Migrant integration is two-way process

It requires engagement from all countries as well as actions in areas like education, employment, housing, healthcare and culture

Photo: Photo: © ECA

Our analysis looks into the legal migrants in the EU coming from third countries, who account for about 4% of the Union's population. These are foreign nationals who migrated for educational or employment purposes as well as individuals who have been provided protection as refugees, for example. Between 2014 and 2017, first-time applicants for asylum in the EU were nearly 3.7m, which is three times more compared with the previous four-year period. Meanwhile, research shows that successful migrant integration yields long-term economic, social and tax benefits for the host country.

Close-up: Iliana Ivanova has been a member of the European Court of Auditors since January 2013. In 2016, she was elected Dean of Chamber II, responsible for auditing structural policies, transport and energy spending areas, and she has done a number of special audits. Prior to assuming the position, she served as Bulgarian MEP of the Group of EPP/GERB, vice-chair of the Committee on Budgetary Control, member of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection, substitute on the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, and vice-chair of the Delegation for relations with the People's Republic of China. Iliana Ivanova has a master's degree in international economic relations from the University of Economics, Varna and a Master of Business Administration in global management from Thunderbird University, Arizona, US.
- Ms Ivanova, what are the reasons behind the European Court of Auditors turning its attention to the challenges involved in the EU's migrant integration, and what is the actual scale of the problem?
- Our analysis looks into the legal migrants in the EU coming from third countries, who account for about 4% of the Union's population. These are foreign nationals who migrated for educational or employment purposes as well as individuals who have been provided protection as refugees, for example. Between 2014 and 2017, first-time applicants for asylum in the EU were nearly 3.7m, which is three times more compared with the previous four-year period. Meanwhile, research shows that successful migrant integration yields long-term economic, social and tax benefits for the host country. This made us turn our attention to the problem and, more specifically, prepare an in-depth analysis of the challenges involved in the integration process for these people.
Let me make one important clarification - our report does not deal with issues regarding illegal immigration, border control or asylum provision.
- What are the main challenges you identify in this report?
- In the course of our work, we identified seven challenges for effective migrant integration in the EU that call for action by the European Commission (EC) and Member States. They concern delays to the integration process, tackling discrimination, the need for a sound and comprehensive assessment of funding needs for integration policies, the lack of commitment by Member States, incomplete policies, and weaknesses in the monitoring of migrant integration.
Last but not least, we identify as a challenge the complexity of coordinating different EU funds. For example, there are more than 400 different entities involved in managing measures for migrant integration in the Member States. Overcoming these challenges requires effective and coordinated action by all countries, and I hope that our conclusions will be useful in forging legislation at European and national level.
- What does your analysis of the main migrant integration instruments developed by the EC over the past few years show?
- Migrant integration is primarily within the competence of Member States, but over the past several years the EU's role has been growing in importance. The bloc facilitates the process through information exchange and good practices and cooperation, as well as through funding from the EU budget. Another important aspect is the EU's comprehensive framework to support Member States' efforts in developing and strengthening their anti-discrimination and integration policies.
In 2016, the EC adopted an action plan on integration with 52 measures at EU level. Its goal is to enhance the Commission's coordination role while engaging all countries in the integration process with actions in areas like education, employment and vocational training, social inclusion, etc. What we discovered is that as of December 2017, 23 actions had not been completed. This year, the EC is scheduled to report on the implementation of the action plan before the European Parliament and the European Council.
Another significant aspect we looked into is reliable data at EU level. Even though there is a set of common indicators measuring the level of migrant integration in areas such as employment, education, and social inclusion, those have some limitations. Analyses conducted by the auditing offices of Member States have also determined weaknesses in monitoring.
- European Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly recently announced that 80% of Syrian refugees in the EU are unemployed. What does that fact suggest?
- Integration is a dynamic, long-term and ongoing two-way process that requires engagement from all countries. At the same time, it requires actions in various areas like education, employment, housing, healthcare and culture. Eurostat data shows wide discrepancies in a number of indicators between migrants and citizens of EU Member States when it comes to employment rates, percentage of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion, percentage of people with higher education and percentage of people dropping out of the education system. This situation illustrates the clear need for effective integration policies.
- How do Member States implement integration policies?
- Even though the EU has an important role, the main responsibility for the integration policies falls on EU countries, including at national, regional and local level. Countries have to apply EU migration legislation and are obligated to transpose EU directives by passing appropriate measures in their national legislation. But the rules applied to migrants are not the same in all Member States, a factor leading migrants to move between countries and delaying the start of the integration process, threatening to make it less effective.
Our analysis shows that most countries have integration policies. As of the end of 2017, 25 Member States had such policies, with 22 of them adapting these policies after 2014. Our colleagues from the national audit offices have conducted many audits on the issue and have identified flaws in the process of drawing up these policies as well as weaknesses in the implementation of migrant integration measures.
- What is the role of the Stability and Growth Pact in the approach to public finance expenditures when it comes to refugees?
- The Stability and Growth Pact aims at guaranteeing the sustainability of public financing in EU Member States and at the same time envisages certain flexibility when considering the fiscal status of the member countries. As of 2015, the Council of Europe regards as an extraordinary event the additional expenditures related to immigration or asylum seekers, which leads to corrections required by the Stability and Growth Pact. The topic of migration is considered also in the economic analyses during the European semester after 2014. Recommendations are included that have direct bearing on emigrational policies, precisely on issues like improvement of education, professional training and labour market for migrants.
- Could we draw a conclusion that ample EU and national financial resources spent on the integration of migrants and refugees have been wasted?
- Our document is not an audit report but a briefing paper. It identifies the key challenges but does not include audit conclusions on how the European funds were spent on migrants' inclusion.
- With regard to the number of migrants who benefited from aid programmes, what monitoring of the spent funds was executed?
- As regards the funds within the EU legislative framework for 2014-2020 for the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF), the EU structural and investment funds and the Fund for European aid for the most deprived (FEAD), they do not oblige the Member States to carry out monitoring, namely of the final effect of measures taken for integration of migrants. It means that apart from AMIF, the EC does not have a full picture of measures implemented for the support of migrants in the European countries. However, there are specific requirements to the reports on the funds' level.
In our latest annual report on the implementation of the EU budget for 2016, certain drawbacks of the monitoring systems in two states tested for AMIF service provision were noted. The national audit offices also confirm in their reports a series of drawbacks in monitoring, e.g. in results recognition and IT systems.
- The proposal for the joint European budget after 2020 envisages more funds for migration. How can we guarantee the performance of this budget if we do not witness any progress in the integration of refugees?
- Indeed, the EC proposes a considerable increase of funds allocated for migrants, as all Member States need aid to cope with this problem. At the same time, however, now - more than ever - there should be financial reporting that will guarantee that every single euro paid by our taxpayers will be so spent that the set goals will be achieved. In a series of our audit reports we have identified some chronic problems related to the complexity of legal system and administrative burden for beneficiaries when it comes to EU financing. That is why it is very important to find a proper balance between simplification of procedures and sufficient supervision and control that will help us focus European politics better. That is what I call for, while working with the legislative framework for 2021-2027.
- A year ago, you tabled a very convincing audit report where you arrived at the conclusion that the EU youth guarantees do not meet initial expectations. What was the response of the EU institutions and Member States, and is there any progress in this field? Will there be a new audit report on this issue?
- Youth unemployment is one of the serious issues that is regrettably still on the agenda. It is part of the grim heritage of the economic and financial crisis. A series of measures have been implemented on the European level, e.g. Youth Unemployment Task Force established by the EC, Youth Employment Initiative and, of course, the EU youth guarantees. We, as auditors, saw it as especially important to test how efficient these initiatives were and provide timely information about the risks at an earlier stage of their implementation. With that in view, we published a series of relevant reports, and I am happy to say that the latest of them stirred vivid interest among the EU legislative institutions as well as among Member States' officials. The reason is that these reports attest to progress made by the tested countries and analyse how they managed to succeed.
In addition, on the basis of this analysis our report proposes definite recommendations for further improvement.
The policies for youth employment are comprehensive and combine short-term and long-term measures. That is why we need time to monitor their implementation, as - for instance - in education system reform that will optimise the link between education and skills needed in business.
I hope that the next EU budget will continue to support young people and provide more tools for combating youth unemployment.

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