“An integration policy needs a political lead”

Delano • 30.11.2020 • Serge Kollwelter

While laws have a definite impact on integration in Luxembourg, policies with an implication on the ground are essential, says Serge Kollwelter.

Two recent elements in the area of integration have caught my attention. One is the development of a vaccine against covid-19 by the German firm Biontech by Uğur Şahin. The German teacher of this Turkish-born researcher, raised and educated in Germany, had planned for him what corresponds to modular education (technical college) in Luxembourg. Of course, this would not happen here: although the similar cases I know of do not allow us to establish a rule, it turns out that non-Luxemburgers very often end up in such a system. In Şahin’s case, neighbours of the family pushed him to a high school, and long live the vaccine!

Pisa 2018 tells us that nowhere else in the OECD is the link between socioeconomic status and school performance so pronounced. “The link between socio-economic status and performance in Pisa is stronger in Luxembourg than in any other PISA-participating country. Advantaged students in Luxembourg outperformed disadvantaged students in reading by 122 score points in PISA 2018–a difference 33 points larger than the OECD average difference of 89 score points.”
School and housing

School and housing are the main challenges for the integration of the different social strata, as national origins tell us little, since we are dealing with expats and international executives as well as the many workers on the social minimum wage and almost a fifth of the population living below the poverty line.

A second topical point: a recent large survey of 1,039 residents has provided us with the views of a sample of 1,039 residents on a wide range of issues. 1,039 Luxembourg residents aged 18 and over who are eligible to vote in the legislative elections, says the Ilres website. The opinion of the other half of the population wasn’t worthwhile, at least it wasn’t of interest to the two main media that commissioned the survey.

And here we are, in the middle of the damage of the referendum of 2015.

The generous idea of submitting to the Luxembourgers the proposal of the residents’ right to vote makes me think of the birth of a baby. In this case, the proud political parents abandon it immediately after the birth. Obviously, they no longer feel responsible for its future, nor for the excesses and taboos that result from it.
Some elements of bad conscience remain

Thus, the coalition agreement of the current government states in its preamble that “Integration and socio-cultural inclusion will be at the heart of government action. One would have to search a long time through the 235 pages to find a single page dedicated to integration. This suggests that the heart is not there or that we have no ideas. There is, of course, the catalogue of good intentions of the National Action Plan for Integration adopted on 13 July, 2018, for which a call for projects was recently launched, which is to be commended.

What is the status of this plan after two years? The ministry of family could be inspired by the KEP [editor’s note: Kulturentwecklungsplan–a cultural plan] which plays transparency: on the internet one can follow what is happening with the implementation of the different points of the KEP.

When we talk about transparency, we might as well talk about the governance of the integration policy. No less than thirteen ministries are part of the inter-ministerial committee, but there is no trace of the work of this body! The government programme states on page 53 that the inter-ministerial committee on integration will organise joint meetings with civil society. Apparently, after two years, a first meeting of this type is planned soon: so much the better! It remains to be seen whether, as with the inter-ministerial committee on cooperation, the minutes will be published.

And if civil society organisations would also consult each other rather than more or less obediently position themselves for conventions and subsidies! A dedicated platform could do the trick!
Gulf separates words and deeds

Still on the subject of transparency: the consultation launched by the ministry of “immigrant absorption” to “rethink and redesign integration policy in Luxembourg” bodes well for the future. Let us hope that the numerous contributions solicited will be published so as to be useful in this way, not only to the ministry, but also to the public debate and to the parliamentarians who will be called upon to hold an orientation debate in the chamber of deputies at the beginning of 2021.

The alarming housing situation has been known for a long time. Everything or almost everything has been said: a gigantic gulf separates words and deeds. One detail that has gone almost unnoticed but has a direct impact on integration is the transformation of workers’ hostels into hostels for asylum seekers: by stripping Joao to dress Adbulah, the workers’ hostels were eliminated and the market was left to the coffee rooms [bedsits].

The dramatic situation of a family mentioned a few days ago in the press is another illustration of the housing shortage that affects low-income families, foreign and Luxembourg families.

In our grand duchy inequalities are growing. The latest Statec report, “Work and social cohesion”, notes that the Gini coefficient has further deteriorated in periods of confinement. Let’s not argue about whether the poverty line includes 15 or 20% of the population. Enough is enough!
Policies with implication on the ground are essential

Before concluding, I refer to Walter Benn Michaels and his little booklet “Against Diversity”. “It is clear that diversity does not reduce economic inequality. If you take the richest 10% of people (those who have actually benefited the most from the neoliberal explosion of inequality) and make sure that a correct proportion of them are black, Muslim, women or gay, you have not generated more social equality. You have just created a society in which those who benefit from inequality are not all the same colour or gender.”

One cannot help but think that the means to promote diversity in Luxembourg also and above all make it possible to evade the debate on the deepening of economic inequalities.

Measuring the integration policy in legal texts is the role of researchers. The Mipex index noted a slight improvement in Luxembourg’s score, due in particular to the relaxation of naturalisation and the introduction of nationality as a criterion of discrimination. Integration is, according to the law of 16 December, 2008, a task that the state, the municipalities and civil society perform together. While laws have a definite impact, policies with an implication on the ground are essential. A common approach of the different players needs a lead, an integration policy needs a political lead.

Serge Kollwelter served as president of the foreign workers association, Asti, from 1979 to 2009. This editorial was first delivered at a televised Asti debate on 16 November 2020.

Version française dans le Luxemburger Wort 5 décembre 2020