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Politics and Time

In democratic societies, policies are part of a political system in which the majority decides. This brings an inherent danger of either a virtual absence of explicit integration policies and an avoidance of issues related to immigrants or one-sided patronizing policies reflecting mainly majority interests and disregarding the needs and voices of immigrants. Whereas in some European countries policymakers have been able to craft policies “behind closed doors” to extend political and social rights to migrants (Guiraudon 2000), in others anti-immigrant political parties have succeeded in vetoing liberal reforms and urging their governments to adopt more restrictive immigration and integration policies. An extreme case is Switzerland, where referendums can even overrule the supreme court and possibly mandate reform of the constitution, thus undermining the main tools that protect religious and ethnic minorities of immigrant origins against discrimination (D'Amato 2012).

As integration policies are adopted and implemented in practice, another aspect of the logic of policymaking emerges. Although integration processes are long term in nature—they take at least a generation—the political process in democratic societies requires that policies bear fruit within much shorter timeframes: the spaces between elections. Such a policymaking context may lead politicians to make unrealistic promises that cannot be fulfilled in such a short period. This “democratic impatience” in turn often produces disappointment and backlash effects (Vermeulen and Penninx 1994). The debate on the alleged failure of integration policies—and of immigrants to integrate—that has been taking place in the Netherlands since 2000 is a good example (Prins and Saharso 2010). Even more difficult than democratic impatience are situations in which anti-immigrant sentiments are translated into political movements, leading to strong politicization of the topics of immigration and integration.

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