In recent years, there has been a growing chorus of calls for more coherent and efficient immigrant integration policies. One reflection of these calls was the Council of the European Union's 2004 recommendation for "common basic principles" of immigrant integration, which emphasise enhanced labor market integration through better knowledge of the host-society language as well as respect for the "basic values of the EU", to be gained through increased knowledge of the history and institutions of the host society.
Since the late 1990s, one policy in this spirit has been adopted in a variety of European states, including the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark, France, Germany and the United Kingdom: obligatory civic integration courses and tests for newcomers. These courses, which last between 12 and 24 months and target especially unskilled immigrants from developing and threshold countries, focus primarily on language acquisition, with a secondary focus on instilling knowledge of the history, institutions, culture and everyday life of the receiving society.
Formally, these policies are driven by two main concerns: economic costs and social cohesion. On the cost side, the concern is to get immigrants into the paid work force, thus lowering unemployment rates that are, at a minimum, twice as high for immigrants as for native citizens (see table), and reducing costs to the state in the form of welfare expenses.
|Absolute and relative unemployment levels among citizens and non-EU foreigners in the Netherlands, France, Germany and the United Kingdom in 2005|
|Unemployment level of citizens||Unemployment level of non-EU foreigners||Relative unemployment level of non-EU foreigners|
|Netherlands||4,5 %||18,7 %||4,2 %|
|France||8,8 %||25,1 %||2,9 %|
|Germany||10,5 %||23,7 %||2,3 %|
|United Kingdom||4,3 %||9,3 %||2,2 %|
|Source: Münz (2007)|
On the cohesion side, civic integration seeks to inculcate the values and principles of liberal democracy, and to familiarise migrants with the history and culture of the receiving society. The cohesion theme, which gives "civic" integration its name, has gained in importance amidst growing concerns in many countries that Muslim minorities are failing to integrate into their host societies or identify sufficiently with these societies' values. This became a high-priority issue with the post-2001 wave of terrorist activities and unrest associated with Muslim communities in the United Kingdom, Spain, France, Denmark and Germany.
The following brief gives an overview of the evolution of civic integration policies in the Netherlands, France and Germany, and contrasts them with similar, yet less coercive, policies recently put in place in the United Kingdom. On the European continent, the common features of the policies include: (1) a move from voluntary to mandatory courses, and toward greater penalties for non-compliance; (2) a new relationship between integration and immigration policy, in which integration policy becomes a means of restricting the entry of certain types of immigrants; and (3) a focus on immigrants from developing and threshold, as opposed to developed, countries, which is made obvious by the exemption of immigrants from places like North America, Australia, New Zealand and Japan from these policies, and which reflects the assumption that the former are less likely to integrate successfully than the latter. The brief concludes with a discussion of how effective obligatory civic integration courses are in achieving their stated goals, suggesting that their real value may lie in fulfilling another aim: placating native majority populations who are becoming increasingly wary of new immigration.
Dr. Christian Joppke is a Professor of Political Science in the Graduate School of Government at The American University of Paris.