EU conference on migration and integration kicks off in Berlin | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 15.06.2009
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EU conference on migration and integration kicks off in Berlin

How well is Europe coping with the integration of its foreign residents? A two-day EU conference in Berlin will discuss methods to monitor migratory trends within Europe.

A boatload of migrants heading to Spain from Canary Islands

Border control is among the issues to be discussed at the conference

For decades the nations of the expanded European Union, now comprising 27 countries, have wrangled over the integration of the EU’s 30 million foreign residents. The question: how to deal with those who try to enter what human rights advocates call Fortress Europe?

At the Berlin conference the catchwords will be “monitoring” and “benchmarking,” in other words, how to measure the success or failure of efforts to integrate so-called “legal migrants” across Europe.

Residents with foreign passports make up about five percent of the EU’s total population of nearly 500 million. Luxembourg excels, with 38 percent of its population listed as foreigners. Germany is in mid-field at 8.9 percent or about seven-million foreign residents.

Foreign student being showed some technology

Immigration policies diverge widely within the EU

The German Federal Statistics Office pointed out recently, however, that the underlying trend is far greater. It counted those with “migratory backgrounds,” including persons who have adopted German citizenship and children raised in families with origins abroad. The count soared to 15 million, or more than 18 percent of Germany’s total population of 82 million.

Since the 1980s, go-it-alone policies pursued by individual nations have been superseded by an EU Commission drive to coordinate a patchwork of policies on asylum and integration under a so-called Global Approach to Migration. Adopted in 2007, its measures range from promoting language acquisition and job skills among newcomers, to worker mobility within the EU’s visa-free internal borders, to Frontex, the EU agency which patrols waters off northern Africa.

Frontex often draws criticism from non-governmental organizations. Scenes of would-be migrants struggling ashore from sunken boats and recovered bodies prompted EU Commission President Jose Manuel Borroso last week to call for a summit of EU Mediterranean states.

Aging EU will need younger workers

The head of the EU’s Social and Economic Committee Mario Sepi concedes that the demographics of an ageing EU population have also prompted Europe’s nations to boost their efforts to successfully integrate foreigners. By 2050 a third of the EU’s population will be 65 years or older, requiring many younger skilled workers including foreigners, and as taxpayers, to fill the gap.

“The European model of integration is a very broad model," Sepi said. "And, if we’re unable to integrate new citizens into the EU, then we wouldn’t be true to what our message to the world is: integration at (the) national, social and economic levels.”

Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble

German Interior Minister Schaeuble puts the onus on immigrants

Ahead of the EU’s Berlin conference, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Federal Interior Minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, of her conservative Christian Democratic Union party (CDU), praised the integrative efforts of more than two million so-called Russian-Germans who have resettled in Germany since the collapse of the former Soviet Union.

Schaeuble also insisted that potential immigrants had to make the first steps.

“If you know nothing about where you live or where you’re going to and if you don’t have a basic knowledge of the language, then you’ll have only a small chance of making it in the new country.”

Don't exclude skilled migrants

But associations representing foreigners in Germany and the DGB trade union federation have advocated an alternative migration concept for 2009, Germany’s super election year. One group, Pro-Asylum, says recruitment of skilled migrants should not lead to situations where refugees find it increasingly difficult to obtain asylum in the European Union.

Experts, including staff at the SINUS social research institute in Heidelberg, say the migratory policies and trends across the EU’s 27 nations are very diverse. Even the terminology “migrant” and “foreigner” are interpreted differently from country-to-country.

In a recent study, SINUS researchers Carsten Wippermann and Berthold Bodo Flaig dismissed negative cliches of supposedly uneducated Gastarbeiter or "guest workers" recruited by Germany in the 1960s, mostly from Turkey.

German integration

Three decades of research had instead shown that many migrants in Germany are educationally and vocationally advanced, with a strong work ethic and modern attitudes, they said.

"Among a broad cross-section of the migrant population there is a high degree of cultural adaption and willingness to integrate. Many have a bicultural self-definition. That means, they don’t even regard themselves as 'migrants' but as an obvious part of German society," the researchers said.

Those results are reflected in a new study by Germany’s Allensbach research institute. It says 69 percent of migrants feel comfortable in Germany; and 58 percent regard themselves as part of German society. Amongst Turkish migrants, however, a quarter said they still felt as if they were foreign or different.


Editor: Jennifer Abramsohn

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