Ambassador Jørn Gjelstad on Integration policy

Integration is not only about newcomers to a society, it is just as much about the society itself. It is about safeguarding the basis for our democratic institutions, safeguarding the rule of law and not to forget, safeguarding the welfare for our citizens irrespectively of their origins. In a Norwegian context, this means also protecting and sustaining our society’s core values, such as institutional credibility, gender equality, equal opportunities as well as inclusiveness and tolerance.

Pireus Municipal Gallery, 10 December 2018

 

Dear State Secretary Klapas,

Dear Mr, Kokkalis, Municipality of Pireus

Distinguished guests, friends,

 

First I would like to thank the Municipality of Pireus for the invitation to address integration policy and practice.

 

I am very pleased to see Policy Lab once again focusing on one of the most important issues in European politics today. The challenge of integration has become a topical issue for almost every single government on this continent.

 

The significant influx of migrants to Europe through the last years does not only affect life and future of the migrants themselves, but has also strong bearings on the population, the resources, social stability and societal cohesion of the host country concerned. That is why discussing strategies for dealing with this issue is so important.

 

Even if the numbers have drastically dropped since the peak of the crisis, much seems to suggest that the migration pressure against Europe will continue.

Even with a political solution of the Syrian crisis and a stabilization of the Middle East, we should not tend to believe that challenges from migration would finally be over.

For the future, we have to prepare ourselves for migrants that have made rational choices based on calculations connected to a variety of reasons such as the impact from climate change, increasing economic deprivation or systemic discrimination.

Therefore, migration should be looked at as an integrated and permanent part of the present and future reality of Europe, and the decision-making processes in each single capital.

In my country, there is a broad consensus on removing conditions that contributes to a systematic disadvantage for this group compared with the rest of the population. Because most migrants/ refugees and their children, in particular from foreign cultures, enjoy a significantly lower standard of living than the rest of society. As a social category, they have in general a lower level of education, employment and income than others, which severely affects their sustainability over time. This is a statistical fact.

 

If we don’t succeed in integrating migrants from countries outside of Europe adequately, there is a high risk that increasing economic inequality combined with cultural differences, and a reduced ability for societal participation could weaken the foundation and cohesion of the society itself. This could undermine both legitimacy and stability, as we over time will observe our society gradually sliding into a polarized construct with division lines almost impossible to bridge. At its worst, a flawed integration policy could transform a democracy from an instrument for inclusion into an instrument of exclusion, where policy of identity trumps policy of stability.

 

We should never allow this to happen!

It is therefore an urgent need for a comprehensive strategy on integration involving all relevant bodies on both central and local level –

for the reason of coordinated inter-action.

In this way a policy of integration should be looked at as an engineering exercise in stability-building and resource optimization.

 

However, key questions will be: How should we act? How should such a policy be designed? What should we actually do?

 

In this connection, we have to be honest and not underplay the fact that successful integration requires a lot. A great deal from the host society at large, in terms of financial resources, specific competences and innovative organization, as well as a significant commitment and contribution from the migrant himself.

 

On the background of previous and ongoing discussions in my own country, I will set out six points of action. These should be made inter-connected and mutually reinforcing.

 

First, building trust on both individual and institutional level is key.

A functional society is dependent on mutual trust between its citizens and its institutions. Immigrants have to be recognized by the majority as a legitimate part of the national community. This requires a strategy for inclusion and anti-discriminatory measures.

 

I am happy to learn that the Greek government is working systematically on a National Strategy on Integration which is to become public soon.

 

Additionally, measures must be taken at the governmental level to ensure impartiality and accountability. Trust in the police and judiciary, a non-discriminatory education system, key social institutions as well as a clear perception of equal treatment is vital for creating social trust. And trust is the baseline for societal participation.

 

Second, social/ welfare benefits are necessary, but should after a certain period be conditioned on the recipient’s willingness to acquire skills, and to participate in and adapt to the host society. Participation and adaption stand out as a prerequisite for a successful inclusion of a newcomer into a diverse and unknown social context.

 

Third, education and skills-training programmes promote socialisation and creates opportunities. This should be the cornerstone for any integration program. The biggest challenge is always to transfer marginalised groups from welfare benefits to work. Relevant skills and competences stand out as the inroad to the labour market and various social arenas. Educational programmes should be adapted to the immigrant’s existing professional qualifications.

 

Sociological analysis of the last two decades in my own country concludes that children of immigrants perform increasingly better than their parents, both within our education system as well as the labour market.

Such a development can reduce cultural and value-related tensions over time and sustain the trust once it has been created.

 

Fourth, a system for allocating wage subsidies to migrant positions in the labour market can be a useful complementary measure to education and training programmes. Such an arrangement can encourage employers to hire people with low qualifications and uncertain productivity capacity. This has become even more important after the large influx of refugees to Norway in 2015. Wage subsidies can be a measure for mitigating employment risks, while different forms of local professional training-programmes could be offered as part of the job contract. It is important that the employer and the newcomer together set out clear goals for qualification and skills development.

 

In this context, coordinating efforts between different public sector authorities should be stepped up, such as coordination between the educational and labour marked authorities.

 

Fifth, cultural adaption to a new social context makes integration a two-way process. Integration requires a great deal from the immigrants themselves. Their willingness to take on a pro-active attitude and adopt to new circumstances by learning language and the social codes is key.

Scandinavian researchers argue that it is not ethnic diversity in itself that is the main challenge, but a combination of social inequality and ethnic segmentation. By reaching out in a new society and by using the opportunities offered, immigrants can ease their own integrative process significantly.

 

Sixth, it is important to start the integration process as early as possible, preferably already in the reception centers: learning the language of the host country, getting inputs of its social expectations, and not at least taking part in skills assessment and career counselling. A key issue for any host country is to match the skills of the refugee with the professional and economic needs of the municipality in which the refugee will be settled.

 

To conclude, integration is not only about newcomers to a society, it is just as much about the society itself. It is about safeguarding the basis for our democratic institutions, safeguarding the rule of law and not to forget, safeguarding the welfare for our citizens irrespectively of their origins. In a Norwegian context, this means also protecting and sustaining our society’s core values, such as institutional credibility, gender equality, equal opportunities as well as inclusiveness and tolerance.

 

Conversely, increasing inequality and value-conflicts could easily tear apart social cohesion and undermine social stability.

Marginalized people are not in a position to contribute effectively to the society they live in. And sustained inequality structures of a certain level will undermines the very foundation for economic growth and prosperity.

 

We cannot allow this to happen.

 

In Norway as well as in Greece, a comprehensive integration strategy, should be tailor-made for the situation in question. This should guide the process.  Politicians on both central and local level must recognize their responsibility, and make concerted efforts to cooperate and move this process forward.

 

My government stands ready to support Greece in this endeavor by sharing both our experience and experts. I hope to see this important policy-area being included as soon as possible in our already extensive portfolio for bilateral cooperation. And I am very much looking forward to listen to your debate on this issue today.

 

Thank you for your attention.