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Brussels, 20 July 2011

European Agenda for the Integration of Migrants – frequently asked questions

Effective integration of migrants is essential to a successful long term immigration policy. Integration policies remains primarily the responsibility of the Member States, but the EU can offer support and incentives through financial instruments, policy coordination and exchange of knowledge and good practices.

Why is the Commission addressing integration at this point in time?

Migration is a reality that most EU Member States have experienced over the past decades. A breakdown of the population by citizenship in 2010 showed that there were 20.1 million foreigners living in the EU (4% of the total population).

Migration is an opportunity. Migrants' contribution to society is significant and should be fully recognised. Migrants contribute to the economies of their receiving countries, as employees, entrepreneurs, consumers and investors, and they increase diversity and cultural richness of these countries. Moreover, future migrants will make an important contribution to ensuring Europe's future competitiveness by increasing its working-age population.

Member States have confirmed their commitment to integration as a driver for economic development and social cohesion. But many integration challenges remain and more should be done to meet the targets of the Europe 2020 Strategy and to implement the Stockholm Programme, where the potential of migration for building a competitive and sustainable economy is fully recognised. These two strategic documents set out, as a clear political objective, the effective integration of legal migrants, underpinned by the respect and promotion of human rights.

What is the role of the EU in relation to integration?

Integration takes place at the local level. Interaction between individuals in neighbourhoods helps to increase mutual respect and knowledge. Local authorities are responsible for a wide range of services and they play an important role in shaping this interaction. Integration policies should therefore be formulated with a genuine bottom-up approach, close to the individual and implemented with the active involvement of a variety of local actors who are facing integration challenges in their daily work. They should aim at enhancing participation in contexts where people come together naturally, in work places, schools, child care facilities, services and businesses.

Central governments, however, must remain responsible for ensuring equality of services across each Member State, for supporting the municipalities, and for setting the main objectives and adopting comprehensive national strategies for integration.

The EU for its part can offer support and incentives to Member States' actions to promote integration, through financial instruments, policy coordination and knowledge exchange. Effective solutions to integration challenges must take into account the national and local context but as these challenges are common to many Member States, it can be useful to share experiences of what works and what does not work.

Is harmonizing Member States' legislation the way forward?

Integration remains primarily the responsibility of Member States, which should ensure comprehensive national integration strategies. The EU has no competence for harmonizing legislation on integration. Nonetheless a strong ground for concerted action exists since the Lisbon Treaty foresees the EU support to promoting integration of legally residing third-country nationals (Article 79.4 TFEU).

Ensuring fair treatment of migrants and granting rights and obligations comparable to those of EU citizens are at the core of EU cooperation on integration. Some harmonised legislation is also of relevance, including EU anti-discrimination legislation and migration directives granting certain categories of migrants minimum levels of rights (e.g. Directives on long-term residence and family reunification).

Considering high unemployment rates in Europe, does the EU really need migrants?

The Commission of course recognises the need to look at each national labour market, and to take measures to re-train people already available for employment. However, the European economy is facing a structural problem of both ageing and decreasing labour force. The EU population is projected to rise from almost 501 million in 2010, to 520.7 million in 2035 and then fall to 505.7 million in 2060. The European Union's workforce will decline by approximately 50 million people until 2060 compared to 2008 – in 2010 there were 3.5 persons of working age (20-64) for every person aged 65 or over; in 2060 the ratio is expected to be 1.7 to 1.  Despite the current economic crisis and high unemployment, many Member States are already facing labour shortages in certain sectors where employers have trouble filling vacancies. According to the Commission's Agenda for new skills and job, it is estimated that by 2015 shortages of ICT practitioners will be between 384 000 and 700 000 jobs, whereas in the health sector there will be a shortage of about 1 million professionals in the by 2020 - and up to 2 million if ancillary healthcare professions are taken into account.

A well organised legal immigration policy is therefore crucial in this regard and migration from outside the EU can be part of the solution to the shrinking labour force. 

What is the situation of migrants living in the EU?

For the preparation of the Agenda, the Commission has taken into account data presented recently by Eurostat in its pilot study 'Indicators of Immigrant Integration', as well as consultations with the European Integration Forum, Member States and local authorities.

These and other figures confirm that there are important gaps between EU citizens and third-country nationals in terms of employment, unemployment, over-qualification, income, educational achievement, health status, etc. They show prevailing integration challenges and the aim must be to reduce these gaps.

In 2010 at EU level, the employment rate of third-country nationals aged 20-64 was 10 percentage points lower than that of the total population in the same age-group, 58.5% compared with 68.6%. Nevertheless, evidence shows that employment rates improve from migrants to their children.

In terms of education at the EU level, in the age group 20-64, the share of third-country nationals with high educational attainment is lower than the share of highly educated nationals. The differences between third-country nationals and nationals are most pronounced for the proportion with low level of education (45.5% for third-country nationals and 26.4% for EU-nationals in 2009).

The rate of early school leaving among migrants is twice as high as that of EU citizens. The achievement gap is higher for newly arrived students and is closely related to the lower socio-economic status of many migrants. Children of migrants, however, have higher levels of educational attainment than their parents, and higher levels of education than EU citizens. Upper secondary attainment in the EU in 2008 in the age group 25-64 was 76.3% among children of migrants, compared to 72.3% for EU citizens and 64.4% for migrants.

What has been done in the past in the field of integration?

The Common Basic Principles for Immigrant Integration Policy in the European Union, which were adopted by the Council in 2004, remain valid as an agreed framework for EU cooperation on integration.

Over the past five years, a number of measures have been taken to support the European knowledge exchange and coordination. For instance, the Commission launched the European Web Site on Integration and published three different editions of the Handbook on Integration for policy-makers and practitioners. The Commission also coordinates the network of National Contact Points on Integration, which is a platform for exchange between national administrations, and since 2009 a European Integration Forum meets twice a year to ensure dialogue with civil society. In addition, the European Fund for the Integration of Third-Country Nationals provides financial support to both national and trans-national projects (825 million euro for the period 2007-2013).

While all EU actions presented by the Commission in the 2005 Common Agenda for Integration have been completed, the social, economic and political context has changed and not all integration measures have been successful in meeting their objectives.

What does the Commission propose next?

Integration is a dynamic, multidimensional process of mutual efforts by all migrants, EU citizens and local societies. It is a long-term process requiring efforts by a wide range of actors in different policy areas and at various governance levels. The Agenda cannot be implemented through European instruments only. Integration strategies are often implemented by local or regional authorities and non-state actors. Language courses, schooling, housing and different types of introductory measures require close cooperation between all these actors and adequate funding. Future EU funding could further focus on promoting integration at local level.

  • The Commission will work in closer partnership with local and regional authorities, together with the Committee of the Regions and European networks of cities and regions. Stronger cooperation with the countries of origin is also needed.

  • In order to reinforce coordination and knowledge exchange, a flexible European toolbox is being developed, allowing national authorities to choose the measures which are most likely to prove effective in their context. So-called 'European modules' are being developed to support policies and practices. The modules can be seen as a European reference framework for the development and implementation of integration practices in Member States in the following areas: civil society participation, introductory and language courses, prevention of discrimination and the promotion of equality. They can be adapted to the needs of individual Member States, regions and cities.

  • Common European indicators have been identified in four areas of relevance for integration such as employment, education, social inclusion and active citizenship. They will serve as a basis for systematic and regular monitoring of the situation of migrants, complementing data with contextual analysis, which should reflect the different situations in Member States. The Commission will be responsible for monitoring developments, based on annual updates of EU-comparable data, in cooperation with Member States contributing to the contextual analysis of the results.

  • A higher degree of coordinated programming and implementation of existing EU financial instruments should also support migrants' participation and the implementation of integration policies.

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