Political participation

Political participation is the weakest area of integration policy. Most newcomers are granted little opportunity to inform and improve the policies that affect them daily. They have limited local voting rights, they can rarely rely on strong consultative bodies or well-supported migrant organisations. Their political opportunities differ enormously from country to  country. The fact that most policies deny immigrants the opportunity to be heard by politicians means that they are less likely to contribute to improving public life and attitudes.

Voting rights

Nordic countries grant the most inclusive voting rights in the EU. Non-EU nationals can stand as candidates and vote in local elections in seven EU countries (Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway and Sweden). Voting rights are long fought and hard won. They were granted to migrants in Czechia in 2001; Estonia, Lithuania and Slovenia in 2002; Luxembourg and Slovakia in 2003; Belgium in 2004 and again in Luxembourg in 2011.

Consultative bodies

Most bodies are not strong or independent enough to create meaningful opportunities for immigrants to affect policy change. They tend to be weak, government-led, sometimes government-appointed, and too poorly funded to engage migrants and represent their diverse interests. The experience of Portugal stands out where, for example, important steps have been taken towards the inclusion of immigrant consultative structures in civic life (Municipal Plan for the Integration of Immigrants in Lisbon 2015-17). However the situation is very different in many other MS, such as Italy or Greece, where despite the presence of some local practices – the Consulta per gli Immigrati (IT) or the Migrant Integration Councils (EL) to mention a few – migrants are still perceived as recipients of services, rather than agents of their own integration and inclusion process.

Benefit for all

Inclusive policies create a ‘virtuous circle’ of integration that promotes openness and interaction. Newcomers and the public are more likely to interact with and think of each other as equals in countries where inclusive policies treat immigrants as equals and invest in integration as an opportunity for society. Inclusive policies also create an overall sense of belonging, well-being and trust. The public feels less fear of immigrants, while immigrants enjoy greater opportunities to learn and contribute. As a result, immigrants and non-immigrants have more regular, positive interactions that benefit the society as a whole.