Levelling the playing field to make societies more inclusive


Picture of Amanda Rohde-Stadler
Amanda Rohde-Stadler

Head of Programme Performance & Operations at Friends of Europe

As Europe’s new leaders take charge, it’s time to build a Europe which is more equal and inclusive for everyone, be they locals or newcomers. To do so will require moving away from the single-minded and outdated focus on ‘integration’ towards a multi-faceted approach which centres on inclusion and aims to lift up all those in need.

First, inclusion-focused policymaking is an opportunity to change the narrative around migration and integration, which has been hijacked by populist calls for newcomers to become ‘true Europeans’.

Second, by working for society as a whole, rather than any one group, these policies can play a role in building bridges between newcomers and locals. This could potentially decrease any animosity between the two while at the same time preventing new arrivals from feeling ‘otherised’.

This change will not happen overnight. The Asylum and Migration Fund (AMF) and the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) proposed for the 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) are steps in the right direction. However, in allocating this support and implementing linked programmes, policymakers must ensure that they take an inclusive, holistic approach.

The arguments for maintaining integration funds which specifically focus on refugee and migrant needs are well-founded. Proponents suggest that they should be kept separate from wider social funds in order to safeguard the safety, security and access of newcomers to programmes and services, as well as to ensure that they receive full support in the asylum and immigration phase.

Long-term citizens – as well as second- and third-generation citizens – often share these predicaments

But achieving legal access does not always translate into actual access. Once legal pathways have been cleared, newcomers still have trouble navigating the ins and outs of bureaucracy and administration. They are not alone. Long-term citizens – as well as second- and third-generation citizens – often share these predicaments.

Moving towards inclusion-based policies could create systems that protect the rights of the most vulnerable while simultaneously levelling the playing field for both newcomers and locals.

In order to ensure this, the policy implementation of Europe-wide inclusion efforts should focus on four pillars: sectoral support, urban planning, asylum and immigration support, and public information.

The sectoral support pillar makes no distinction between newcomers and locals. It targets primarily local and regional authorities which deal directly with people’s daily needs, aiming to boost training and capacity across a wide range of departments – from health and education to housing and public works.

In taking this approach, the issue of newcomers is streamlined into all relevant areas, thereby preventing costly duplication of services as well as increasing departments’ capacities for working with vulnerable groups. This pillar means that locals and newcomers receive equal treatment in accessing services.

The urban planning pillar meanwhile offers support in designing more inclusive public spaces which keep in mind the particular needs of the vulnerable, regardless of their origin. This means financing the planning and implementation of projects which focus on creating places where community members feel comfortable coming together – such as safe parks and playgrounds – and convenient public transport options.

This can also translate into projects which encourage private sector investment into neighbourhoods. Such an infusion of services would improve quality of life for residents by boosting both the accessibility and affordability of grocers, pharmacies, daycares, hospices, retailers and so on.

When neighbourhoods receive properly planned investments into their infrastructure, it makes a difference for all residents. And when public spaces – like sports facilities, playgrounds and even outdoor chess tables – are designed with inclusion in mind, they can encourage interaction between locals and newcomers of all ages. Such initiatives foster greater dialogue and acceptance, thereby decreasing animosity between groups.

For the first two pillars to succeed, however, it is important to remember that, in the beginning, newcomers have a particular set of needs that their neighbours do not. Responding to these specific needs will ensure that they do not lose out in the creation of more inclusive societies.

When neighbourhoods receive properly planned investments into their infrastructure, it makes a difference for all residents

As such, the continued reinforcement of services which provide legal access to newly arrived refugees and migrants during the asylum and immigration process will be essential, including measures to increase staff numbers and training to deal with vulnerable groups.

Included in this pillar should also be the provision of practical support – such as where to find legal assistance – as well as clarifying what the pathway to citizenship may be.

The final pillar focuses on improving the provision of public information to even the playing field between locals and newcomers. Release of any MFF funding related to the pillars described above should be tied to mandatory, multilingual public information campaigns which aim to make newcomer communities aware of their rights, obligations and available services.

This should also translate into the provision of comprehensive government websites with all relevant information clearly laid out in multiple languages.

Regular reporting to the EU should be required, with continued release of funds made conditional on proof that such campaigns have been carried out under the required conditions.

This pillar is vital in ensuring that newcomers can stand on level ground with their neighbours, having equal access to and information about available services.

Such an approach would go a long way towards changing Europe’s narrative on migration and newcomers. It would create an opportunity to boost the capacity and training of government departments, equipping them with the skills to work with all vulnerable groups, regardless of their origin. It would also reinvigorate cities, creating spaces where no one is left behind.

Investing in inclusion is a long-term commitment. But if successful, the results will echo for generations, helping to build a Europe in which all people are valued for their contributions to their communities and societies.

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