EUKN interview with Dr Peter Scholten

14 July 2015

Dr Peter Scholten is a leading migration expert, an Associate Professor of Public Policy & Politics at ERASMUS University Rotterdam. EUKN interviewed Dr Peter Scholten on the IMAGINATION Project and about his findings and opinions on the term ‘crisis of Europe’ regarding the migration and integration policies of the 21st Century: “Environmental migration will become the biggest flow of migration in the future. Migration is related to all areas that we have: like gender it is a cross cutting topic.” EUKN find out more about the political crisis facing Europe as well as the rising trend of super-diversity and the future challenge of environmental migration. Furthermore, Dr Peter Scholten explained the causes of the EU mobility paradigm and the urgent need for the EU to respond to the consequences of intra-EU mobility in our cities.


EUKN: What would be the necessary framework for Europe to achieve a more successful and long term migration policy?

PS: This is a complex question, which is precisely on their plate now. As I said, this migration crisis is not so much a crisis of migration but a crisis of the migrants involved. It is also a political crisis of Europe, being incapable to respond to this big challenge at the frontiers of Europe. We are unable to agree among ourselves and accept the fact that migrants come in through Italy, Greece, Bulgaria and Spain, and that this is a European problem. Instead the migration influx is pushed back on the plates of the countries in which they enter. This is not only detached from the drama of the person but also very detached from our knowledge of migration flows that are driven to countries like the UK, the Netherlands and Germany. The knowledge is there and the facts are sufficiently clear, however, there is an incapability and unwillingness to co-ordinate a joint response connecting migration to a political crisis of Europe. This is at the heart of the battle between nations wanting to preserve their sovereignty while the presence of Europeanisation is being contested more than ever. Furthermore, I do not anticipate an easy solution. If you see the domestic political arena in countries like the UK, the Netherlands, but also to some extent Germany, it is very unlikely that they will accept this and let in the refugees. This would be political suicide.

For a long-term migration strategy, I think there are three things that can be done. One of them is selective migration for the benefit of Europe. Closing the borders to all forms of economic migration creates irregular forms of migration such as asylum migration, and in the end it leaves you with a lack of control. We have a big ageing problem and again we have a growing economy so why not give the migrants that we need an opportunity to come in?

The second thing is environmental migration. This is politically the least opportune moment to say it, but I am an academic and for my professional integrity I have to say it. Environmental migration will become the biggest flow of migration in the future. Environmental change and climate change are having such detrimental effects in some parts of the world that it will lead to immense migration.


EUKN: Can you give some examples of countries where this is affecting?

PS: For instance looking at Sub-Saharan Africa. Due to global warming the environmental stress in some of the most overpopulated regions in the world is incredibly large. In the Maghreb, Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria, these regions are suffering most concretely from climate change, because they depend on land-based economies, they do not depend on services. If those lands deteriorate, which they are, and their populations increase, and you do not need an academic degree to understand that they will move. Most of them will move in the region, but even if only a proportion of them will move to Europe, we are immediately talking of a very sizeable migration flow. Migration is bound to the human nature and in spite of the fortress Europe they will try to come into Europe because there is an economic disparity between us and them. We should think about how to connect this to other policy areas that we have to migration. So, what is our global development policy, global environmental policy, global trade policies, we should connect these to migration.

That brings me to my third point, and that is again the mobility proofing of Europe. Rather than ignoring mobility, I think we should just accept mobility and try to make the best out of it.  There is a very concrete way to do that and that is mainstreaming mobility. Right now we have put mobility and migration in a separate Commissariat in Europe with a separate Commissioner, a separate department and with a separate set of people and that simply does not work. As a governance scholar, it is my firm belief that migration is not just about the regulation of migration. Migration is related to all areas that we have. Like gender it is a cross cutting topic: we do not have a separate department for gender, because gender is in every department, it is in labour, in social affairs, in external relations, it is everywhere. With migration it is the same, so our global trade relations should also take into consideration migration implications. If we climate change agreements as Europe and we have a very important role in that, we should take note of the possible migration consequences. For instance, if we collaborate with the Sub-Sahara regions and we combine it with migration then it can have very positive consequences in terms of limiting the migration stream. If you can prevent environmental stress and help those countries adapt to climate change then you can prevent a lot of migration, which is also in our benefit.


EUKN: We briefly spoke about super diversity earlier. How can Europe adapt to super diversity and what would be the most relevant problems in the future?

PS: I am always talking about mobility and diversity proofing of governance particularly at local level, rather than developing a migration policy or an integration policy. These topics have become so big, not just in numbers, but also in terms of political urgency, that all European institutions and European governments need to become diversity and mobility proof. Again, I think the parallel with gender mainstreaming is the best example here, so rather than saying it is a separate topic, it is a topic relevant to all. With super diversity, the same response would apply I think, especially at the city level, because super diversity is primarily for cities. It is cities that become super diverse, not countries. Countries do not become super diverse very fast. Even countries of immigration such as Australia and the U.S. are no longer diversity proof, especially if you look at Australia, which is now one of the most conservative countries in its migration policy. I think the EU is looking very jealously at Australia and I think the EU would like to do the same. The problem is that irregular migration comes much easier than there.

Super diversity proofing is a big challenge for cities. Migrants will continue coming and the diversity will continue to increase at city level. I think we should become aware that rather than responding to migration and incorporating migrants; migration and migrants are changing us. There are ways in which a city can make use of that. City branding, which I mentioned it briefly already is one of those strategies. Rebrand your city as a city of migrants, a city that offers opportunities, a city that is super-diverse. That can have external opportunities, if you brand your city, like Rotterdam as a world port city, then that might bring along opportunities, for example international companies.  For that reason, Rotterdam now has a big stake in the recruitment for the settlement of Chinese companies. That can be economically very profitable but it also has an internal function, and that is also where my research comes in. If you redefine your city, in terms of city branding, political leadership, what politicians say, which we describe as public narrative, you give people a narrative of belonging that accepts migration as fact of the city, which will help the integration of people in the city. This will also help the degree of acceptance from the native population, the people who have lived here for over a couple of generations to understand their city as a mobile and diverse city. Integration policies today are still relevant, but they are not the full story, as they focus only on participation: migrants participating in our schools and joining the labour market. And that is very important, especially education, that is the core, that is where people mix, where people integrate. So the story that we are missing is to give people a shared sense of belonging in the city to feel at home. We are now defining a narrative of national identity, but also of the city as a place where there is a fixed set of norms and values that everybody should respect. From a sociological research perspective there is strong evidence that if you give migrants something at the local level to hold on to, then that is the first place they identify to. For instance, there has been research here, at the Erasmus University about the identification of second generation Moroccan and Turkish youth in Rotterdam. Two things became very clear.  First of all, that they identify primarily with the city, and at a small distance they also identify with their descent, so Turkish Dutch or Moroccan Dutch. They hardly identified with being Dutch, but they did feel a Rotterdammer. I think that that is something that cities should respond to as it is much easier and also much more effective, for a city to give a narrative to migrants and to natives to interact and to feel at home in the city than rather than a country. A country has this philosophical debate about national identity and the further we stay away from those debates about national identity, the better it is for responding to super diversity at the local city level I would say.


EUKN: Western Europe is facing immigration from CEE Member States and Third Country Nationals (TCNs). How would you explain the most important differences between these two groups in terms of migration policies, potential challenges and also the contributions that they can bring to the host countries or in fact, I think I should be really saying here, the host cities?

PS: Looking sociologically these two categories are basically the same; they are migrants, they are mobile people and their mobility is driven by a complex set of factors. It is always a blend of economic reasons, social relations, family migration, not feeling safe in your country and less frequently, political reasons whereby you have real refugees. Therefore, somebody from Poland moving here is not that different from somebody moving here from Iraq, only the balance between factors might be slightly different. However, as a policy category we draw a sharp boundary between them. We socially and politically construct a difference, and for CEE people we do no say they are migrants we say they are mobile EU citizens. So, any idea that touches upon integration or the regulation of migration, that is a taboo, because if you do that you violate principle one of the EU treaty and that is the freedom of movement within the EU. Migrants from beyond Europe are alienated culturally. Their migration is strictly regulated, so they have no right of access into the EU and we ignore our connections despite being one of the big contributors to climate change. For family migrants we say you have to do a test in your country of origin before we let you in. For asylum migration we say if you really, really, really, really, are a refugee, we will let you in, but if we can catch you on some discrepancy, we will close the border. So this is a political difference even more than a sociological gap.

I think for TCNs migrating we are defining them too much as a weak category that we do not want to have in and I would link this back to another answer that I gave about being much better for Europe to do two things. First of all, not close the door entirely, but keep it open a little bit for migrants to come in and bring something in for Europe. This Blue Card initiative is now a big thing, but in reality it hardly brings in any migrants, so if we could expand those schemes, bringing more desirable migration, it would be very good. The second thing would be a more integrated approach towards migration: to connect migration to our environmental policy, to connect it to trade, connect it to development, connect it to external relations. That connection really has to be made, the mainstreaming of migration. That is very important.


EUKN: And about the IMAGINATION project, could just tell me a little bit about the project and how it came to be, what the main motivation has been?

PS: So, this is the project in which the EUKN is also involved as our policy dissemination partner. We work together with Mart Grisel and Alfons Fermin and they help us with the policy briefs, the dissemination of the project findings, as well as writing a handbook on the urban governance of the consequences of intra-EU mobility. We are really looking forward to that, because that is precisely the stage the project is in, we are now passing onto our dissemination phase.

This is an Urban Europe funded project, so it is in collaboration between science foundations in a number of European countries and it focuses on intra-EU mobility and the consequences that mobility has for the cities where those migrants settle. It is in the agreed EU setting that the freedom of movement applies and that workers from CEE countries (Central and Eastern European Countries) can move freely. This is a EU policy principle and our task is to look at its consequences at an urban level. The project sets out to achieve connection on those two levels. What we are seeing is actually quite a big discrepancy and even more than we anticipated from earlier research. We have found a big disconnection between the rationale of freedom of movement and this rationale of enabling citizens to move freely. There is a lack of investment in the integration of these people emphasising that they are mobile citizens and so will be temporary. That is the EU mobility paradigm as we call it. But if we compare that with what we see in the big urban regions where many migrants settle, we see that the picture is much more complex.  This might seem a little bit cliché, but that is precisely what we are seeing.  So, for some intra-EU migrants this applies. Some of them are really mobile citizens they stay here only for a season. For example, in the Netherlands we have Polish hotels where people settle during the season to work. Some settle for a couple of years and then go back to their family. However, we see that this pattern of mobility within Europe is far more complex than what the EU anticipates. Some of them are also permanent. In migration research, we do not have many theoretical laws, however, if there is one law for migration theory somebody bringing over his wife and family and sending the children to school, is no longer temporary migration. And that is what we are seeing in certain urban regions. So, CEE mobile EU citizens become real migrants in the traditional sense of the term.

As an example of our research, in schools in the south of Rotterdam we had a focus group with local stakeholders that are involved with migrants from Poland. It was very interesting as a director of an association of primary schools commented that 75% of the children in the youngest groups were of Polish descent. These children do not speak a word Dutch, but they come to school. The director felt unable to relate to their parents, because some of their parents were not aware of the implications of taking their children to the Netherlands. Now, there is a historical paradox in that there are de-institutionalised integration policies. The days of institutions providing language support to migrant children who have no Dutch language proficiency when they enrol into school have been phased out over the last ten years. When you look at the second generation of Moroccan and Turkish migrants, they all speak Dutch quite adequately already when they go to primary school, so that is one of the reasons why those institutions have been abandoned. Also, the financial crisis has been a factor. But now they need that again and this is the big discrepancy. The EU thinks these are mobile citizens, and the only thing that we protect is the economic right to work somewhere else. What we see at the urban level is that it has more social implications and the EU has no response and cities are struggling due to a lack of tools to respond to the social implications of intra-EU mobility. There is no mandatory integration policy for them, because they are EU citizens. There is also no funding anymore for language training for these groups. There is nothing. And if you want to impose something on that group, which the city of Rotterdam suggested, than that would be in conflict with EU law. EU law says this is a EU mobile citizen and you cannot impose mandatory integration measures. What our project is finding is that as a consequence of this EU paradigm, those EU citizens are left aside. They are suffering the consequences of a lack of policy intervention or a lack of help from local institutions. For instance, they do not get language training; they also don’t get the opportunity to enhance their opportunities on the labour market. But what is even worse is that they are left to primarily private organisations like labour recruitment agencies that have a very economically driven way of working with mobile workers. And, that is not always in the benefit of these EU mobile citizens, to use an understatement. They are exploited and exposed to market logic to a far greater extent than our own Dutch national citizens. So this EU paradigm has negative consequences for EU citizens and as a scholar, I am very surprised that it is not on the radar of the EU.


EUKN: And through this project, are you hoping to bring this onto the radar of the EU?

PS: Yes, certainly that is precisely what we will try to do. Through the IMAGINATION project we will try to bring the consequences in cities of intra-EU mobility on the radar of the EU. We are trying to develop governance responses for cities to respond to CEE migration more adequately, and raise awareness among cities, as well as at national and EU levels, that under this banner of free market, a lot is going wrong with these EU workers and that an approach oriented more at the social inclusion of intra-EU mobile citizens would be very helpful here. That is what we are now going to do and that is the future of the project.


EUKN thanks Dr Peter Scholten for the insight into the real challenges faced by the EU with migration and the potential solutions to address these issues that can be implemented across city, national and EU levels.