Wednesday

29th Jun 2022

Magazine

EU cities want bigger say in immigration debate

Some 130 major cities in Europe have called on the EU institutions to give local municipal authorities a bigger say in the immigration debate and recognise the economic benefits of migration.

Since the impact of EU and national policies regarding migration is mostly felt in urban areas, local authorities should have a "clearly defined role as partners" for developing and monitoring the implementation of these strategies, Eurocities, a network of 130 European cities, says in a policy paper.

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  • The Polish plumber: migrants from member states are not eligible for community aid designed for non-EU foreigners only (Photo: Polish tourist information office in Paris)

The document comes in response to the "Stockholm Programme" tabled by the European Commission earlier this summer – a common framework for the coming five years on how member states should deal with immigration, asylum and integration. The bloc's justice and home affairs ministers have yet to agree on the plan later this autumn, with disagreements between EU member states are likely to alter some of the proposals.

Eurocities stressed that the debate on immigration needs to move beyond the security aspects and "recognise the benefits of migration."

"If the current demographic and migration trends persist, by the mid-21st century, the EU will have lost some 65 million inhabitants. This will have effects in particular on the workforce: The ratio of persons of working age to persons of non-working age will have risen from four to two to more than four to three," Eurocities argued, citing a 2007 commission EU social indicators report.

Migrants from EU countries also need to be included in the community aid schemes, for instance, for language training or access to services.

"The current restrictions on integration support represent a considerable risk that mobile EU citizens fall between the cracks of the European framework for integration and the mainstream support systems in member states," Eurocities points out.

For instance, the EU's Integration Fund worth €825 million can only be tapped for integration measures relating to non-EU citizens.

The issue is of particular relevance for instance to the English city of Bristol, where most of the migrants come from Poland and other eastern European countries.

"One of the biggest problems for Bristol is that the EU's Integration Fund only funds activities with non-EU nationals. This means that we have to combine several funding streams to get a project off the ground for all migrant communities. It would be extremely difficult to develop a project just for non-EU nationals," an official from the city of Bristol was quoted as saying in the Eurocities paper.

Non-profit organisations working on integration projects also find the EU commission's financial rules difficult to understand, the official said, stressing the need to raise more awareness and provide more assistance in terms of applying for EU funds.

Migrant flows shrinking

With unemployment skyrocketing in countries like Spain and Ireland, east-west migration flows are shrinking, a study by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) shows.

In the United Kingdom, statistics from the Home Office indicated a dramatic fall in work applications from nationals of the new EU member states, especially Poland. Numbers decreased from 53,000 over a three-month period in 2007 to 29,000 over the same period in 2008.

However, massive returns of migrants have not been registered, the ILO study notes.

"Voluntary return programmes implemented by destination countries have fallen far short of the targeted numbers. Migrant workers often choose to remain despite deteriorating labour market conditions in order to preserve social security benefits. The adverse economic and employment situation in the origin country also discourages them from returning," the ILO study shows.

Back in June, Spanish and Romanian authorities had considered measures to provide incentives for umployed Romanian migrants to return home to fill public sector vacancies. With the recent austerity measures announced by Bucharest, however, including the slashing of 10,000 jobs in the public administration, such plans seem now off the table.

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