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Towards a common EU integration policy

| Text: Berit Kvam

Integration policy is a national responsibility within the EU, but the Swedish presidency has made an effort to make it easier to compare just how well member states integrate new arrivals.

"This might look easy, but when you have to bring together 27 member states with 27 different computer systems it is in fact a remarkable forward step," said Christer Hallerby, state secretary at Sweden's Ministry of Integration and Gender Equality. He was presenting the EU presidency's proposal for shared principles of integration at the EU expert meeting "Integration of New Arrivals - Incentives and Work in Focus" on 16 December in Malmö.

The aim has been to identify comparable indicators of what makes integration work so countries can exchange experiences and compare results within a joint framework. So far there is agreement to focus on four main areas - work, education, social inclusion and active citizens. 

"It has been hard to find the right balance between high ambitions and realism or pragmatism," says Christer Hallerby. He says one challenge is to agree on a joint definition of target groups.

Who is it about

One document - "Indicators and monitoring of the outcome of integration policies" - define target groups as foreign born or third country citizens, but points out that these are definitions which are still being developed. 

Indicators for integration in working life appear as we know them from other statistical comparisons: levels of employment, unemployment and working population. Indicators for education include the number of drop-outs, low achieving 15 year-olds according to the OECD's Pisa survey, the number of people within various education groups and the number of people who have or haven't finished their secondary education. 

Indicators for social inclusion comprise factors like income and risk of poverty, perception of own health and the number of home owners. Indicators for "active citizens" is the number of immigrants who have secured citizenship, the number of people who have permanent or long-term permits to stay and the number of immigrants among elected representatives.

"If you want good insight based on comparisons, you need comparative indicators," says Bettina Knauth, head of unit at Eurostat. She uses the relatively simple notion of work as an illustration.

"How many hours do you need to work to be registered as employed? Do you count self employed people as employed and how temporary is a temporary job? Do we see it as good or not good if the number of self employed people goes up?" 

These are examples of the greatest challenges so far, says Christer Hallerby. There are different ways of registering information, and different cultures have different interpretations of the content of various notions. What does, for instance, active citizenship mean? What does the notion entail and how do you achieve it?

There are political divides between those who want targeted efforts and those who seek to mainstream, i.e. produce a policy to include all. This is not about the shape of politics, however, but rather which country is best at integrating newly arrived immigrants on the basis of the indicators that have been agreed upon so far.

"This is not a project but a process. It is the beginning of something which should help us understand what reality looks like, to give us something to develop and build on. In Sweden we call this continuous improvement work," says Christer Hallerby.

The EU presidency was passed on to Spain on 1 Januar. The EU ministerial conference in Zaragoza in April this year must agree on the execution - and continuation - of this work.


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