The new BSPC Working Group on Migration and Integration, which was established by the 26th Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference in Hamburg on 5 September 2017, held its first meeting on the premises of the Hamburg Parliament, the so-called Bürgerschaft, on 5 December. Delegations from the Baltic Assembly, Denmark, Estonia, Hamburg, Latvia, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Norway, Schleswig-Holstein and Sweden participated in the meeting. The President of the Hamburg Parliament, Carola Veit, who chaired this meeting as both Vice-President of the BSPC and Vice-Chair of the Working Group, underlined that migration and integration were among the great challenges and tasks of our time. “This applies equally to all members of the BSPC,” Carola Veit said. “It makes sense to work on the subject together, regardless of any differences.”
Mandate, Scope of Work and Work Programme
At the beginning of the meeting, a number of key issues for the next two years were discussed. The mandate of the Standing Committee was confirmed, and an extensive work programme was adopted. The first step in said programme is to develop an overview of the different approaches to migration policy and existing integration projects in the Baltic Sea countries.
The scope of work covers primarily: a survey on the current situation of migration and integration in the Baltic Sea region, best practice examples and political recommendations.
The Working Group plans to discuss the causes of flight and migration, migration policy goals, governance guidelines, demographic development and migration, status and trends in migration, challenges and prospects of migration and of integration.
Speeches and presentations
Ms Aydan Özoğuz, Minister of State at the Federal Chancellor’s Office and Federal Government Commissioner for Migration, Refugees and Integration,
and Mr Ulrich Weinbrenner, Head of the Staff Unit for Social Cohesion and Integration in the Federal Ministry of the Interior, addressed the WG at the meeting in a round of presentations about integration work in Germany. They provided detailed information regarding the intensive efforts of Germany to integrate foreigners into society. Both provided important background information and answered the numerous questions by working group members about the experiences of the Federal Republic of Germany in the integration of refugees and migrants.
Minister Özoğuz pointed out that the BSPC’s decision to focus on migration and integration had been a timely and well-chosen signal. These issues were exerting a significant influence on our politics, our economies and our societies, as well as our day-to-day lives. According to Minister Özoğuz, migration had always been the rule rather than the exception in Europe’s history. It had been the Baltic Sea region where one of the most influential migration processes in human history began. Migration had been normal in the history of all the societies of the BSPC. She underlined the necessity to shape societies in which all can live together peacefully and to develop societies into communities that offer a future to all their members. While she conceded that integrating the large number of refugees was a major challenge, she warned against populism in this context. The minister mentioned that we were facing an extremely emotional debate when it came to migration, making it a lot more difficult to talk about facts and find solutions. She stressed the necessity of both immigration laws making immigration more transparent and a European agreement on how to deal with such situations in the future. She was convinced that a fair distribution key could help all. She appealed to the Working Group not to stop searching for data and facts that help to make migration and integration explainable and understandable.
In addition, Mr Weinbrenner gave an overview of integration measures in Germany, specifically the German Integration Act, the integrated management of refugees, language tuition programmes at the federal level as well as additional measures such as migrant advisory and integration projects. He mentioned that 18.6 million Germans had a migrant background (= 22.5 %) – 90.5 % of those living in the former West Germany, 5.5 % in Berlin and 4 % in the former East Germany. He noted the number of applications for asylum filed and decisions taken between 2012 and October 2017 (in 2016: 745,545 applications and 695,753 decisions). Funds for integration courses had increased in 2017 up to 850 million €. The total number of participants in integration courses as well as the percentage of refugees had risen enormously in 2016. This had caused tremendous challenges for integration policy and the integration course system. Mr Weinbrenner also informed the Working Group about migration-specific advisory services – provided by voluntary welfare organisations – complementing integration courses.
Further procedure and next meeting
The Working Group further discussed common questions to be sent by each delegation to their respective governments. This way, the Working Group wants to obtain a better survey and results regarding the situation in the whole region, learn from best practice examples and develop proposals to improve cooperation in the integration of migrants.
The next meeting will take place on 19 March 2018 in Stockholm.
- Speech by Ms Aydan Özoğuz, Minister of State at the Federal Chancellor’s Office and Federal Government Commissioner for Migration, Refugees and Integration
- Presentation by Mr Ulrich Weinbrenner, Head of Directorate of social cohesion an integration at the Federal Ministry of the Interior
- Mandate and draft Scope of work of the BSPC Working Group on Migration and Integration