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Characterizing the Transnational Activities of Local Governments

Local governments in migrant destination countries are said to have certain advantages over national authorities in stimulating integration and strengthening social cohesion: they are better at engaging with migrant organizations due to their closer proximity, and they are thought to be more capable of identifying the relevant integration priorities and devising tailored policies (Penninx 2009). Migrants, moreover, often feel more emotionally connected to the city than the country they live in. Whereas the city is associated with a diverse group of people, the country is more associated with one nationality (Bockhove 2012; Van der Welle 2011; Entzinger 2006). Local governments are also likely to be more open to migrant transnational affiliations compared to national governments (Bauböck 2003a, b in Østergaard-Nielsen 2011).

In the literature on city-to-city partnerships, several authors emphasize the power of these partnerships in terms of strengthening local governance processes, while two-way knowledge exchange also occurs (Johnson and Wilson 2009; Van Ewijk 2013).

There are two main types of linkages between cities, villages, or regions. The first is local governments—the administrative bodies, town halls, or policy departments—in origin and destination countries working together in city-to-city or townto-town partnerships. The bodies involved (e.g., social affairs, police, or fire department) typically work either with other local government bodies or in collaboration with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the private sector. The second type of linkage is that in which a local government supports co-development[1] initiatives of the nongovernmental actors in their jurisdiction without being actively involved in the transnational exchange (Van Ewijk 2013). The engagement of immigrants in such cooperation projects is generally thought to enhance their integration in the destination country. The practices of municipalities differ widely between countries. For example, direct local government support is central in linkages based in the Netherlands, whereas support to NGO initiatives is central in those based in Spain (Acebillo-Baqué and Østergaard-Nielsen 2011; Van Ewijk 2013; Fauser 2007).

Local governments involved in transnational exchanges with countries of origin might focus on the countries where specific groups of migrants originate from or have an open policy towards all migrant groups. Most of the initiatives studied include the migrant groups that have been living in the countries of destination for a relatively long period of time, like labour migrants who migrated to Western Europe in the 1960s and 1970s (e.g., Moroccan and Turkish migrants in the Netherlands) or migrants originating from former colonies (e.g., people from Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Morocco, and Tunisia migrating to France). Linkages with “new” emigrant countries, like Afghanistan and Sudan, are not mentioned in the literature. Ties between Eastern and Western European countries linked to the presence of migrants originating from Eastern Europe and residing in Western Europe, are similarly not discussed, and therefore fall outside the scope of this review.

  • [1] We define co-development as the involvement of migrants and migrant organizations in development cooperation programmes linked to the migration and development policies of European donor countries.
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