UNESCO Social and Human Sciences
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Introductory lecture for the Conference 'Ethnic Minorities and Local Government' organized by the Bestuurlijk Overleg Stadsdelen of the Municipality of Amsterdam

January 22 and 23, 1998, Amsterdam

by Prof. dr. Rinus Penninx
Institute for Migration and Ethnic Studies
University of Amsterdam

European cities and their citizens:
problem, challenge, opportunity?


1. Introduction

Ladies and gentlemen,

You are going to participate in a unique conference. Unique primarily by the composition of its participants. You are not only representing European cities, but also, within these cities, different aspects: local authorities, immigrant organizations and scholars. The expertise that is brought together in this way is certainly unparallelled.

The challenge of this conference is to see whether we are able to make that total of our different expertise common and shared expertise. Let us try to do that.

But how are we going to do that? In the first place we have to make clear to ourselves what exactly we are going to discuss about. What is the framework of thinking? What terms and concepts are we going to use? These seem to be self-evident and easy questions, but from my experience of doing international comparative research I have concluded that these questions are not easy to answer. We should realize that each of the cities represented here is embedded in a national context having its own history and tradition in several respects: first of all in terms of their overall political structure and the implied relations between national, regional and local units and authorities; but these national contexts also differ in specific areas such as national migration policies and traditions and regimes of incorporation of immigrants. To be concrete: the framework of thinking and the terms used in cities in the Federal Republic of Germany with its federal structure of Länder, its traditions of a more ethnic definition of national citizenship and selective access to it and its relative short immigration history differs greatly from that of France with its Republican definition of citizenship and its long tradition of immigration in which children of immigrants are supposed to be French citizens. And again, both examples differ from the situation in the United Kingdom, where immigration is strongly related to its imperial past and most immigrants do have full formal citizenship rights from the beginning. Such differences make for a different terminology and different issues: while our German neighbours dominantly use 'foreigners' or 'aliens' to designate the relevant groups, our French colleagues are used to the term 'immigrés' (immigrants), while our English partners tend to speak about 'ethnic minorities'. In the same vain different terms are used for the process of settlement: integration, insertion, multiculturalism for example. And the content of these terms in practical policies reflect these same traditions (see Vermeulen 1997). These are just a few examples; we could add in fact each of the countries present here to show many more of such differences.

And to complicate matters even more, also within national contexts historical experiences, traditions and regimes of individual cities may differ significantly, as we have shown in a detailed study of the integration policies and policies relating to the institutionalization of islam in two cities within the Netherlands: that of Rotterdam and Utrecht (see Rath et al. 1991 and 1996).

Possible confusion arising from these differences in our meetings is thus abundant. The first weapon against such confusion is to be aware of it. The second is to spend some time on the questions of 'what is the problem', 'what frame of reference do we use in thinking about it', 'what concepts and terms do we use' and which are the key questions to be answered'. In this short introductory lecture I will try to answer these questions and thereby attempting to create a common language for discussion.

2. What is the problem? General developments

Let me try first to identify some of the major developments in recent times that are essential to understand what kind of problems we have in general, and in larger European cities in particular.

One of the dominant features in the postwar era has been and still is the phenomenon of globalization and internationalization. This development is manifested in a number of areas. The financial world was one of the first to emancipate from national borders and authorities and to go worldwide. Following the free movement of capital, economic activities and products are now also much less restricted by national boundaries than they used to be. The development of technology in information, communication and transport has evidently contributed to this new economic and financial world order. And in its wake it has assisted internationalization in cultural and political matters. The coming into existence of the European Union is a manifestation of the latter. These developments in itself have brought more external influences and diversity particularly to larger cities that are the local spaces of internationalization.

Two specific consequences of this general process do have in practice a great influence on larger cities. The first is that this globalization in all those domains has inevitably consequences for the movement of human beings: a growing number of people linked to the internationalization move. There is a substantial migration directly linked to multinational companies and in general the labour market of the highly skilled has become increasingly international. This kind of migration - which often is temporary - is generally not seen as problematic, although it contributes to growing diversity. However, these are not the only people who move.

A far greater number of people move as an indirect consequence of globalization: the increased reach of communication and transport, the higher density of networks globally and thus the growth of intermediary structures that facilitate migration have significantly contributed to the growth of immigration of workers and refugees and their family members that come to Western European countries unannounced. Until 1974 their arrival was welcomed and even stimulated by recruitment because of the demand for their labour, but after the restructuring of European economy in the seventies they kept coming unasked for. It is particularly this category of newcomers that is perceived as problematic in the eyes of the societies of settlement.

Since both kinds of these newcomers tend to concentrate heavily in larger urban areas they become the directly visible face of globalization. They have rapidly changed the composition of the population of these cities. In Amsterdam for example, immigrants and their descendants form more than 40 % of the total population; in primary schools in Amsterdam more than half of the pupils are of non-Dutch origin. And such changes took place within a relatively short period of time.

A second consequence of globalization that is relevant for our discussions, is the shift in political structures and responsibilities. On the one hand the national states have lost much of their former autonomy to external forces. Their influence on financial markets, on economic processes and especially on development in employment opportunities clearly diminished. The gradual emergence of larger political units, such as the European Union, further restrict autonomous policies of nations. On the other hand large cities, as concrete sites of globalization have gained importance and these same national states are confronted with claims to decentralize policies to lower levels. It is there where the concrete manifestations of globalization ask for policies geared to their particular circumstances. The new distribution of tasks and responsibilities between these layers of government are increasingly complex and give rise to tensions. In our field for example, migration and admission policies are mainly national and Union-policies, but the concrete consequences have to be dealt with by local governments, particularly large cities that are attraction poles of immigrants (see: Doomernik et al. 1997; Sassen 1995).

What does all this mean in practice for large cities? First of all, these cities are confronted with great and fast changes. General changes as a consequence of globalization that create new diversity within the settled, native population; and at the same time specific changes embodied in the arrival of large numbers of newcomers that contribute to more diversity. Let me be clear about the message I want to convey: I do not want to suggest that there was homogeneity and uniformity before: most larger cities always had diversity of all kinds that they had to cope with, such as class divisions and religious, cultural and language minorities. Particularly in larger cities heterogeneity has in general been the rule and thus the often made distinction between the 'native culture' and that of newcomers is illusionary, and false. The difference is that what I would call 'the old diversity' has been accomodated more or less and is reflected in political structures and processes of decision making: 'we are used to it'. The crucial question for cities seems to be whether they are able to accomodate the new diversity, both the general and the specific ones. How to create and enhance unity, loyalty and social cohesion? How to rearrange structures and institutions within these cities in such a way that they are able to reflect the new composition of the population and its diversity. How to enable and stimulate newcomers to find a fair and accepted place and participate in the new social and political environment and develop thereby their loyalty to it and contribute to it. How to find a new balance of a political community that shares basic values and interest that are necessary for any political unity to survive, while at the same time taking into account and respecting diversity and reap the potential fruits of this diversity.

Cities and municipalities do have a special reponsibility here, apart from that of national authorities. I remind you here that the word citizen is derived from 'city'; the local political community of the city is from the point of view of individuals the place where the real and important things happen, that affect his life, his position and his future. Let us start from this original meaning and call all inhabitants of the city citizens, irrespective of their formal status.

3. What is the problem? Cities, immigrants and participation

Let us now focus a little bit more on immigrants and their participation on the local level of cities and start with some empirical observations.

In most European cities ethnic minorities and people of post-war immigrant origins have become essentially permanent residents. And if not all migrants will stay, the phenomenon of migration will, as I have suggested earlier.

Such immigrants have legitimate needs, demands, rights and duties with respect to their 'host societies'. They also contribute to that society through their labour, taxes, commercial services, participation in schools and neighbourhoods, and by enriching cultural landscapes. In practice, however, in every country of Europe immigrants and ethnic minorities have suffered disproportionately from a variety of forms of exclusion. Often they are formally excluded from the political decision making system, but there are also numerous other modes of exclusion affecting immigrants and ethnic minorities. These include in the socio-economic domain such matters as restricted access to the labour market (including public sector employment); limited opportunities for self-employment and small business formation; denial or differential provision of social welfare resources (including programmes for financial assistance, training, health, housing, insurance, and old age pensions). In the cultural and religious domain immigrants and ethnic minorities have limited possibilities to satisfy their ethnic, cultural and religious needs and recognition of identities related to these are often problematic. Such mechanisms of exclusion together have resulted for large numbers of immigrants both in the worst socio-economic circumstances of all of Europe's inhabitants and in ambiguious or even non-acceptance of the ethno-cultural and religious diversity that immigrants have brought with them.

To be sure, numerous initiatives have been taken and policies implemented by national and local authorities to address these conditions. Yet all too often immigrant and ethnic minority groups have had little say in the public decisions, policies and resources which effect them. Therefore, such decisions, policies and resources often do not meet the needs, or are not sufficiently used by immigrant and ethnic minority groups. Thus far such measures have not been able to change their situation significantly.

The lack of immigrant and ethnic minority participation in policy-making is significantly conditioned by the fact that many do not have the legal status of citizenship. However, even in those states where some form of citizenship applies, other social and political factors prevent their full public participation. This often results in political marginalization and sometimes even total exclusion of these residents. Evidently, such a situation challenges basic liberal democratic values, core institutional procedures, and even fundamental questions of morality. Formulated in plain language: such a situation is politically inconsequent and morally unjust. It is also unwise, because it creates tensions and neglects the positive contribution of the newcomers to their environment.

Not participating and not being fully accepted in the various societal domains prevents the full development of citizenship by immigrants and ethnic minorities. If citizenship is taken as full participation in the public domain and the exclusion from citizenship is seen as the exclusion from participation in this domain, the concept of citizenship is not only relevant in the political-juridical sphere, but also in other spheres. Let me try to develop this essential idea a little bit further, in order to develop a common framework of thinking and clarity in concepts and terms, as I promised in the beginning.

4. Citizenship: a framework of thinking and concepts

Firstly, I propose that we will start from a broad concept of citizenship as a central concept for our discussions. This concept, however, is used in many different meanings. It is applied at different levels of analysis in various disciplinary approaches, from philosophers, political theorists to law practioners and administrators.

Recently political theorists have contributed significantly to our thinking on citizenship, particularly when they have tried to answer the question how basic democratic values can and should be combined with cultural and religous diversity on the one hand and socio-economic equality on the other (Bauböck 1994; Bauböck et al. 1996; Brubaker 1989 and 1992; Hammar 1990; Kymlicka 1995; Soysal 1994; Young 1990).

I propose to bring in the most important elements of these discussions in a rather practical way: let us distinguish three different aspects of citizenship.

The first is the juridical/political aspect: it refers to the basic question whether and in how far immigrants and ethnic minorities do have differential formal rights and duties from natives in relation to opportunities for political participation. This aspects also includes the question whether newcomers may (easily or not) acquire national citizenship and thus gain access to the formal political system; it evidently also includes the granting (or not) of political rights to non-nationals and the juridical status as aliens as far as this has consequences for political participation.

The second is the socio-economic aspect of citizenship: this pertains to social and economic rights of residents, irrespective of national citizenship; these include industrial rights and rights related to institutionalized facilities in the socio-economic sphere. Do they have (equal) rights to accept work and to use institutional facilities to find it? Do they have the same rights as indigenous workers? Do they have access to work related benefits, like unemployment benefits and insurance, and to the state-provided social security facilities, like social housing, social assistance and welfare and care facilities, etcetera.

The third aspect pertains to the domain of cultural and religious rights of immigrants and minorities: do they have equal rights to organize and manifest themselves as ethnic or religious groups? Are they recognized, accepted and treated like other comparable groups and do they enjoy the same or comparable facilities?

What is crucial in discussing these three domains is that we do not look only at the formal rules and regulations, but also - and I would say first and foremost - at the practice of it. Rules may in the formal sense be equal and comparable, but practice may be unequal, simply newcomers may not be informed, may lack the necessary means and networks to realize their wishes, or because they are not able to mobilize enough political weight to enforce equal practice.

The advantage of making such a distinction between these three different aspects of citizenship is that it may become clear later how participation in one domain may influence participation in other domains and under what conditions. It is often assumed that, once equality is acquired at the formal political and juridical level, this will automatically lead to a practice of equality in other domains. This is not always the case, maybe even not the rule. The position of ethnic minorities in the U.K. or for that matter of the second generation North Africans in France who have acquired formal citizenship, shows that being a citizen in the formal sense does not warrant the practice of equality neither within the formal political system, nor in the socio-economic and cultural domain. It certainly strengthens their starting position, but is no guarantee. On the other hand, aliens in other countries lacking access to the formal political structure may acquire certain social rights and cultural and religious rights. For example, muslim immigrants in the U.K., although having full national UK-citizenship, do have significant less religious rights than alien immigrants in the Netherlands have acquired (see: Rath et al. 1996).

If we use the concept of citizenship as defined above as the central focus of our discussions, I propose to add a second important distinction, namely that we look at the practice of citizenship and participation from two different perspectives. These two perspectives are simply based on the assumption that you need two partners to tango: the immigrants ánd the receiving society.

The first perspective than is the 'top-down-approach'. Here the institutional framework of the society of settlement is taken as a starting point and we ask the question in how far that institutional framework is open for participation by immigrants and ethnic minorities, or is opened and activated in the course of time. In this approach the terms of inclusion/exclusion and 'opportunity structure' are key-concepts pertaining to openness of the existing system. As far as measures are taken to stimulate participation, among others by adapting that existing system, activation seems to be the appropriate term. Activation is a double meaning here: the system activates itself and thereby stimulates participation of immigrants.

The second is the 'bottom-up-approach'. Here the central focus is on the initiatives taken by immigrants, ethnic minorities and their organizations to stand up for their (political, social and cultural) interests irrespective of institutional structures, alone or in coalition with other actors. The basic concept here is mobilization.

The analytical distinction top-down and bottom-up, and activation and mobilization makes it possible to look at the possible mismatch and at the interaction between the two.

Focussing on local situations and the role of immigrants and local authorities in such situations one can thus identify on the one hand channels of mobilization for immigrants and ethnic minorities for each of the domains of citizenship mentioned above. In the cultural sphere one can think for example of mobilization through religious or cultural organizations of immigrants and their efforts to establish places of worship, religious courses or courses in immigrant languages, through parents' participation in the educational system of their children to introduce such elements in the school system, etc. In the socio-economic domain immigrants may mobilize themselves also in many ways: as interest organizations defending or trying to gain social rights; by taking initiatives as enterpreneurs or self help groups.

In the political-juridical domain immigrants may mobilize themselves, depending on the opportunity structure, as pressure groups outside or within existing political parties, by establishing 'immigrant parties' or action groups, or to call for consultative bodies.

On the other hand one can identify the opportunity structure - that is the total of opportunities offered by the system and its environment - for such action, or the channels of activation. Throughout Europe -- especially at the level of cities -- a range of parallel institutions and policies have been created to function as liaisons between local authorities and immigrants and ethnic minorities. These include a rich spectrum of consultative bodies such as Contact and Co-ordination Groups, Parliaments or Forums of Migrant Workers or Ethnic Minorities, Advisory Councils, etcetera. Their composition varies greatly.

Such activating participatory institutions and policies have been established or have developed very differentially in terms of structure, intent, and relation to regional and national policy; their degrees and evidence of success and failure have differed considerably as well.

5. Central questions for discussion

Having positioned the problem, defined the crucial concepts and approaches, we are now able to formulate the key-questions for discussion and exchange during our conference. They can be summarized as follows:
    (1) How can local authorities activate immigrants and ethnic minorities to participate in political decision making in general, and in relation to their position in particular? Important subquestions can be derived from this general question:

    - In how far can and do immigrants and ethnic minorities make use of existing general structures to participate?

    - If general structures are not accessible or insufficient, which special frameworks for immigrants and ethnic minorities (consultative bodies, forums, ombudsmen) can be used effectively?

    - What participatory efforts are most effective in relation to the three different domains of citizenship: the political/juridical, socio-economic and the cultural/religious domain?

    (2) How can and do immigrants and ethnic minority mobilize to improve their position and to influence policies relating to that position?

    - What forms of mobilization are effective? Which coalitions with other actors are effective?

    (3) How do activation policies of authorities and mobilization of immigrants and ethnic minorities interact and under what conditions do they reinforce each other?

    Which activation and mobilization efforts have worked out satisfactory for both parties and which have failed?

6. Epilogue

Ladies and gentlemen,

After this short introduction you may have the impression that I have complicated our task at this conference by putting the issues in such a broad context and ending up with questions that cannot be answered in the coming two days. And probably you are right! The issues that we are going to discuss are probably too complex to solve in this conference, or even in the next years. But we can and should make a start during this conference. I can assure you that researchers will assist you in the coming years to follow up what we start here. UNESCO has started last year a research programme called 'Multicultural Policies and Modes of Citizenship in European Cities (MPMC)' that aims to study systematically and comparatively the issues that we discuss today, based on more than 15 cities in Europe. I promise you that the results of this study will be presented to you as an input for future discussions.

In the meantime, however, we have to rely on our own experience and expertise. And as I said in the beginning, that expertise is significant coming from different, but complementary positions. If we manage during these two days to exchange our experiences and to make our expertise a common and shared expertise we will have done a unique job. And I would wish that we look at what we normally call the problem as a challenge, and that it may turn out to be an opportunity.

I wish you good succes.


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Young, I.M.
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