Common Basic Principles

In 2004, the European Commission in consultation with all the usual Euro-suspects published a major contribution to the debate on the importance of migration and migrants for a successful progressive and equitable Europe. These Common Basic Principles have gone on in many ways to shape (where they exist) national strategies for integration and have provided a loose framework for the evaluation of how we are doing in this area. Last week in Brussels a group of some of the same suspects and few interlopers, such as myself, attended a day-long conference to decide if, 10 years on, these Common Basic Principles (CBPs as we Europhiles like to call them) were still fit for purpose.
As quite a lot of the people who wrote them in the first place were present, it is perhaps not surprising that the general opinion was a resounding Oui! One slightly dissenting voice was from the European Network of Migrant Women who felt that equality, gender equality in particular, though implied was not fundamentally stated, and for anyone who has operated in a European policy context it is important to know that things MUST be fundamentally stated otherwise the possibilities of implications can get seriously lost in translation. ENMW have a point. Alongside the continuing (and frankly static) employment gaps quoted for migrants the gap for women is much, much worse and remains so and is also tainted by the issue of market segregation often keeping women or resigning them to low paid, low skilled entry level unsustainable jobs.

At the heart of this issue of equality is the growing understanding and practice of those who are at the coal face of the need to deal with the inequities often institutionalised which are stopping the playing fields being levelled for migrant and refugee entry to the labour market. Despite the cheery chap form an Asian led NGO in London assuring us all that the job was important - “get the job and the rest will follow” were his exact words. Suddenly he seemed to imply a job, the most allusive of things for many migrants, would ensure access to the sunny uplands of equality. I felt it incumbent upon me to express just how ridiculous this approach was; it is in effect the approach that the CPBs inadvertently sponsor. There I was banging on about holistic approaches to a room half of whom were nodding furiously and half of whom looked a tad bemused. Imagine then the looks of horror from the “Mesdammes et Monsieurs Europeen collective” when I suggested the answer to labour market integration wasn’t just holistic it was also localised and regional!! But more about that in another blog!

So for those of you who cannot chant the CBPs as a catechism for equality here they are:

CBP 1 ‘Integration is a dynamic, two-way process of mutual accommodation by all immigrants and residents of Member States’

CBP 2 ‘Integration implies respect for the basic values of the European Union’

CBP 3 ‘Employment is a key part of the integration process and is central to the participation of immigrants, to the contributions immigrants make to the host society, and to making such contributions visible’

CBP 4 ‘Basic knowledge of the host society’s language, history, and institutions is indispensable to integration; enabling immigrants to acquire this basic knowledge is essential to successful integration’

CBP 5 ‘Efforts in education are critical to preparing immigrants, and particularly their descendants, to be more successful and more active participants in society’

CBP 6 ‘Access for immigrants to institutions, as well as to public and private goods and services, on a basis equal to national citizens and in a non-discriminatory way is a critical foundation for better integration’

CBP 7 ‘Frequent interaction between immigrants and Member State citizens is a fundamental mechanism for integration.  Shared forums, intercultural dialogue, education about immigrants and immigrant cultures, and stimulating living conditions in urban environments enhance the interactions between immigrants and Member State citizens’

CBP 8 ‘The practice of diverse cultures and religions is guaranteed under the Charter of Fundamental Rights and must  be safeguarded, unless practices conflict with other inviolable European rights or with national law’

CBP 9 ‘The participation of immigrants in the democratic process and in the formulation of integration policies and measures, especially at the local level, supports their integration’

CBP 10 ‘Mainstreaming integration policies and measures in all relevant policy portfolios and levels of government and public services is an important consideration in public policy formation and implementation.’

CBP 11 ‘Developing clear goals, indicators and evaluation mechanisms are necessary to adjust policy, evaluate progress on integration and to make the exchange of information more effective.’

On the face of it you cannot really take issue with any of them, they are, like many rights, apparently self-evident so we have to ask what value do they have. So I looked again at them that evening, while munching on some frites, from Maison Antione’s Fritterrie and sipping a La Chouffe (blonde).

I was delighted, though not really surprised, that when I measured them against Bridges activities, some of its policy work in the past and our general approach, that we could claim action in 10 of the 11 even I wouldn’t suggest we have much of an input on Number 9. Bravo, I thought this is proof, if more proof was needed, that Bridges is “doing the right thing”. But before I celebrated with another dollop of “Sauce Andellouse” I realised that the CBPs are 10 years old and Bridges is coming up to be a stroppy teenager of 13. So the fact remains that we were doing all of this, understanding these principles instinctively and as a result of our practice and of engaging with the migrants and refugees as people. We didn’t need to be told; we didn’t need these to be held up as a benchmark; we don’t need to aspire to these. Once again practice has come before policy, which of course so the right way round.

The Scottish Government have always prided themselves, no matter who is in charge of signing up, to practice led policy and in integration matters this is true. Long may that approach continue and long may the voice of Scotland (in whatever capacity in the EU) continue to be heard and influenced….or send the likes of me along to Euroland to beat the drum for them.
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