Conference Paper: Immigration Is a Challenge Not a Problem, Barcelona 2002

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Immigration is a challenge, not a problem [1] The Tampere Summit (October 1999) created what is known as “a Space for Freedom, Safety and Justice”, making this a priority for the European Union.  Furthermore, it provided a set of instructions on how to convert the decisions taken in Amsterdam (1997) into a concrete mandate for action.  This included guidelines to establish a common immigration and asylum policy and the elements that will need to be considered.
The text drawn up at Tampere begins by recalling the principles on which the European Union was founded, as well as its prime objective – freedom.
Point 3 in the conclusion of the Tampere Conference explains that “this freedom shouldn’t be considered an exclusive right for the citizens of the European Union.  The Union’s own existence has a powerful force of attraction for people from all over the world… Furthermore, it would be contrary to the European traditions to deny this freedom to the people for whom circumstances have rightly driven them to try to enter our territory.”  It adds that “for this reason, the European Union must develop common policies in asylum and immigration, at the same time taking into account the need to carry out coherent border controls in order to put an end to illegal immigration and to fight against those who organise and commit international crimes”.  It finishes by suggesting that the principles on which these policies should be based must be made clear to citizens, and furthermore, must offer guarantees to people looking for protection in the European Union or who or trying to enter it.
Furthermore, the text reiterated the EU’s compromise with the Ginebra Convention, the fact that it is necessary to give a collective response to humanitarian crises, and asks for the development of a joint approach which guarantees the integration in our societies of people from developing countries who have entered legally, either as refugees or immigrants.  Later on, the elements needed to shape the common immigration and asylum policies will be defined, which according to the Council will be different but linked.  These include working with the immigrants’ countries of origin, creating a common immigration policy, just treatment of immigrants from developing countries in the EU and effectively managing emigrational flows.
The Seville European Council, held almost three years after Tampere, should have formally described the common immigration policy as outlined by the Treaty of Amsterdam.
However, the majority of the governments (especially the right wing governments) have put into practice, or are putting into practice, national immigration policies, clearly contrary to the aims outlined in Tampere.
Regrettably, at the Spring Seville Summit the global vision for the management of migration was abandoned in exchange for more local proposals focusing on the fight against illegal immigration, although, in the end, the Congress was forced to recognise the need to adopt the proposals outlined since Tampere.
Therefore in Seville the Spanish President’s conclusions reversed the process of integration, instead emphasising means of controlling borders and agreements for readmission, thus clearly moving away from the aims of cooperation and development.
The fight against illegal immigration is becoming the priority of European immigration policy instead of the logical consequence of a coherent immigration policy whose concept we must defend.
The appropriate body, the Justice and Interior Council, was asked to approve the proposals on family regrouping and the status of long term residents.  These proposals should help integration as immigrants are incorporated further into European citizenship.  The objectives of integration were not furthered however, and these objectives now have a low priority.
But the most important thing is what didn’t happen in Seville. Anna Terrón, a Spanish socialist MEP, whilst analysing the events of Seville suggests that discussion on common laws was ended due to economic reasons; focusing on the basic element of the European immigration policy: the incorporation of the labour markets into a single market, a Europe without interior borders. Furthermore, Anna Terrón criticises the fact that a workable global immigration policy does not exist, which would establish legal entry channels adapted to the needs of the labour market and the twenty-first century, which would clearly benefit the other measures adopted at the Tampere Summit. EL PAIS (3/7/02)

If we look at the situation in Spain, in recent years there has been a large increase in the percentage of the population who are immigrants, with 610,000 in Spain in 1996, whereas today it is estimated that there are 1,100,000.
In France, Germany and Belgium the immigrant population now totals approximately 10% of the total population, with 6% being the European average.
In Spain, the average nationwide is 3%, although in some regions the percentage is much closer to the European average.  In Catalonia for example, the figure has passed from 5% to over 8%.
One of the problems we must face, unlike the rest of Europe, is the fact that these rises have taken place predominantly in the last few years.
Furthermore, there are high concentration areas in certain districts, not only in the large urban areas, but also in small and medium-size towns.
This leads to changes within the social state.  In the period 1996-2001, the total spent on social costs was reduced by 2%, from 21.8% of the GNP (1996) to only 19.8% (2001). This reduction also increases the difference with the rest of the European Union: in 1993, the total social cost in Spain was 5% lower than the European average, the difference in 2001 was 8%, with 19.8% in Spain compared to the EU average of 28%.
Immigration is caused not only by the inequality and poverty in immigrants’ countries of origin, but also because in European societies there are deficits and structural problems that immigration helps to resolve, or at least help with: stagnation of the population due to a low birth rate, the unwillingness of the native population to do certain jobs, problems with the social welfare system due to the reduction in the number of tax payers etc.
During the welcoming and even the integration and settlement of immigrants, the majority look to join different types of groups as soon as they arrive, with most settling with their family, friends of people they know, normally of the same race or from the same region or country. This therefore creates concentrations of people from one race, region or country. This may sometimes lead to cultural microclimates being produced, where there is greater risk of a monopolisation of information and the establishment of systems of control over the immigrants.
In order to define our policies, we must be aware of the existence of cultural barriers which are apparent within our cities, squares, streets and public places, where there is a clash between the new and existing cultures, which generates feelings of loss of identity for the citizens already living there.
In this sense it is necessary to define the basis of community values, and for all new arrivals to understand and effectively incorporate these values from their host society into their lives. This includes those values that may be in conflict with those of their culture or religion.
Nevertheless, it is also necessary to fully recognise their basic human rights when they are compatible with our values. Thus when we are speaking about values, it is necessary to clearly explain which form part of the focal point of European political and social culture, and which are negotiable. Amongst the former there should clearly be human rights, defending citizenship, and respecting differences and pluralism – all of which are basic values and practices in democracy.
European citizenship is based on a state of law, a welfare state and active political participation. In this sense, immigrants must be able to enjoy these civil, social and political rights. However, in Europe the balance is uneven; although social and civil rights are recognised, in few European states do the citizens fully recognise their own political rights.
Finally I will make a brief reference to religion, which is probably the most identifiable characteristic of recent immigration. It represents one of the most difficult things to manage and is perhaps one of the most contradictory things in the processes of co-existence and daily integration – especially with regards to Islam.
Religion forms part of individuals’ personal sphere and thus it is not necessary to regulate the relationship between people’s religion and the public sphere. In this sense, I hope that the new European Constitution will resist pressure from the Vatican.
I’m convinced that in the short term, we should limit religious expression, whereas in the medium and long term it will be necessary to form strategies that encourage a multi-cultural society that respects both individuals’ and communities’ rights. For this to happen, it is necessary that the European governments, which are all secular, and the newly arrived immigrants, must establish secular and civil values as part of the democratic culture, ending the exploitation of religions, a habit some politicians have regardless of the religion.
Cities can and must lead this political strategy based on the premise of civil and political rights, in which immigration must be seen as an opportunity or a challenge instead of a problem. In this way, Jordi Borja and Manuel Castells [i] propose that, faced with scrutiny from the media and pressure from technology, the economy and the “homogenous culture” of globalisation, cities serve as organisational, social and political structures which are in the best position to face the perversions of this globalisation.  Their proximity to citizens’ problems allows them to structure their responses based on their traditional role of creating feelings of belonging and identity which are not based on ethnic or cultural terms, but on daily life, having normal relations with different people in society, and definitively accepting differences as something normal and even beneficial for the community as a whole.
Josep Lahosa, December 2002

[1] Report presented at the bilateral meeting between the Belgian Forum and the Spanish Forum, in December 2002
[i] Borja, J, and Castells, M. Local and Global, (1997) UNCHS, Madrid: 4th ed. Santillana Editores, 1999, 418 p.