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Towards better inclusion, Europe struggle with integration

Ahmad Abu Sen

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Migration is one of the biggest issues in Europe nowadays. Whether we like it or not, migration is a key factor in keeping Europe “alive”. From an economic perspective the huge shortage of manpower is bad, but not yet the worst. Within ten to twenty years most of the European economies are believed to have huge deficits due to a grave need of workers. The new blood injected in the labour market does not match the growing demand in workers of the economy. The wanted skills in our technologically rapidly evolving enterprises is misaligned with the aging workforce, many soon to retire, in most European countries. We can witness this fact clearly in the German model. The simple fact that in the coming twenty years the generations which helped built the current post WWII Europe will be no more, namely the “baby boom” generation and the following one is frightening yet real. Despite the huge internal migration within the EU, from the less fortunate countries to the wealthier ones, the need for migrants from outside the EU still exists. Therefore, migration is one of the needs that almost all economists and sociologists uphold. There is some sort of unspoken consensus within the academic world for the urgent need of a greater facilitation of migration. Unlike Japan and South Korea, most of European countries, luckily, have a long experience in receiving migrants and refugees. Although refugees cannot be reduced to purely economic reasons, what differentiates them from migrant workers. But for them economic reasons are fundamental for their human and financial independence.

If the European countries observe and cherish this practice by allowing an even stronger and flow of migrants in, they can theoretically prevent a self-decided collapse from happening to their economies. But that should be accompanied by well-structured integration programs and a huge change in the mentality of how Europeans view the rest of the world. These two points are vital to let the newcomers integrate in the society swiftly.

Otherwise Europe will end up with more separated white/non-white neighborhoods structured in economically uneven ways according to “colour” scattered around the big cities. And more youngsters who lack the sense of belonging to their new home countries, where they were born, and to their parents’ home lands- where they originally came from. Some of these youngsters, with a deep identity crisis living in a limbo, may at a certain point pose a threat not only to their societies, but to their very own selves.

The ‘lost’ generations with migration background are the direct result of the long intended neglect and the discriminatory approach of successive governments in different places in Europe. They are a perfect example of failed integration policies. This phenomenon differs from one European country to another, but exists in almost every single one of them. A lesson must be learned from the past, before inequality shapes the future!

So what does “integration” exactly mean? The term “integration”, from sociological perspective, refers to the bi-lateral relation between the hosting society and the new-comers’ communities in which there is a hosting society willing to incorporate newcomers as new members on one hand, and newcomers who are willing to adapt to the general principles, values and regulations of their new society- on the other hand.

Sadly enough, most European countries have failed to apply this balanced bi-lateral relation. They impose “integration courses” on new comers, but do not even bother to let the hosting societies know what the meaning of integration is. This smells like integration without reciprocity. As a result, most Europeans have a hidden tendency towards the ultimate “integration” of “the others” . Where adapting to the general principles and values means erasing the identity of the newcomers and where the culture of the newcomers is a subject of despise and mockery, the newcomers are forcibly assimilated and made into walking collections of the clichés which the hosting country considers their culture.

This assimilation doctrine of imposing integration in one direction, whereby newcomers try to integrate into a society which refuses to integrate them with their differences and the lack of reciprocity in social-economic ways, is the epidemic practice that has swiped across Europe for the last seventy years. And to be fair and more specific, European countries cannot be all put in the same basket in regards with integration. The contrast between the UK’s very open and multicultural model and the French nationalistic and extreme secularistic “laicité”-one is very clear. Whereas some other countries’/regions’ models fall in between, Flanders for instance. Each of these models has enormous ramifications on the societies of these countries that can be crystal clear seen today, even in the lingering on between different models according to political conflicts about diversity and the multicultural society.

If we track this issue back, we certainly should come to the fact that migrants have been excluded, intentionally or not. Perhaps, it is the colonial past still echoing till now. It is this hidden collective feeling of fear and anxiety. The hosting “white” communities have always needed the feeling of being secure and superior. They did not want to feel defeated and insecure in their own countries, on their very own lands. For them any sense of equality between them and the newcomers, whereby many used to be their previous ‘subjects’ and thus subjected to them, was considered a defeat.

As a result their policy was continually applied to keep this superiority causing a noticeable inequality in the society. Despite the fact that European union’s fundamental principles of equality, human dignity and freedom are being observed by some member states in a sense, the needed equality on the person and the community levels is not yet achieved. This paradox which most EU countries still have and which is deeply rooted within their structure is on one hand admitting the need to of more migrants and on the other hand to keep these migrant communities deprived from lots of rights. Clearly and in many occasions human rights and EU principles of equality are overshadowed by some nationalistic views that divide societies into first and second class citizens. The Euro-centric mentality is up till now the biggest challenge which is really problematic given the fact that it is being passed from one generation to the next as cultural heritage. It is also quite challenging to preach diversity and coexistence in a society where a superior white Europe is idolized.

There is a wide-spread idea that is being circulated as a fact, but it is really a big lie. Migrants live in separate neighborhoods because they don’t wish to mix and integrate with people. And this lie is commonly used to accuse the migrants of being resistant to integration with the mainstream society. The truth is that when migrants came to Europe in late fifties and beginning sixties they lived in the poorest neighborhoods due to the fact that they had low incomes compared to others. Then the following waves of migrants inhabited the same neighborhoods and used them as economic levers. So the root issue is housing related.

But later, it was used as a defensive technique against a society which simply did not accept them as they are, the constant unjust attempts to diminish the migrants cultural and religious background and to minimize the micro-aggressions that migrants endure almost on daily basis. Being discriminated in the job-market for generations, their children were an easy prey for crime and ignorance. They were, and still are in many places, victims of alienation from the hosting society which label them as  “the others” as long as they don’t match in colour and social norms. All of the previously mentioned problems can be traced back to one thing: failed integration.

In the past years a wind of change has blown in the continent. Many people from progressive, liberal and even some conservative backgrounds are calling for a real shift towards better integration. A shift which allows every European to be part of the decision making process regardless of his/her ethnic or religious background and to include them in the process as citizens with full rights. Nevertheless, the big challenge is still there.It is not only about the will to change or to include persons, but rather to include their background as a whole as a basic element of the society. And by doing this, they will not be seen as aliens anymore and their differences will be looked at as essential elements of the country’s cultural entity. The sole way to apply this is by doing the missing part of integration which was mentioned earlier, to lay the basis and the relation between cultural recognition and socio-economic redistribution that includes newcomers and emancipates them.

 Unfortunately, this wave of change has been strongly opposed in the last ten years by growing nationalistic and openly racist groups. The issue of migration is being more and more used as scarecrow by the right and extreme right wing to seed fear among European citizens. This xenophobic tool has been implemented during many elections in different European countries and proved to have a big impact especially where bigotry and narrow-mindedness spread.

Europe is changing and the need to implement logical integration is immense. Integration that preaches unity and respects diversity. The new multicultural Europe will be stronger and more successful when diversity becomes the norm. When differences are being appreciated and seen as a mean of enriching the country. When differences become part of the entangled story of inclusion, dangling between cultural recognition and social-economic policies promoting social mobility of all.

Finally, if Europeans want to ensure the success of integration, they should keep this in mind “It takes two to tango”.

Policy officer at Flanders Refugee Action (Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen) Syrian, Freelance journalist/blogger and lecturer Writes in Arabic and English

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U.S. President Trump to meet Bulgaria’s Prime Minister at the White House: What to expect?

Iveta Cherneva

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Next Monday, 25 November, President Trump will welcome Bulgarian Prime Minister Borissov at the White House for a bilateral meeting.

This is not the first White House visit for Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borissov who previously met President Obama at the White House in 2012.

The White House press secretary has announced that Trump and Borissov plan to discuss security in the Black Sea region, energy and countering malign influence – all Russia-related topics, as one would expect.

The real reason for the White House treat, however, is Bulgaria’s substantial purchase of US aircraft this year.

In August, Bulgaria bought eight F-16 airplanes from the US for the hefty price of USD 1.2bln. White House meetings with foreign leaders represent special thanks for something a foreign country has done for the United States and the F-16 airplanes purchase seems to be what we are looking at here. The US is a happy seller and Bulgaria is a happy customer.

In the area of energy, Bulgaria is looking towards the US while trying to reach energy diversification and gain independence from Russian natural gas. On this, there is a clear intersection with US interests. Bulgaria agreed in May to purchase natural gas from the US for the first time. Bulgarian Prime Minister Borissov met last week with the US Ambassador to Greece to explore the possibility of purchases of American liquid gas down the line.

What is not mentioned by the official White House position is that visa restrictions will be a topic of the meeting, too. The Bulgarian Prime Minister will likely request that President Trump dropped the visa requirements for Bulgarians – an issue the Bulgarian government has been chasing for a while now and something which Bulgarian President Radev had raised with President Trump also on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September. Visa restrictions were removed for Polish citizens last month. The Bulgarian Prime Minister will seek the same outcome. On this point, it is unlikely that President Trump would give the green light though.

What we won’t hear about publicly is the issue of the return of ISIS fighters to Europe. No one in Bulgaria really talks about this but one can imagine this is an issue for the US government. Bulgaria doesn’t have a problem with ISIS fighters itself but, as an EU external border country, it is Turkey’s neighbor and the closest to the Middle East EU ground entry point. Last week, Turkey began returning ISIS fighters back to Europe and President Trump has been adamant that European nations with ISIS fighters need to take responsibility for them. Western European EU countries do not want their ISIS fighters back to try them in court or to reintegrate them, which is understandable but also irritating because Europeans have had the unfounded expectation that the US would somehow take care of this. How Bulgaria as an EU country at the crossroads between Turkey, the EU and the US handles that is key. No one in Bulgaria really talks about it, and the various EU, US and Turkish pressures on Bulgaria are not really known, but one can imagine the situation is that of being between a rock and a hard place. So, the return of ISIS fighters is another issue to look out for, although it will not come through in public.

In the past, NATO ally Bulgaria has aided the US with criminal and law enforcement investigations in the areas of terrorism, drug trafficking and human trafficking. This is another area to look out for.

President Trump’s impeachment is not really a topic in Bulgaria, as no one here seems to be concerned with that. It will be interesting whether Prime Minister Borissov would mention this at all to issue words of support to President Trump. This is something that President Trump would appreciate, although protocol says Prime Minister Borissov would be smart to steer away from impeachment comments.

Direct, to the point and simple words can be expected from President Trump. Prime Minister Borissov, on the other hand, is learning English so the meeting will necessarily have a Bulgarian interpreter. Expect one or two jokes by President Trump about simultaneous Bulgarian interpretation. The meeting will not pass without that.

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EU chief prosecutor Laura Kovesi needs media freedom to do her job

Iveta Cherneva

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Last month, Laura Codruta Kovesi, the former chief prosecutor of Romania’s National Anti-corruption Directorate, was officially confirmed as the first ever EU chief prosecutor to head the newly created European Public Prosecutor’s Office. Her team will start work in the end of 2020. 

Kovesi will shake things up. She has a lot of hurdles to overcome. Among the main ones is the silencing and stifling of journalists across Europe, including in Bulgaria. The lack of media freedom will make it exceptionally difficult for Kovesi to do her job and uncover crimes involving EU funding.

As soon as the news hit that Kovesi was to become EU’s top prosecutor, anti-corruption activists across Europe applauded loudly. One could hear the applause also in Bulgaria where we face issues with EU funds misappropriation and theft but also complaints regarding the freedom of the press – a place where Kovesi’s work is much needed.

Defined institutionally, Kovesi’s mandate is “to investigate, prosecute and bring to judgment crimes against the EU budget, such as fraud, corruption or serious cross-border VAT fraud”. The EU’s top prosecutor is tasked with the tough job of going after crimes involving EU money. 

It might sound as a disappointment to many, but Kovesi will not have the institutional competence to address everything that is wrong with a country or a sector. Corruption and fraud are covered by the EU prosecutor’s mandate only as long as they are related to EU funds.

So if Kovesi won’t be a see-it-all, do-it-all messiah, where does this leave media freedom then and why am I talking about it in the context of her job?

Well, bringing to justice crimes related to EU funds is almost impossible without the leads on the ground – work often done by a functioning free media and hard-hitting  investigative journalism that uncovers fishy deals and contracts. It is journalists that sometimes lead the way. Often media investigations chart a course for criminal investigations. The media is a key ally in uncovering crimes involving EU funds. This is particularly true of a service such as the EU’s prosecutor office that will operate from EU headquarters and will rely on leads and allies on the ground.

We can’t expect that an EU service will get all the intricate, hidden local information on its own or through cooperation with the state authorities in question. This is where media and journalists come in. 

Bulgaria – as sad I am to say this – gives a clear illustration of why Kovesi’s job could prove to be especially tough. The country ranks 111th in the world in terms of media freedom, according to Reporters without Borders. 

To illustrate the situation, one should look no further than the current scandal involving the nomination of Bulgaria’s own chief prosecutor and the simultaneous firing of a seasoned journalist who has been critical of the only candidate for Bulgaria’s top prosecutor post.

As reported by Reuters, the national radio journalist Silvia Velikova was fired for allegedly being critical of the work of the deputy chief prosecutor Ivan Geshev, who has already been selected to become Bulgaria’s next chief prosecutor. Bulgaria’s President Rumen Radev vetoed the appointment last week, so now the country is facing judicial uncertainty and protests such as the ones from today. 

Among the reasons why the chief prosecutor’s appointment has been controversial – to say the least – is the sacking of the Bulgarian Radio journalist Silvia Velikova. Her ousting caused protests by Bulgarian journalists which I have been attending, while the capital Sofia saw thousands of protesters marching in the streets against Geshev’s nomination in September, October and now, after the presidential veto.

Where the story gets interesting or horrific – or both – is that as many as four unnamed individuals made phone calls in September to the Director of the National Radio, allegedly asking for the journalist critical of the prosecutor candidate to be fired, or at least to be silenced until Geshev’s selection as chief prosecutor. The journalist Velikova was subsequently fired. She was reinstated to her post after Prime Minister Boyko Borisov spoke in her defence. And the Director of the National Radio was himself fired for stepping over by a media oversight organ.  

In Bulgaria, a persistent complaint is that journalists who ask the inconvenient questions can be removed in a heartbeat, after so much as a phone call. The suspicion remains that shady dealings – not merit – continue to play a significant role in the firings and hirings of Bulgarian journalists.

One should look no further than the stories of investigative journalists Miroluba Benatova and Genka Shikerova. They are both known as hard-hitting investigative journalists that ask the tough questions and uncover corruption and mismanagement. They are both out of job after being pressured to quit a mainstream media. 

Genka Shikerova faced severe intimidation over the years, as her car was set on fire not once but twice, in 2013 and 2014, in relation to her work on Bulgaria’s significant anti-government protests during these years.

Miroluba Benatova, on the other hand, caused massive waves with her recent revelation that she has become a taxi driver – only to surprise foreign tourists about how politically astute and knowledgeable Bulgarian taxi drivers are. “The service in Bulgaria has improved greatly”, told her a German tourist assuming he was being driven by just a regular taxi driver.

So, how is this related to Kovesi?

It is unlikely that by driving a taxi Benatova will be coming across many leads about EU funds theft, to assist Kovesi. Such a waste of talent, and also funds.

The media across Europe has a key role to play in supporting the work of the new EU prosecutor. As long as journalists in countries like Bulgaria lack the freedom to do their jobs, crimes involving EU funding will go uncovered. If Laura Kovesi wants to succeed in her new job, she will have to take context into account and recognize that in many EU states, including Bulgaria, journalists are often not allowed to do their jobs and ask the hard questions. And that’s a shame because Kovesi will not be able to do it alone. 

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Why German car giant Volkswagen should drop Turkey

Iveta Cherneva

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War and aggression are not only questions of ethics and humanitarian disaster. They are bad news for business.

The German car giant Volkwagen whose business model is built on consumer appeal had to stop and pause when Turkey attacked the Kurds in Syria. A USD 1.4bln Volkswagen investment in a new plant in Turkey is being put on hold by the management, and rightly so.

Unlike business areas more or less immune from consumer pressure – like some financial sectors, for example – car buying is a people thing. It is done by regular people who follow the news and don’t want to stimulate and associate themselves with crimes against humanity and war crimes through their purchases. Investing in a militarily aggressive country simply is bad for an international brand.

As soon as the news hit that Turkey would be starting their military invasion against the Kurds, questions about plans for genocide appeared in the public discourse space. Investing over a billion in such a political climate does not make sense.

By investing into a new plant next to Turkish city Izmir, Volkswagen is not risking security so much. Izmir itself is far removed from Turkey’s southern border — although terrorist attacks in the current environment are generally not out of the question.

The risk question rather lies elsewhere. Business likes stability and predictability. Aggressive economic sanctions which are likely to be imposed on Turkey by the EU and the US would affect many economic and business aspects which the company has to factor in. Two weeks ago the US House of Representatives already voted to impose sanctions on Turkey, which now leaves the Senate to vote on an identical resolution.

Economic sanctions affect negatively the purchasing power of the population. And Volkswagen’s new business would rely greatly on the Turkish client in a market of over 80mln people.

Sanctions also have a psychological “buckle-up” effect on customers in economies “under siege”, whereby clients are less likely to want to splurge on a new car in strenuous times.

Volkswagen is a German but also a European company. Its decision will signal clearly if it lives by the EU values of support for human rights, or it decides to look the other way and put business first.

But is not only about reputational damage, which Volkswagen seems to be concerned with. There are real business counter-arguments which coincide with anti-war concerns.

Dogus Otomotiv, the Turkish distributor of VW vehicles, fell as much as 6.5% in Istanbul trading after the news for the Turkish offensive.

Apart from their effects on the Turkish consumer, economic sanctions will also likely keep Turkey away from international capital markets.

There is also the question of an EU company investing outside the EU, which has raised eyebrows. It is up to the European Commission now to decide whether the Volkswagen deal in Turkey can go forward after a complaint was filed. Turkey offered the German conglomerate a generous 400mln euro subsidy which is a problem when it comes to the EU rules and regulations on competition.

The Chairman of the EPP Group in the European Parliament, Manfred Weber filed a complaint with the EU competition Commissioner about the deal, on the basis of non-compliance with EU competition rules. Turkey’s plans to subsidize Volkswagen clearly run counter EU rules and the EU Commission can stop the 1bln deal, if it so decides.

In a context where Turkey takes care of 4mln refugees — subject to an agreement with the EU — and often threatens the EU that it would “open the gates”, it is not clear if the Commission would muster the guts to say no, however. In that sense, the German company’s own decision to pull from the deal would be welcome because the Commission itself wouldn’t have to pronounce on the issue and risk angering Turkey.

While some commentators do not believe that Volkswagen would scrap altogether the investment and is only delaying the decision, it is worth remembering that the Syria conflict is a complex, multi-player conflict which has gone on for more than 8 years. Turkey’s entry in Syria is unlikely to end in a month. Erdogan has communicated his intention to stay in Syria until the Kurds back down.

In October it was reported that the Turkish forces are already using chemical weapons on the Kurdish population which potentially makes Turkish President Erdogan a war criminal. For a corporate giant like Volkswagen, giving an economic boost for such a state would mean indirectly supporting war crimes.

As Kurdish forces struck a deal for protection with the Syrian Assad forces, this seems to be anything but a slow-down. Turkey has just thrown a whole lot of wood into the fire.

Volkswagen will find itself “monitoring” the situation for a long time. There is a case for making the sustainable business decision to drop the risky deal altogether, soon.

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