Report by Julia Gour, Research Associate, EU Centre in Singapore
During his seminar on “The Role of the State in the Integration of Immigrants” Prof. Dr. Christian Joppke, distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Centre of Excellence for National Security (CENS) of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), discussed issues around civic integration of immigrants in Europe. At the beginning of his lecture, he briefly touched on the US where there are no policies on integration of immigrants, mainly because they have a less regulated and more inclusive labour market. However, in Europe policies on civic integration can be found since the late 1990s. These policies in practical terms means that immigrants have to participate in obligatory courses (and tests) on the local language and civic knowledge. This development of integration as a state policy marked a shift away from the more laissez-faire approach in which integration of immigrants was left to the community or municipal. Additionally, such civic integration policies are in reality a way to control immigration through selection. It was also a recognition of the reality of immigration as a permanent fixture rather than a one-off phenomenon.
Prof. Dr. Joppke continued his lecture by touching on three major debates surrounding such civic integration policy in Europe:
1. Is there a policy convergence or variation along “national models” of integration?
Prof. Dr. Joppke argued that civic integration converges cross-nationally with respect to policy goals and instruments. While there are variations across European countries in their civic integration policies, these variations are often incoherent, and idiosyncratic. For example, France expects very little knowledge of the French language which contradicts their perceived assimilation model and the pride they take in the French language.
2. Is civic integration a retreat from multiculturalism or do both coexist?
Prof. Dr. Joppke stated that the so called “death of multiculturalism” has been exaggerated and that it does continue to exist, mainly at a local level. This has to do with the clustering of immigrants and with soft policies, e.g. on housing and health, dominating on a local level. Cities such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen are a good example of how the national policies vary from the local ones. Denmark and the Netherlands have one of the harshest policies of civic integration at the national level. However, at the local level one can find a celebration of diversity. Nevertheless, the term of “multiculturalism” is out of date and it would be more precise to speak of either cultural diversity or interculturalism.
3. Is civic integration liberal or illiberal?
He argued that civic integration policies that required immigrants to acquire language skills, cultural and civic knowledge do not contradict liberal principles. The emphasis is on integration rather than assimilation. However, he pointed out that some of the tests for immigrants that touched on morality are seen to veer into the realm of the illiberal.
Prof. Dr. Joppke concluded his lecture pointing at the new challenges ahead to civic integration due to the refugee crisis in Europe, with Germany welcoming close to a million refugees / migrants in 2015. In the past, refugees were excluded from civic integration, however, with the extreme surge of numbers there were changes to the law: In 2016 the German government introduced a new law in order to address this issue. The so called “Refugee Integration Law” determines that refugees have to take integration tests prior to applying for permanent residency.
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