Financing migrant integration in combination with municipality development

By Gesine Schwan

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To meet human rights standards in refugee policy the EU should combine the financing of refugee integration with financing for the development of municipalities hosting these refugees. Respective community decision making should be based on multi-stakeholder participation. European governments should decide voluntarily on quotas of refugees and at the same time on setting up an integration and community development fund to finance integration and to fund the development of municipalities with the same amount.

The core question for the future of the European Union is how to achieve solidarity – both in financing common European infrastructure projects and public goods and in finding a decentralised settlement of migrants and refugees.

Promoting the integration of refugees

A strategy to promote refugees’ integration could therefore enable us to take a crucial step forward in relaunching Europe. It could work out well if it is combined with the development of municipalities, thus bringing together European values and human rights with the interests of European citizens for the participatory democratic development of their communities. The poor from outside Europe would then no longer be in competition with the poor inside the municipalities.

US President Donald Tusk has recently suggested putting a stop to forcing European governments into solidarity in terms of receiving refugees. Instead of opposing Donald Tusk, European governments – especially the future German one – should take up this reasoning and make the following proposal.

European fund for municipalities

On a voluntary basis, European governments should propose quotas of refugees (from relocation and resettlement programmes) that they are ready to receive in their countries. At the same time they should agree to create a European fund which would finance the municipalities which are ready to integrate refugees. As a positive incentive these municipalities should get the same amount of financing for their own development. Integration and development strategies should be combined and elaborated by a multi-stakeholder group which would be invited by the municipalities’ administration and which would bring together representatives within the communities from politics, business and organised civil society.

Thus national governments would be freed from deciding where to impose integration, which would work much better as it is a voluntary procedure. The ownership of the decision by the citizens would be enabled through preparatory participation although the decision making would remain with the elected institutions. They would be well advised to accept what will have been elaborated by a broad citizen’s commitment and consensus.

Given the growing social discrepancies in our municipalities and the lack of infrastructure, this is necessary even if there were no refugees to integrate.

Helping citizens identify more with the EU

Such a participatory strategy financed by the EU would at the same time strengthen the identification of European citizens with the EU. The strategy follows the old idea of identification through participation. No more abstract signs on buildings and bridges saying: “Financed with the help of the EU”, but concrete experiences of citizens, e.g. in France and Portugal, that their democratic participation is being empowered by Europe.

There would not be any negative sanctions for national governments not granting access of refugees to their countries. But municipalities in their countries would probably start pushing to have the refugees accepted in order to obtain the financing of their development through the integration of refugees.

In order to introduce this strategy in the new Financial Framework starting in 2021, remaining funding could be spent on a demonstration project trying out the best working procedure for the proposed “Integration and Municipalities’ Development Fund”.