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65. Integration guidelines

65.1. Short description

In the second half of the 1990s, Swiss cities started taking charge of the challenges of migrant integration. Until then, right populist parties were alone on this ground. Schönenberger and D’Amato (2009) attribute this change first to the growing heterogenisation and fragmentation of the social and urban structure, and to the arrival of new lifestyles (of nationals as well as of migrants). The specific urban context allowed the cities to take over this theme, which was ignored by the Confederation and the Cantons. Debates rose in the cities. One of the problems was the implementation of the ageing Foreigners Law (of 1931). It had become necessary to adapt the policies to the context and to more actual concerns. However, the authorities of the different levels barely cooperated, as they had different understandings of the procedures.
Establishing guidelines was thought of as a way to define specific needs. In 1999, after years of discussion, Bern was one of the first Swiss cities to establish guidelines for the integration of migrants. It resulted in a document that was heavily publicised. It is not a law, but recommendations were addressed to everyone, particularly to institutional stakeholders. It is mandatory for public stakeholders – as a work instruction – but has the status of a recommendation regarding private stakeholders. The document is also meant to inform the population about the position and aims of the city council regarding integration. The project is coordinated by a competence centre for integration.

65.2. Internal organisation and modes of working

The city council first demanded a study about facts and potential issues linked to the integration of migrants. The report of the University of Bern highlighted the need for a coordinated and needs-related integration policy. A working group dedicated to the redaction of the guidelines gathered representatives of the foreigners’ police of Bern, of diverse departments such as welfare, education, equality between men and women, of the Federal Foreigners’ Commission, together with an anthropologist. Some non-governmental organisations were represented, among other Caritas (charity), the information point for foreigners and the Forum for migrants. It is noteworthy that representatives of migrant populations among others were not invited.

The guidelines set milestones. They include ten principles that should constitute a new understanding of integration in political discourses. It should “open the way” to the implementation of lasting integration measures9. As an introduction, the executive councillor of the time10 underlined the importance of the contributions made by migrants to Switzerland. Following her, although some were among the most successful people of the country, a disproportionally high number have low paying jobs or are unemployed. This fact would be the sign of an economic, social and cultural disintegration that threatened Bern’s prosperity. Schönenberger and D’Amato (2009) stated that although there has never been an active integration policy in Switzerland, the “declining” economic situation intensified the challenges faced by migrants.

The situation kept changing in the 10 years following the publication of the first guidelines. A new foreigners’ law was voted in 2006 in a climate of heavy debates on the migrant population. The right Populist Party SVP presented several xenophobic popular initiatives. In the same years, bilateral agreements were signed with the EU. The Bilateral Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons (FMP) allows European workers to freely choose their country of employment. Furthermore, with a decade of experience with the first guidelines, an adaptation of the guidelines was required: they had to be modernised.

In 2009, the Swiss Forum for Migration and Population study was asked by the Competence Centre for Integration to write a report on the question11. It included an overview about the actual debates and challenges, possible perspectives and propositions. In addition, new hearings were organised, this time with representatives of the migrant population. As a civil servant explained, “We invited a lot of people for a day of discussion. They could make proposals, ask questions. It would have been unimaginable to come with these guidelines and say ‘here you have got guidelines you have to implement.”12 The new document was approved in 201013.

The document first details the five guidelines. The sentences below are detailed in three or four sub-points.

  • The city of Bern recognises diversity and difference as a strength of our society.
  • The city of Bern supports the potential of migrants.
  • The city of Bern commits itself in the fight against discrimination.
  • The city of Bern supports equality of opportunities and participation of migrants.

More specifically, the aims are detailed in several fields of action such as training and education, labour market, hobbies, culture and sport, health, civic and social participation, information and living area. Finally, the list documented the involved stakeholders and their specific role in the implementation of the guidelines. However, the most important novelty of 2010 is list of tangible measures.

A catalogue of 37 measures planned for 2011 and 2012 should transpose the ideas into reality. The Competence Centre does not provide the measures itself, but instead coordinates and informs. The city finances them in the global city budget. Some measures address the migrant population (financial support for German courses for example), while others address workers in contact with migrants (trainings in diversity management for example).

65.3. Target groups

The guidelines have many goals and so they have many different users. Three main roles and their respective tasks and users were identified. First, the guidelines have a instructional role. For the users – administration offices, as well as for social-partners, associations (sport, for example), institutions of community work or religious communities – the guidelines should influence everyday work. Integration is seen as a challenge concerning practically every stakeholder and institution.

Secondly, the guidelines have a very practice oriented role as they serve as a basis for tangible measures. The idea is that action needs a consensus on the aims and on the definition of concepts. The document says explicitly what is often implicit. It states in black and white that the city of Bern wants to promote integration, and specify what exactly is meant with integration, why it is important, and who is responsible for it. As accomplishing the aims needs the coordinated work of many stakeholders, clarifying all these aspects is crucial.

The third role is less explicit and is politic and strategic. As a civil servant said, “The guidelines were a political project. The idea was to show that they handled it [integration]”14. The guidelines are used as a political tool, to legitimate measures of integration. Integration is a hot topic for debate. As Vogel stated in a another Swiss city, establishing guidelines on this topic puts an end to endless discussions in the city council (Vogel 2006). Thus, it can be seen as a way of imposing a political programme. As everybody agreed on the principle of promoting integration, the left managed to establish a model that bound the principle to the measures, in order to make them harder to contest.

65.4. Conclusion: collectively defining integration

Even if concepts vary on how to balance rights and duties or how to share responsibilities between migrants and settled citizens15, all political forces agree on a concept of integration as a reciprocal duty, based on the principle of “encouraging and demanding”16. Migrants are expected to exercise their own responsibility and provide an active contribution to their integration, but also the settled population has to be open and tolerant, and offer a support to the integration process17.

A condition of appearance and success of such a project on a such controversial theme is a certain political consensus. “The guidelines have to be endorsed by parliament. Some small points were disputed, but in general, everybody is in favour of integration. There is neither discussion on the need to intervene, nor on the definition of integration. It is now clear that we do not speak of assimilation. Integration can only be reciprocal.”18

The consensus is based on a rather liberal conception of integration, seen as a reciprocal and never-ending process. However, on the national level, a much more conservative idea of integration prevails. The recent tightening of the conditions required to obtain Swiss citizenship is a clear example. Naturalisation is the end point of the integration process, which requires, for many politicians, assimilation. A condition for success of such guidelines is thus the low level of application. Such a consensus can hardly exist at a higher level than the one of the city.

The concept of integration and the advancement of it are also innovative. Similar to social cohesion, integration cannot only rely on the State and its administrative agencies. In addition, it cannot be reached through big projects or campaigns, or on quotas and compulsory measures heading toward civil society. Inclusion, equality of opportunities and non-discrimination (also) takes place everywhere and every day. Like a civil servant explained, “People often think that there is no will to implement these guidelines. What we see is a lot of motivation and perhaps a lack of know-how. People expect big projects. But integration is also a matter of small things we do not necessarily see.”19

The way of discussing, negotiating and finally writing down guidelines is an innovative way of building social policies. It supports participation and acceptance through consultation and involvement of stakeholders. It acknowledges the limits of enforceable rules in a field such as integration. Definitions and responsibilities first have to be collectively defined and endorsed. The coordinating and informing role of the Competence Centre illustrates the innovative (in this context) role of the State as an encouraging and enabling stakeholder. However, here lies the limit of this way of governing. The city can somehow enforce its guidelines in its own administration and institutions. However, there is no legal basis to enforce them in associations and private companies. Even if it there is no need to enforce it (it is not the idea), the implementation of the guidelines is highly dependent on the cooperation of third parties.

Another limit is related to the competences attributed to the Confederation. As an example, a journalist explains that if a migrant comes with an academic degree that is not recognised by Swiss authorities, the city has no leeway to offer him better job opportunities. The same problem weighs upon the naturalisation process and the requirements. If Bern – its government and its population – predominantly think that naturalisation can be a tool to support integration, the city has no authority to reduce the requirements of the procedure; those are defined by the Confederation and at a national level. Naturalisation is mostly seen as the reward for “completed” integration.


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65. Integration guidelines