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The Multilevel Governance of Migration and Integration

Peter Scholten and Rinus Penninx


Migration and migrant integration policies have become increasingly dispersed over various levels of government. Besides the national level, the European Union (EU) level and the regional and local levels have become more involved. In the area of immigration, EU member states have handed over significant power to the EU, particularly in the context of the Common European Asylum System. The EU's Family Reunification Directive, for instance, significantly limits member states' policy discretion in family migration policies. With regard to migrant integration there has been some Europeanization as well, but this has been overshadowed by a sharp “local turn” in policymaking. Local governments, large cities in particular, are becoming increasingly entrepreneurial in developing their own integration philosophies and policies. This has led to cities having markedly different approaches to migrant integration, even within the same countries.

This chapter focuses on migration and integration as multilevel policy issues and explores the consequences in terms of multilevel governance. The fact that both migration and integration have become multilevel issues presents both opportunities and challenges. Immigration policymaking has been characterized by a constant struggle between national governments and the EU about the amount of discretion states have in interpreting EU directives. The involvement of local and regional governments in debates about intra-EU migration, particularly East–west migration from new member states, has further complicated the situation. With regard to migrant integration, even more complex relations have emerged between local, regional, national, and EU institutions. The superdiverse cities of Europe, such as Barcelona, London, Berlin, and Rotterdam, have taken policy directions very different from their national governments, resulting in a “decoupling” of national and local policies. While politicization of migrant integration continues to drive policies in many countries, the EU has developed various soft governance measures aimed at promoting policy learning between local governments.

This chapter offers an analysis of how migration and integration policies have evolved at various levels during the past decades, including at the EU, national, and local levels, as well as in some cases at the regional level. This enables us to understand the factors that drive policies at the different levels and the extent to which these lead to convergence or divergence between the levels. We analyse the relations—or absence of relations—between the levels of government. To make sense of these, we apply a framework that allows for different arrangements of the relations between levels of government. This is where the notion of “multilevel governance” comes in as one possible way of structuring relations between various government levels.

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