The hidden price of multiculturalism
24 October 2016 /
Multiculturalism – a particular type of integration policies that induce immigrants’ integration by granting them additional cultural rights – has spread around Europe. Yet, it has recently been under a lot of criticism from both the political and the academic world.
Governmental management of integration
There are two different ways for governments to impact on the overall integration of immigrants inside their borders: their integration policies and their welfare state. The former concerns the laws regulating immigrants’ life. It determines what are the legal, political, social and cultural rights immigrants can access to. Main integration policies have as purpose to grant equal rights to immigrants once they comply with a certain set of conditions – e.g. the rules for nationality acquisition. The other dimension of integration policies are the multicultural policies: specific – or cultural – rights granted on the basis of racial, religious or cultural membership. It encompasses a large range of areas from the allowances for religious practices outside public institutions (call to prayer, slaughtering of animals, burial) to affirmative actions in the labour market. The underlying idea of such a set of policies is that in order to foster integration, states have to counterweight cultural discrimination (Young, 1990).
Second, welfare states also impact the integration of immigrants. There are three kind of welfare state with different levels of entitlement: ‘social-democratic’ welfare states granting high benefits; ‘liberal’ welfare states with moderate benefits; and ‘conservative’ welfare states with low benefits. More levels of entitlement are high; the more citizens can be independent from the market – a phenomenon called ‘decommodification’ (Esping-Andersen, 1990). In that sense, welfare states influence the opportunity cost of working.
Three ways for governments to manage integration
The interaction between integration and social policies leads to three models of integration management. The first one (implemented in the Netherlands, Sweden, and Belgium) is the combination of multicultural policies with a generous welfare state. The second one (implemented in the UK) is the combination of multicultural policies with a lean welfare state. Finally, the third one (implemented in Germany, Austria and Switzerland) is the combination of exclusive integration policies and a generous welfare state – In that model, immigrants can be deprived of their resident permit or even deported if they do not comply with certain conditions.
Not only have multicultural policies tended to sustain linguistic deficiencies and a lack of cultural ‘soft skills’, but they may also have been detrimental to the development of social contacts with natives.
Based on three indicators of integration – labour market integration of immigrants, residential segregation, and immigrants’ share of prison population –, Ruud Koopmans (2010) made a comparison of those three models.
Impacts on labour market participation
Looking at the labour market integration, figures (Koopmans, 2010) show that while countries applying British and German models have relative high levels of labour market participation of immigrants, countries applying Dutch model perform badly.
In fact, these data might be explained by the interaction of integration policies and welfare state. In the first model, multicultural policies with a generous welfare state have had unintended consequences. Not only have multicultural policies tended to sustain linguistic deficiencies and a lack of cultural ‘soft skills’, but they may also have been detrimental to the development of social contacts with natives. It has deprived immigrants from an important source of social capital (Chiswick and Miller, 1995; Wegener, 1991). The result has then been harmful to immigrant’s employment. Moreover, welfare states with broad scope and high provision levels of entitlements tend to give fewer incentives for immigrants to work, creating a vicious circle. On the other hand, the second and third models have fared better. In the UK, the lean welfare state has forced immigrants to enter the workforce, learning by the same occasion English and ‘soft skills’ necessary for their integration. In German-speaking countries, the exclusive integration policies have ensured the proper integration of immigrants. Newcomers who become long-term dependent on social welfare risk the rejection of their resident permit or expulsion.
Impacts on residential segregation
Ethnic groups living in countries with multicultural policies coupled with a generous tend to be more culturally different from natives than the same groups living in other countries, and therefore, tend to be more segregated than their counterparts.
Considering residential segregation, two observations can be reached. First, there are important differences within each European city. Segregation is higher when cultural distinction is more visible. Muslim groups are more segregated than European immigrants or even, postcolonial immigrants. Second, there are wide differences between countries. Ethnic groups living in countries applying British and German models tend to be less segregated than their counterparts living in countries from the first model countries. Both phenomena are due to the fact that the less natives feel ‘at home’ in a neighbourhood, the less they are likely to move in (Sniderman and Hagendoorn, 2007). Ethnic groups living in countries with multicultural policies coupled with a generous tend to be more culturally different from natives than the same groups living in other countries, and therefore, tend to be more segregated than their counterparts. Furthermore, residential segregation renders immigrants’ integration even more difficult as it deprives newcomers from social capital.
Impacts on prison population
Regarding immigrants’ part of prison population, figures (Koopmans, 2010) show that here again countries from the Dutch model are performing badly with a stark overrepresentation of immigrants in their prisons. In the Netherlands for instance, the share of immigrants in prison is 7.9 as high as the share of immigrants in general population. On the other hand, the two other models deliver better results. Switzerland – the worst performing country from these two models – has only a proportion of immigrants 3.7 as high as its share of immigrants in general population. This might be related to the fact that countries with the highest proportion of immigrants in their prisons are also the ones where immigrants are the more likely to be unemployed.
Limits of such approaches
Koopmans’ analysis of the integration issue is a very insightful one. However, one must be careful when interpreting those results. Some might be tempted to believe that multiculturalism coupled with a generous welfare state is just not working, and that Dutch-model states should either reduce welfare entitlement – like in the British model – or implement exclusive integration policy – like in the German model.
Countries from the Dutch model are performing badly with a stark overrepresentation of immigrants in their prisons.
Ultimately, this misses the point. Multiculturalism is not inherently doomed to fail. From this analysis, one can make two findings. First, there is a trade-off between equality and diversity. Some parts of European societies are just not ready for accepting cultural difference. Were it the case, one would not need to worry about the unintended consequences of the interaction of integration policies and welfare regimes – i.e. their impacts on immigrant’s mastering of the national language and cultural ‘soft skill’, and the involvement of immigrants in the broader society. Second, officials’ misunderstanding of these unintended consequences is also responsible for multiculturalism’s failure. Taking into account these inputs, officials might be able to make multiculturalism viable.
Marin Capelle is a master student at the Institut d’études européennes