Against this background, Dutch integration policy has adopted some of the features of a more assimilationist approach in recent years.
Already by 1998 there was an obligatory integration programme for new immigrants that included 600 hours of language classes, social studies and careers advice. The new system was heavily criticised, among other things, for its assimilationist leanings, but now it is an approach that is generally accepted. Moreover, the government plans to introduce a basic Dutch language test in the country of origin for potential new immigrants who intend to become permanent residents. These immigrants would subsequently have to gain an additional language qualification after arrival in the Netherlands. This tendency for moves towards greater integration requirements can be understood as "post-multicultural" (Michalowski, 2004). The trend in the public debate about these measures also refl ects academic discussions about "the return of assimilation" (Brubaker, 2003).
Do these developments imply the unmitigated failure of the Dutch multicultural model? To answer this question, it is useful to take a step back from these particular cases, and reconsider the more general issues at stake in this debate: how can we define integration, and what sorts of indicators help measure its success? And which sorts of policy measures introduced in different countries have been successful, and why? The integration of immigrants into the labour market is one important aspect of integration, which is relatively easy to measure and compare. But other important aspects should not be overlooked. Also crucial is the level of social interaction between immigrants or ethnic minorities and the wider society; and the degree of identification with various norms and values prevalent in the host country. Such elements are clearly more difficult to measure, but they are nonetheless important aspects of successful integration. In the search for such criteria and measurements of success in integration, it may therefore be worth considering a wider range of indicators. This may also imply adopting a more pragmatic approach, that does not constantly revert to the classic national integration models of "assimilation" or "multiculturalism". In fact, European countries and the European Commission are now working together to develop precisely such indicators of integration.
CommentaryDr. Jeroen Doomernik, Institute for Migration and Ethnic Studies (IMES), University of Amsterdam
Since the year 2002, and in particular following the events surrounding the politician Pim Fortuyn, the integration of immigrants and their children has been the focus of the Dutch policy agenda. However, there have been few efforts to pin down what the term "integration" actually means. It is widely assumed that integration is coterminous with cultural assimilation. In this context, Islam is often singled out as a particularly problematic: it is frequently characterised as incompatible with the Netherland´s liberal values, with little attempt to distinguish between different types of Islam.
The current debate also simply disregards certain aspects of integration. For example, the percentage of the "Allochtone" in the labour market has increased steadily over the past years, and their access to the labour market has been continually improving. Considerable progress has also been made in the area of education, which seems to have been equally ignored in the debate.
The focus on cultural assimilation is all the more astonishing when one considers that the Netherlands has for many centuries been successful in respecting religious pluralism. This form of intra-societal interaction has applied to both politics and the administration. It would seem, however, that today this can no longer be taken for granted. The current public debate is triggering opposition from the immigrant groups at which it is targeted, thereby bringing about precisely the opposite of what is aimed at – and in the worst case, becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. "Multicultural co-existence" has been reinterpreted as "assimilation", and recent immigration policies would be best described by the word "inhospitable".
This all raises the following question: Is what we are witnessing simply a transitional phase for Dutch society, which will precipitate renewed refl ection on traditional values of tolerance? Or does it imply a fundamental break with past values?
In this era of globalisation in which people are so mobile, governments are encouraging all forms of international co-operation, as well as student and labour exchanges as a foundation for knowledge-based economies. In this context, countries need to adopt an open and constructive approach towards immigration and integration issues. We can only wait and see how the Netherlands will manage these contradictory objectives.