Improving the integration of third-country nationals into European societies
A new agenda proposed by the European Commission aims at the integration of migrants.
According to the Communication of the European Commission (20 July 2011) entitled European Agenda for the Integration of Third-Country Nationals, 6.5% of the total EU-27 population are foreigners (32.4 million). Of those, 12.3 million were EU-27 nationals living in another Member State and 20.1 million were citizens from a non-EU-27 country (4% of the total population). However, the above statistics might not give a complete picture of national and local reality in many EU countries which have a much greater immigration presence: thus, the number of people born in third-countries is more than 10% in Germany, Estonia, Ireland, Greece, France, UK, Sweden, Slovenia, Austria, Cyprus, Latvia, Luxembourg and Spain. Not to mention that there are European cities and regions with percentages above 20% of immigrants and nearer 40% of persons with a migration background. Other qualitative factors should be also considered for dealing with the immigration phenomenon: the concentration of immigrants in certain areas, their cultural background and affinity (or disparity) with the hosting societies (language, traditions, religion, historical links, etc.), their educational level, age and sex, etc. It is unrealistic to expect migration management operating with the single category of "immigrant" without addressing the specifics of each group of migrants; and their impact on each particular hosting society, at national, regional and local levels.
The statistical dimension of immigration is a key tool for analysing the influence of the participation of residents of third-countries in the political field, which is a proposal supported by the Commission. Its possible impact in regions and cities where the percentage of third-country nationals is high may affect the current political majorities. However these statistics at the European level don’t include this element in their research. If third-country nationals are not to be totally excluded from political life, prudence also requires case-by-case decisions on the manner and extension of political participation; the conditions for granting it (depending on the country: number of years of permanent residence; knowledge of national language, culture and institutions, and of rights and duties of citizens; absence of criminal records, etc.); and the number of new naturalizations. The level and capacities for social and political inclusion of each particular society are not homogenous and they also should be tested.
On the other hand, social integration is not an automatic process that yields a result which is necessary successful under certain social and economic conditions. Full respect for the rights of others and personal acceptance of duties are necessary for any thriving integration of migrants into the hosting society. Moreover, the principle of equality before the law should be reinforced as a pillar of our democracies, avoiding any coexistence based on inequality of rights or duties.
The cultural assumptions that give cohesion and unity to a society should not be weakened by an unbalanced migration policy. The cultural practices which immigrants bring with them should be respected and accepted, as long as they do not contravene either the universal ethical values inherent in the natural law or fundamental human rights, stated John Paul II. The “cultural equilibrium”, the Pope reminded us, welcomes minorities and respects their basic rights, but also allows the continued existence and development of a particular “cultural profile” of a region, “its basic heritage of language, traditions and values which are inextricably part of a nation’s history and its national identity”. Only a realistic evaluation of the common good at a given time, place and context, within a climate of genuine openness, can contribute towards reaching a positive and fair answer.
In the case of European culture, strongly rooted in the Christian values which are the major factor of its unity, any ‘equilibrium’ must respect its Christian cultural background. Even the strength of the European political project depends of the recognition of these common roots and the plurality of its expression.
José Luis Bazán