Dutch West Indian origin, but only 8% of those of Dutch origin.
Three out of four Dutch respondents considered that ethnic minorities were not doing enough efforts to integrate, whereas a majority of respondents of immigrant origin held opposite views, incl. 86% of Moroccans.

This survey shows how much the objectives of integration policies are misunderstood by both groups, immigrants and non-immigrants, and how much work still needs to be done in the areas of intercultural dialogue, mutual respect and knowledge, equality and non-discrimination.

Migration integration policies have been seen, now and in the past, as a way to construct a safer society, through being multi-cultural and cohesive. The implementation of these policies show a drastic shift after the event of 11th of September. The discourse has changed and have threatened to undermine the progress achieved by Council of Europe member States.

This is actually the core idea of my report:” Integration policies in the member states of the Council of Europe”.

It is true that terrorism is a threat to our fundamental values but so is the failure to devise and implement an effective integration policy for migrants.

The economic revival in the last years of the past millennium led to a surprising movement in the immigration debate.
In the beginning of the new millennium migration was seen as a new panacea for economic, demographic and social problems. Immigration was seen as a necessity for the functioning of the labor market and to intercept the consequences for the ageing societies.
The international community and national governments were involved in a comprehensive debate on fostering the rights of migrants, integration and participation in multicultural societies, preventing illegal border crossing and establishing clear and transparent channels for legal migration.

After September 11 the tone of the debate changed completely.
Possible advantages of immigration were overshadowed by the presumed security risks of immigration.
The immigration debate became dominated by security and border control concerns.
Governments have changed their political priorities: the legitimate aim of the fight against terrorism has been accompanied by a tightening of immigration policies while integration has passed in the background.

Besides, September 11 has affected the public opinion's perception of foreigners and national and religious minorities, especially those issued from immigration, who are now often seen as a potential threat to national security and to fundamental values of host societies.
Such attitudes are swayed by media attention to selective material and anti-immigrant views and exacerbated by the focus on illegal immigration and smuggling.
It overlooks the fact that millions of immigrants enjoy legal residence in their host countries and want to participate fully to its life and respect its democratic rules and values.

A similar change of priorities can also be noticed within the European Union. The EU is engaged in the development of a common policy on migration and asylum according to deadlines and objectives set out in the European Council of Tampere.
Despite remarkable progress towards the adoption of a range of asylum instruments, the EU is clearly lagging behind schedule in the field of legal immigration.
In fact, what raises most concern, is that the main instruments adopted by the European Union on the issue of migration concern border control, the fight against illegal immigration and the facilitation of expulsion or return of third country nationals.

Governments should refrain from addressing the complex issue of migration exclusively on a national basis and from the point of view of immigration control. Integration policies should be a priority of the political agenda because such policies promote societies based on democratic values. There is a widespread perception that terrorism is posing a threat to democracy.
Governments and the public opinion should be alerted that the failure to devise and implement effective integration policies for legal immigrants will pose an equal threat to the values which are at the heart of European society, namely equality and social cohesion.

In my opinion a multicultural society should encourage cultural difference and highlight its value, but under no circumstances should it be possible to justify violations of basic human rights on the grounds of religion and cultural tradition.
For example: Women may be victims of beatings by their own family members, raping by their husbands, genital mutilation or forced marriages. These abuses are often justified in the name of religion and the cultural traditions of their communities.
The respect of cultural difference must rest on the respect of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, by all those who live in a country, citizens or foreigners.

The Netherlands
Until recently, most people in the Netherlands were confident that the integration of ethnic minorities into Dutch society would succeed and that the problems were essentially transitory problems. This positive view has changed (see outcome survey). At this moment there seems to be a common understanding that the integration policies have failed. This is one of the reasons that the Dutch parliament undertakes, at this very moment, an indebt survey at the integration policies of the last 20 years.

Politicians in the Netherlands often use the term “multicultural society” to characterize the country or their city. What does this really mean?

A society is not automatically “multicultural” just because its members have various ethnic, cultural or religious backgrounds. A society can only lay claim to the title “multicultural” if all its members, regardless of their origins or beliefs, have equal access to the social resources, have equal rights of determination in the shape of that society, and are able to express fully their own identity, both in the private and the public domain. Those who believe that a multicultural society is an ideal which can and should be achieved will not direct their efforts to the assimilation of the ethnic and cultural minorities, but rather to their integration.
This involves two connected but nevertheless quite distinct issues: equal opportunities in the social and economic sphere and an equal access to key positions and power positions in society.

Social isolation, discrimination, xenophobia, senseless violence, and the shunting of personal responsibilities onto public bodies are all signs that the society is becoming less cohesive. Many of the conflicts which arise between the generations, between ethnic groups, between social classes or involving groups which have chosen a different sub-culture, are ascribed to the lack of a common set of standards.
The lack of a common set of standards and values is not a result of the changes in the composition of the population (many people would love to believe it was as simple as that).
We cannot neatly divide society in two groups “them” and “us” – the immigrant and the indigenous.
Rather than one clearly recognizable majority culture, we now see a relatively large number of sub cultures, each with its own lifestyle or orientation, which enter into a series of temporary coalitions with each other.
These coalitions are more often based on opportunity than on ideology or principle.
A negotiating society, so to say.

In multicultural neighborhoods in the Netherlands, the negotiation society functions rather less effectively than in the more privileged sections of the community.
Ethnic minorities are not used to negotiation “Dutch style” are therefore not particularly good in it.

The negotiation society imposes high demands on the manner in which communication and decision-making processes are organized.
That everyone is permitted to take part is not enough.
Those who are not actually able to contribute will certainly feel no strong commitment to the result of the negotiations.
It is becoming increasingly apparent that the ethnic communities – and also certain sections of the indigenous population, such as young people, the unemployed, ill, old, low education – are taken little part in the decision-making processes.
This is a direct threat to the basis of our society.

The non participation of immigrants in political life, and especially in local elections, implies a democratic deficit.

Nowadays the integration debate is still too much a one-way-direction-debate. This debate becomes, at least in the Netherlands, harder, especially in the big cities. The migrants themselves play a too little role in this debate on local level. The non-participation of immigrants in political life, in local elections, local organisations, implies a democratic deficit.

We talk about equal obligations, equal responsibilities.
Equal obligations should imply equal rights and opportunities.
Legal immigrants have the same obligations as nationals, at least at local level. Unfortunately, states have proved to be very reluctant to enable legal immigrants to vote and stand in local elections, and various Council of Europe instruments have not had a significant follow-up.

The Council of Europe has constantly called on member states to improve the participation of immigrants in political life, with a particular attention to the right to vote and be elected in local elections.
In addition, on several occasions the Assembly and the Committee of Ministers have called on member states to sign and ratify the European Convention on the Participation of Foreigners in Public Life at Local Level (ETS No. 144, date of signature: 5/2/92, date of entry into force: 1/5/92).

The above-mentioned instruments aim to improve the integration of foreign residents into the life of the community where they live. The main argument to foster such participation is that at least at local level citizens and legal residents have the same obligations; therefore they should also have the same rights.
As far as voting rights are concerned, member states are asked to grant to every foreign national the right to vote and stand in local elections. As to the length of legal residence, the European Convention on Participation of Foreigners in Public Life at Local Level requires 5 years, while Assembly Recommendation 1500 (2001) requires only 3 years.

Despite the efforts of the Council of Europe, the issue of voting rights in local elections remains very controversial, and member states have proved to be very reluctant to implement the recommendations of the Assembly and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities.

A related issue is that of the effective participation of immigrants in local political life.

Very often for immigrant communities elections in their countries of origin are more important than the elections for the area where they live.
Even when immigrants hold active and passive voting rights, they hardly ever exercise them: they are convinced that they could not have any significant impact on the way that the local community is run as well as to a lack of information and political awareness.

Not only politicians and political parties have a special role to play in this respect, the immigrants themselves also have a role to play.
Political parties can actively involve immigrants in electoral campaigns and raise their concern, as well as to encourage candidatures from people with an immigrant background.
The immigrants themselves can undertake action to tackle the problem. In discussions the non-participation of immigrants is seen by them as a problem for the Dutch. But it is also their problem. They can step forward and take their responsibilities. Become active in neighborhood initiatives, participate in the integration debate etc. It is not always easy, but it can be done.

Political participation – voting rights – The Netherlands

Foreigners who have been legal citizens of the Netherlands for at least five years are entitled to vote for the local elections and to be elected to the city council.
They do not have voting rights on the provincial or national level.
Only people with Dutch nationality can vote and stand for national elections.
Dual citizenship is generally forbidden but there are considerable exceptional allowances.

The non Dutch citizens could vote for the 5th time. Over the years we have seen an increase of non Dutch members in the town councils.
In 1994 there were 73 councilors. There number increased to 150 in 1998 and to 208 in 2002. Most of them are from Turkish origin (113), followed by the Surinam’s (36) and the Moroccans (26). In total there are 7400 councilors.
In the 4 big cities the participation of the migrants is the biggest.

The ethnic vote has more and more impact on the election results. At the most recent local elections quite a number of ethnic minority candidates have been elected by preferential votes, in spite of being placed on a position on the list that was considered ineligible.
This does not mean that these newcomers have automatically gained access to the real power position within their political parties. One could compare their position with the position of the female newcomers in politics in the 80’s 90’s and maybe even now in some political parties.
Many migrant politicians are struggling with the sometimes contradictory demands that are put on them by the party leadership and by the people who voted for them.

Granting voting rights makes a major contribution to the integration of immigrants. Granting voting rights does not solve all the problems of integration. It is only one of the ways to combat exclusion. Local, regional and national authorities must also pursue policies on the employment, housing and education of immigrants to ensure that every citizen is treated equally.

In conclusion:
I believe that the current international situation poses new challenges to integration policies in all Council of Europe member states.
While it is legitimate and important to ensure security against the terrorist threat, also through a more efficient border control, it is necessary to keep in mind that immigrants are a part of our societies and that their participation is a fundamental condition for social cohesion, equality and democratic representation.

The full integration of immigrants in Europe is necessary to ensure that the values at the heart of our societies are fully respected and not only because immigration brings economic benefits and helps alleviate the European demographic deficits.
I believe in the need to overcome the functionalist approach which considers immigrants in their capacity of workers or potential workers.

Integration is a two-way direction debate.
Participation in political life is not just a component of every healthy society.
Political participation is a necessity to guarantee equal rights and equal access of all population groups. It must be part of a more comprehensive move towards integration and combating all types of exclusion.
Participation is a necessity to secure a peaceful and harmonious living together.

Immigrants are part of our societies irrespective of whether they work or not, whether they contribute to competitiveness of economy or to balance the demographic deficit and help to pay for future pensions.
It is necessary to keep such an issue high on governments' agendas, since a lack of appropriate integration policies would inevitably result in a democratic deficit.

Going back to the survey, when asked whether the migrants in The Netherlands had confidence in the successful integration of immigrants, most Dutch respondents replied that they had very little; unlike them, but like the immigrant respondents, I am more optimistic.

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