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National Immigration and Integration Policies in Europe Since 1973

Jeroen Doomernik and María Bruquetas-Callejo


Migration of workers and refugees has long been an integral part of the European continent's history. Nonetheless, Europe's appreciation of migration as a serious societal and governmental concern is relatively recent. Among the countries with a colonial history, migration became an issue at the time of the independence of these Asian, African, and South American nations. North-Western European countries furthermore witnessed sizeable labour migration from Southern Europe, Turkey, and Northern Africa. This occurred from the 1950s into the 1970s, though it was long considered merely an issue of labour supply and demand, and not one posing social or other challenges. Only after the economic recession of the mid-1970s did migration, or rather the restriction thereof, become a topic of debate. Integration of these migrant workers and their children is an issue that took longer to arrive on the political agenda. In some countries this happened from the late 1970s; in others it came about only decades later.

From the 1990s onwards, the European countries bordering the Mediterranean, which had primarily been suppliers of labour for the growing economies of NorthWestern Europe, themselves became attractive destinations for migrants. Improvements in their economies and living conditions opened the way for the arrival of considerable numbers of workers from Central Europe, Northern Africa, and Latin America. A precondition for membership of the (then) European Economic Community was enactment of stringent migration controls; hence integration issues long took a secondary place.

The Communist Eastern Bloc had been cordoned off from the rest of the world until 1989 and had thus seen very little migration since the end of the Second World War. The main exceptions consisted of “guest workers” from socialist developing countries. These workers resided in isolation from the native populations. Vietnamese migrants remained and these days are a clear presence in the eastern parts of Germany and the Czech Republic. During the 2000s labour migration developed from farther east, such as the Ukraine, to Central Europe, while the nationals of these new destination countries themselves benefited in varying numbers from the freedom to go and work elsewhere in the European Union (EU).

From the early 1990s, refugees and asylum seekers became an issue of great urgency in North-Western Europe. Many states in this region felt overburdened and took steps to restrict asylum seekers' access to their territories and to limit asylum seekers' eligibility, thus shifting the burden to other member states. Since then, political consensus has emerged within Europe on the need for a joint approach towards asylum seekers and refugees, but so far national interests have persisted, and European solidarity on this issue has remained incomplete. More successful has been the development of EU-wide policies on migration for the purpose of family reunion and on the rights of long-term resident third-country nationals. EU law in the field of general integration policies is not on the political agenda but the Union has made efforts to stimulate social cohesion and integration of immigrants and minority groups by means of “soft” law.

In short, European countries' experiences with immigration have been diverse and related to geographical location, economic context, political history, and also to notions of nationhood, national belonging, and organization of government. Beyond these, European political integration has created an additional level of policy development, supplementing and sometimes challenging national policymaking either by subsidizing local initiatives to foster the integration of immigrants which would otherwise remain unfunded (e.g., by national governments) or by limiting objectives that are at odds with EU law (e.g., restricting nations' power to limit the rights of third-country nationals). These issues are explored further in the next two sections. The first addresses Europe's four main types of migratory experiences. The second discusses the integration policies applied in the context of these experiences. The chapter seeks to clarify how the concept of integration is used in policy formulation and policy practice, in line with the second question guiding this book: What are the main factors driving the kinds of relations observed between local governments and immigrant organizations?

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