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Analysis - 07.12.2020

What does the EU’s new plan for migrant inclusion mean for towns and regions?
With the European Commission’s new Action Plan on Integration and Inclusion, the EU executive has set out its vision for how to ensure migrants can better participate and find their place in our societies for the years 2021-2027. Appearing shortly after the new Pact on Migration and Asylum, these initiatives reflect the Commission’s hopes of moving towards a new constructive consensus on migration, an issue which has often proven controversial and divisive among national governments.

This analysis aims to shed light on the main elements of the Action Plan affecting local and regional governments. Integration and inclusion are crucial issues for municipalities and regions, being key for social cohesion and economic dynamism in a context of international migration and an increasingly diverse European population.

That’s why CEMR has been particularly active in this area. We presented local and regional governments’ views on the future 2021-2017 Action Plan notably during a meeting with the European Commission’s Directorate General for Migration and Home Affairs (DG HOME) and by responding to a public consultation.

The Action Plan is non-legislative but stakes out positions which should then be reflected in various EU funding programmes and actions. We can happily report that many themes and objectives important to local and regional governments feature prominently. In particular, the Action Plan aims to:
  1. Improve long-term integration by focusing on education and training, health access, housing and employment and skills
  2. Improve local cooperation and knowledge exchange between cities
  3. Increase local and regional governments' capacities, pooling of good practices, work on integration-related activities, knowledge exchange and replicability, and access to EU funding;
  4. Strengthen the coordination between levels of government (the partnership principle) in the design, implementation and evaluation of EU and national actions and programmes on integration
The implementation of the previous action plan from 2016 showed that stronger measures are needed to promote the integration of migrant women, to foster the inclusion of EU citizens with a migrant background, to better involve the host society in integration and inclusion policies and to strengthen monitoring and evaluation of these policies.

Many challenges and potential solutions important for local and regional governments are mentioned by the Commission’s new Action Plan for 2021-2027. These include issues such as language learning, recognition of qualifications, the fight against discrimination and the need for European and national financial support for municipalities and regions. The Commission makes clear that it will issue calls for proposals to local and regional governments to finance inclusion projects.

Prospects and challenges for local inclusion

The Commission will implement the Action Plan by embedding its proposals in the EU’s various integration-related programmes and legislative initiatives. Such funds include the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+), the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF), Erasmus+, InvestEU or the Rights and Values Programme. Relevant laws include those on reception conditions and the recognition of foreign professional qualifications.

On the negative side, the Action Plan contains no explicit mention of the needs of small and middle-sized cities or of direct access to EU funding for cities. While the future AMIF might have a thematic facility which could be managed directly by local and regional governments, such earmarking is not mentioned in the Action Plan. Territories’ involvement will depend on the Commission’s and Member States’ discretion. Finally, the Action Plan does not provide clarity on the timetable or steps for implementation under the Commission’s various programmes and initiatives.

In terms of funds, much depends on the final form and implementation of the Common Provisions Regulation (CPR), the rules governing the use of many EU funds, including AMIF. The reformed CPR would in principle require national governments to “organise a fully-fledged, effective partnership” with local and regional governments in the use of these funds. However, it is unclear how binding this will be in practice. Much then depends on national governments’ willingness to abide by the Partnership Principle and thus allow local and regional government to participate in the design, implementation and evaluation of initiatives and actions financed by EU integration funds.

The following are a number of actions that the Commission is planning that are particularly important to local and regional governments:
  • Financing projects to increase the capacity of national, regional and local authorities to involve migrants and migrant organisations in decision-making processes
  • Ensuring a coordinated approach at national, macro-regional, regional and local level in the programming and implementation of EU funds contributing to integration and inclusion
  • Facilitating access to EU funding for local and regional authorities through specific calls for proposals targeting them; other key integration stakeholders will also have greater access to funds
  • Recommending Member States to involve local and regional authorities, civil society organisations, including organisations representing migrants and diaspora, and social and economic partners in preparing, revising, implementing and monitoring programmes for the 2021-2027 EU funds (AMIF, ESF+ and ERDF)
  • Authorities managing EU funds that are relevant for integration are to coordinate their actions at macro-regional, national, regional and local levels
  • Partnerships with all relevant stakeholders, in particular local and regional authorities should be reinforced in programming and implementation of EU funds
  • Building up the capacity of local and regional authorities to involve local communities in the design and implementation of integration measures and programmes
  • Expanding the Urban Academy on Integration, launched in the framework of the Partnership on the Inclusion of Refugees and Migrants of the Urban Agenda, into a comprehensive capacity-building programme for policymakers and practitioners from the local, regional and national levels
  • Strengthening inter-religious dialogue among communities, supporting cities in preventing radicalisation
  • Promoting mentoring and buddy programmes between local communities and newly arrived migrants
  • Providing targeted funding and capacity building to Member States to promote coordination between key integration stakeholders at national, regional or local levels
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