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Towards better inclusion, Europe struggle with integration

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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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Iceland’s Historic(al) Elections

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The morning of September, 26 was a good one for Lenya Run Karim of the Pirate Party. Once the preliminary results were announced, things were clear: the 21-year-old law student of the University of Iceland, originating from a Kurdish immigrant family, had become the youngest MP in the country’s history.

In historical significance, however, this event was second to another. Iceland, the world champion in terms of gender equality, became the first country in Europe to have more women MPs than men, 33 versus 30. The news immediately made world headlines: only five countries in the world have achieved such impressive results. Remarkably, all are non-European: Rwanda, Nicaragua and Cuba have a majority of women in parliament, while Mexico and the UAE have an equal number of male and female MPs.

Nine hours later, news agencies around the world had to edit their headlines. The recount in the Northwest constituency affected the outcome across the country to delay the ‘triumph for women’ for another four years.

Small numbers, big changes

The Icelandic electoral system is designed so that 54 out of the 63 seats in the Althingi, the national parliament, are primary or constituency seats, while another nine are equalization seats. Only parties passing the 5 per cent threshold are allowed to distribute equalisation seats that go to the candidates who failed to win constituency mandates and received the most votes in their constituency. However, the number of equalisation mandates in each of the 6 constituencies is legislated. In theory, this could lead to a situation in which the leading party candidate in one constituency may simply lack an equalisation mandate, so the leading candidate of the same party—but in another constituency—receives it.

This is what happened this year. Because of a difference of only ten votes between the Reform Party and the Pirate Party, both vying for the only equalisation mandate in the Northwest, the constituency’s electoral commission announced a recount on its own initiative. There were also questions concerning the counting procedure as such: the ballots were not sealed but simply locked in a Borgarnes hotel room. The updated results hardly affected the distribution of seats between the parties, bringing in five new MPs, none of whom were women, with the 21-year-old Lenya Run Karim replaced by her 52-year-old party colleague.

In the afternoon of September, 27, at the request of the Left-Green Movement, supported by the Independence Party, the Pirates and the Reform Party, the commission in the South announced a recount of their own—the difference between the Left-Greens and the Centrists was only seven votes. There was no ‘domino effect’, as in the case of the Northwest, as the five-hour recount showed the same result. Recounts in other districts are unlikely, nor is it likely that Althingi—vested with the power to declare the elections valid—would invalidate the results in the Northwest. Nevertheless, the ‘replaced’ candidates have already announced their intention to appeal against the results, citing violations of ballot storage procedures. Under the Icelandic law, this is quite enough to invalidate the results and call a re-election in the Northwest, as the Supreme Court of Iceland invalidated the Constitutional Council elections due to a breach of procedure 10 years ago. Be that as it may, the current score remains 33:30, in favor of men.

Progressives’ progress and threshold for socialists

On the whole, there were no surprises: the provisional allocation of mandates resembles, if with minor changes, the opinion polls on the eve of the election.

The ruling three-party coalition has rejuvenated its position, winning 37 out of the 63 Althingi seats. The centrist Progressive Party saw a real electoral triumph, improving its 2017 result by five seats. Prime-minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s Left-Green Movement, albeit with a slight loss, won eight seats, surpassing all pre-election expectations. Although the centre-right Independence Party outperformed everyone again to win almost a quarter of all votes, 16 seats are one of the worst results of the Icelandic ‘Grand Old Party’ ever.

The results of the Social-Democrats, almost 10% versus 12.1% in 2017, and of the Pirates, 8.6% versus 9.2%, have deteriorated. Support for the Centre Party of Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, former prime-minister and victim of the Panama Papers, has halved from 10.9% to 5.4%. The centrists have seen a steady decline in recent years, largely due to a sexist scandal involving party MPs. The populist People’s Party and the pro-European Reform Party have seen gains of 8.8% and 8.3%, as compared to 6.9% and 6.7% in the previous elections.

Of the leading Icelandic parties, only the Socialist Party failed to pass the 5 per cent threshold: despite a rating above 7% in August, the Socialists received only 4.1% of the vote.

Coronavirus, climate & economy

Healthcare and the fight against COVID-19 was, expectedly, on top of the agenda of the elections: 72% of voters ranked it as the defining issue, according to a Fréttablaðið poll. Thanks to swift and stringent measures, the Icelandic government brought the coronavirus under control from day one, and the country has enjoyed one of the lowest infection rates in the world for most of the time. At the same time, the pandemic exposed a number of problems in the national healthcare system: staff shortages, low salaries and long waiting lists for emergency surgery.

Climate change, which Icelanders are already experiencing, was an equally important topic. This summer, the temperature has not dropped below 20°C for 59 days, an anomaly for a North-Atlantic island. However, Icelanders’ concerns never converted into increased support for the four left-leaning parties advocating greater reductions in CO2 emission than the country has committed to under the Paris Agreement: their combined result fell by 0.5%.

The economy and employment were also among the main issues in this election. The pandemic has severely damaged the island nation’s economy, which is heavily tourism-reliant—perhaps, unsurprisingly, many Icelanders are in favor of reviving the tourism sector as well as diversifying the economy further.

The EU membership, by far a ‘traditional’ issue in Icelandic politics, is unlikely to be featured on the agenda of the newly-elected parliament as the combined result of the Eurosceptics, despite a loss of 4%, still exceeds half of the overall votes. The new Althingi will probably face the issue of constitutional reform once again, which is only becoming more topical in the light of the pandemic and the equalization mandates story.

New (old) government?

The parties are to negotiate coalition formation. The most likely scenario now is that the ruling coalition of the Independence Party, the Left-Greens and the Progressives continues. It has been the most ideologically diverse and the first three-party coalition in Iceland’s history to last a full term. A successful fight against the pandemic has only strengthened its positions and helped it secure additional votes. Independence Party leader and finance minister Bjarni Benediktsson has earlier said he would be prepared to keep the ruling coalition if it holds the majority. President Guðni Jóhannesson announced immediately after the elections that he would confirm the mandate of the ruling coalition to form a new government if the three parties could strike a deal.

Other developments are possible but unlikely. Should the Left-Greens decide to leave the coalition, they could be replaced by the Reform Party or the People’s Party, while any coalition without the Independence Party can only be a four-party or larger coalition.

Who will become the new prime-minister still remains to be seen—but if the ruling coalition remains in place, the current prime-minister and leader of the Left-Greens, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, stands a good chance of keeping her post: she is still the most popular politician in Iceland with a 40 per cent approval rate.

The 2021 Althingi election, with one of the lowest turnouts in history at 80.1%, has not produced a clear winner. The election results reflect a Europe-wide trend in which traditional “major” parties are losing support. The electorate is fragmenting and their votes are pulled by smaller new parties. The coronavirus pandemic has only reinforced this trend.

The 2021 campaign did not foreshadow a sensation. Although Iceland has not become the first European country with a women’s majority in parliament, these elections will certainly go down in history as a test of Icelanders’ trust to their own democracy.

From our partner RIAC

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EU-Balkan Summit: No Set Timeframe for Western Balkans Accession

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From left to right: Janez JANŠA (Prime Minister, Slovenia), Charles MICHEL (President of the European Council), Ursula VON DER LEYEN (President of the European Commission) Copyright: European Union

On October 6, Slovenia hosted a summit between the EU and the Western Balkans states. The EU-27 met with their counterparts (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo) in the sumptuous Renaissance setting of Brdo Castle, 30 kilometers north of the capital, Ljubljana. Despite calls from a minority of heads of state and government, there were no sign of a breakthrough on the sensitive issue of enlargement. The accession of these countries to the European Union is still not unanimous among the 27 EU member states.

During her final tour of the Balkans three weeks ago, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that the peninsula’s integration was of “geostrategic” importance. On the eve of the summit, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz backed Slovenia’s goal of integrating this zone’s countries into the EU by 2030.

However, the unanimity required to begin the hard negotiations is still a long way off, even for the most advanced countries in the accession process, Albania and North Macedonia. Bulgaria, which is already a member of the EU, is opposing North Macedonia’s admission due to linguistic and cultural differences. Since Yugoslavia’s demise, Sofia has rejected the concept of Macedonian language, insisting that it is a Bulgarian dialect, and has condemned the artificial construction of a distinct national identity.

Other countries’ reluctance to join quickly is of a different nature. France and the Netherlands believe that previous enlargements (Bulgaria and Romania in 2007) have resulted in changes that must first be digested before the next round of enlargement. The EU-27 also demand that all necessary prior guarantees be provided regarding the independence of the judiciary and the fight against corruption in these countries. Despite the fact that press freedom is a requirement for membership, the NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urged the EU to make “support for investigative and professional journalism” a key issue at the summit.”

While the EU-27 have not met since June, the topic of Western Balkans integration is competing with other top priorities in the run-up to France’s presidency of the EU in the first half of 2022. On the eve of the summit, a working dinner will be held, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, called for “a strategic discussion on the role of the Union on the international scene” in his letter of invitation to the EU-Balkans Summit, citing “recent developments in Afghanistan,” the announcement of the AUKUS pact between the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom, which has enraged Paris.

The Western Balkans remain the focal point of an international game of influence in which the Europeans seek to maintain their dominance. As a result, the importance of reaffirming a “European perspective” at the summit was not an overstatement. Faced with the more frequent incursion of China, Russia, and Turkey in that European region, the EU has pledged a 30 billion euro Economic and Investment Plan for 2021-2027, as well as increased cooperation, particularly to deal with the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Opening the borders, however, is out of the question. In the absence of progress on this issue, Albania, North Macedonia, and Serbia have decided to establish their own zone of free movement (The Balkans are Open”) beginning January 1, 2023. “We are starting today to do in the region what we will do tomorrow in the EU,” said Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama when the agreement was signed last July.

This initiative, launched in 2019 under the name “Mini-Schengen” and based on a 1990s idea, does not have the support of the entire peninsular region, which remains deeply divided over this project. While Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro are not refusing to be a part of it and are open to discussions, the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, who took office in 2020, for his part accuses Serbia of relying on this project to recreate “a fourth Yugoslavia”

Tensions between Balkan countries continue to be an impediment to European integration. The issue of movement between Kosovo and Serbia has been a source of concern since the end of September. Two weeks of escalation followed Kosovo’s decision to prohibit cars with Serbian license plates from entering its territory, in response to Serbia’s long-standing prohibition on allowing vehicles to pass in the opposite direction.

In response to the mobilization of Kosovar police to block the road, Serbs in Kosovo blocked roads to their towns and villages, and Serbia deployed tanks and the air force near the border. On Sunday, October 3, the conflict seemed to be over, and the roads were reopened. However, the tone had been set three days before the EU-Balkans summit.

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German Election: Ramifications for the US Foreign Policy

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Image source: twitter @OlafScholz

In the recent German election, foreign policy was scarcely an issue. But Germany is an important element in the US foreign policy. There is a number of cases where Germany and the US can cooperate, but all of these dynamics are going to change very soon.

The Germans’ strategic culture makes it hard to be aligned perfectly with the US and disagreements can easily damage the relations. After the tension between the two countries over the Iraq war, in 2003, Henry Kissinger said that he could not imagine the relations between Germany and the US could be aggravated so quickly, so easily, which might end up being the “permanent temptation of German politics”. For a long time, the US used to provide security for Germany during the Cold War and beyond, so, several generations are used to take peace for granted. But recently, there is a growing demand on them to carry more burden, not just for their own security, but for international peace and stability. This demand was not well-received in Berlin.

Then, the environment around Germany changed and new threats loomed up in front of them. The great powers’ competition became the main theme in international relations. Still, Germany was not and is not ready for shouldering more responsibility. Politicians know this very well. Ursula von der Leyen, who was German defense minister, asked terms like “nuclear weapons” and “deterrence” be removed from her speeches.

Although on paper, all major parties appreciate the importance of Germany’s relations with the US, the Greens and SPD ask for a reset in the relations. The Greens insist on the European way in transatlantic relations and SPD seeks more multilateralism. Therefore, alignment may be harder to maintain in the future. However, If the tensions between the US and China heat up to melting degrees, then external pressure can overrule the internal pressure and Germany may accede to its transatlantic partners, just like when Helmut Schmid let NATO install medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe after the Soviet Union attacked Afghanistan and the Cold War heated up.

According to the election results, now three coalitions are possible: grand coalition with CDU/CSU and SPD, traffic lights coalition with SPD, FDP, and Greens, Jamaica coalition with CDU/CSU, FDP, and Greens. Jamaica coalition will more likely form the most favorable government for the US because it has both CDU and FDP, and traffic lights will be the least favorite as it has SPD. The grand coalition can maintain the status quo at best, because contrary to the current government, SPD will dominate CDU.

To understand nuances, we need to go over security issues to see how these coalitions will react to them. As far as Russia is concerned, none of them will recognize the annexation of Crimea and they all support related sanctions. However, if tensions heat up, any coalition government with SPD will be less likely assertive. On the other hand, as the Greens stress the importance of European values like democracy and human rights, they tend to be more assertive if the US formulates its foreign policy by these common values and describe US-China rivalry as a clash between democracy and authoritarianism. Moreover, the Greens disapprove of the Nordstream project, of course not for its geopolitics. FDP has also sided against it for a different reason. So, the US must follow closely the negotiations which have already started between anti-Russian smaller parties versus major parties.

For relations with China, pro-business FDP is less assertive. They are seeking for developing EU-China relations and deepening economic ties and civil society relations. While CDU/CSU and Greens see China as a competitor, partner, and systemic rival, SPD and FDP have still hopes that they can bring change through the exchange. Thus, the US might have bigger problems with the traffic lights coalition than the Jamaica coalition in this regard.

As for NATO and its 2 percent of GDP, the division is wider. CDU/CSU and FDP are the only parties who support it. So, in the next government, it might be harder to persuade them to pay more. Finally, for nuclear participation, the situation is the same. CDU/CSU is the only party that argues for it. This makes it an alarming situation because the next government has to decide on replacing Germany’s tornados until 2024, otherwise Germany will drop out of the NATO nuclear participation.

The below table gives a brief review of these three coalitions. 1 indicates the lowest level of favoritism and 3 indicates the highest level of favoritism. As it shows, the most anti-Russia coalition is Jamaica, while the most anti-China coalition is Trafic light. Meanwhile, Grand Coalition is the most pro-NATO coalition. If the US adopts a more normative foreign policy against China and Russia, then the Greens and FDP will be more assertive in their anti-Russian and anti-Chinese policies and Germany will align more firmly with the US if traffic light or Jamaica coalition rise to power.

Issues CoalitionsTrafic LightGrand CoalitionJamaica
Russia213 
China312 
NATO132 

1 indicates the lowest level of favoritism. 3 indicates the highest level of favoritism.

In conclusion, this election should not make Americans any happier. The US has already been frustrated with the current government led by Angela Merkel who gave Germany’s trade with China the first priority, and now that the left-wing will have more say in any imaginable coalition in the future, the Americans should become less pleased. But, still, there are hopes that Germany can be a partner for the US in great power competition if the US could articulate its foreign policy with common values, like democracy and human rights. More normative foreign policy can make a reliable partner out of Germany. Foreign policy rarely became a topic in this election, but observers should expect many ramifications for it.

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