Municipalities can do it! In favour of an initiative that combines integration and development in refugee policy

European migration policy is not making any progress. Local authorities could break the deadlock if they were allowed to

Gesine Schwan and Malisa Zobel.

Am 22 Aprilfrom 15:00 - 16:30, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation Brussels together with the Humboldt-Viadrina Governance Platform organised the event "The European Integration and Development Fund - A progressive approach towards European solidarity". At the event, the participants discussed the approach and feasibility of a European Development and Integration Fund as part of the Municipal Integration and Development Initiative. Prof Dr Gesine Schwan, who is regarded as the creator of this initiative, outlines its main features together with Dr Malisa Zobel below.


This article was originally published on the Thematic portal Flight, migration, integration the Friedrich Ebert Foundation published.


Cities and municipalities as key players in integration and development

Cities and municipalities are not only key players when it comes to providing protection, integration and social cohesion, they are also centres for business and development. At the same time, they must find effective local solutions to the effects of transnational challenges and thus make an important contribution to solving global problems. This currently applies to the effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic just as much as it did a few years ago, when local cities and municipalities in particular increasingly took in, cared for and integrated people seeking protection. In order to find satisfactory and fair solutions to these complex challenges at a local level, short-term ad hoc strategies are not enough. Instead, a joint, participatory approach to integration and municipal development is needed in order to make these sustainable, democratic and effective.

The municipal integration and development initiative

The aim of the Municipal Integration and Development Initiative is to promote a decentralised EU refugee and development policy. This is to be achieved through a European fund to support cities and municipalities, a matching process between cities and refugees, municipal development councils and a network of European cities and municipalities.

The European Integration and Development Fund

Europe should strengthen the voluntary reception of refugees by cities and municipalities with an investment initiative. Additional funding should give local authorities more room for manoeuvre. Those municipalities that are willing to take in refugees should be reimbursed for the costs of reception and integration directly from a EU funds be reimbursed. As an additional incentive, they should also receive the same amount of funding for their own municipal development. The municipalities that take on more responsibility would thus have the financial means to do so. In addition, the cities and municipalities would not only experience a revitalisation economically, but also culturally, as funds would be available for cultural projects, for example. In many European regions from which people are migrating, this would also trigger a positive dynamic. Once some cities set a good example and show that the whole community - locals and newcomers - benefits, other cities are more likely to follow suit or put pressure on their government to allow them to receive and thus access EU funds. Instead of fearing the loss of national sovereignty and competence, the member states could accept the voluntary offer of the cities and municipalities as a possible way out of the reform blockade. It is also important that, at the same time, funds are provided for personnel support for the municipal administration so that the municipalities can participate in such an application for EU funds in the first place.

The city introduces itself to 'potential newcomers' on a platform

In the case of voluntary settlement in municipalities willing to accept new residents, a Matching procedure the interests of both the municipalities and the refugees are respected and brought together in a fruitful way. Cities could present their needs and services to potential new arrivals on a platform. Refugees often do not know what to expect in the host communities. This applies to specific needs such as housing, job opportunities and childcare, as well as more general factors such as the size of the city, the surrounding landscape and a city's infrastructure. In order to feel welcome, however, the people who welcome the newcomers into their city are particularly important. A "matching platform" offers civil society initiatives the opportunity to make direct contact with refugees. Such a platform also helps to concretise and communicate the expectations of both sides - the city and the refugees.

Municipal development councils for sustainable overall social integration for the reception of refugees

In order to organise the voluntary admission of refugees in a sustainable manner and to put it on a broad basis, development councils made up of political, economic and civil society representatives should be formed in the municipalities to advise on the direction and design of future policy and prepare its implementation. This is the place to think together about the demographic development of the municipality: about needs and possible offers in the economy and in relation to the labour force and its training, about the expansion of the necessary infrastructure, about education and further training, about housing offers, about perspectives for cultural development and the social integration of all local citizens. After all, in a pluralistic democratic society, integration is fundamentally an ongoing general social challenge and task, not only in connection with refugees, but also with regard to all people who are marginalised for whatever reason, such as those affected by poverty.

Municipalities can decide to take in refugees based on their demographic, economic and cultural development. They are given an additional incentive to do so if they are reimbursed for the costs of integration by a European integration and development fund and also receive the same amount of funding for their own development.

Networking of municipal players

Finally, networking between European cities and municipalities is also essential. Numerous city networks already exist and municipal representatives are confidently demanding a greater say. At the same time, civil society in Europe's cities and municipalities is calling for greater support for the rights of refugees. The Municipal Integration and Development Initiative is therefore also intended as a platform to stimulate and promote dialogue and networking between municipal stakeholders.

Europe urgently needs a medium and long-term strategy that does not see the reception of people seeking protection as a threat, but instead protects fundamental rights. A decentralised and participatory approach of networked municipalities in asylum and refugee policy could give the EU the impetus for a positive new beginning, in which the reception of refugees is not perceived as a burden, but their integration is used as an impetus for sustainable development.

Together, cities and municipalities as European actors could thus not only advocate democratic and sustainable strategies for the reception of people seeking protection and municipal development, but also send a clear signal of European solidarity through their actions.