How EU Member Countries Differ in Terms of Their Integration Policies?


How European Union Member Countries Differ in Terms of Their Integration Policies? A Comparison of the Spain and France Cases



 International immigrants are on top of the agenda for many countries as a result of the politicization of the topic in recent years due to refugee situations. While there is growing literature about the immigration and refugees, both most of the literature and the political leaders often focus on one side of the coin which is from the perspectives of governments. In other words, the emphasis within the topic concentrates on the questions of the numbers of international migrants and refugees, the economic and social effects to the destination countries and so on. However, there is another dimension to the point which is an essential part as other concerns, integration of these migrant populations. At this point, in terms of social sciences, integration means the incorporation of the minority group into the mainstream society. Here, the perceptions of integrating the migrants into society could be taken in different levels of understanding in different countries. For instance, while some of the countries understand integration as a process in which newcomers and local people simultaneously learn to live together, the other can think of integration as one-sided, that is the newcomers should change and reshape their traditions and lifestyles according to the destination country. In other words, some countries’ integration policies evolved around the expectation of assimilation from newcomers. What are the limits and implications of European integration? Could it be different in different member countries? If the answer is yes, then, how are the differences and common points displayed in the European Union member states? In this research, I will be focusing on the policies and real-life implications of integration policies in two different EU member states: Spain and France.


Key words: Integration, migrant, European Union (EU), Europe, assimilation, migration


The matter of international migration is becoming more and more significant everyday. To understand further importance of the topic, the definitions and numberistic data should be provided primarily. The United Nations (UN) defines international migrants as a person who stays outside of their original country for any time of length.[1] Therefore, any person changing their residential country counted in that category according to the international terminology. The report of International for Migration (IOM) stated that there were approximately 272 million international migrants in 2019 and it consists of only 3.5 per cent of the world’s population.[2] Thus, it can be argued that even though the numbers of international migrants are increasing thanks to globalization and its consequences, still the percentage of people who are staying in their original country is outnumbering the ones that are changing.

Integration of these migrant populations is one of the most related and debated dimensions of the whole matter. When we use the terminology of integration in social sciences, it refers to the situation where the minority group is incorporated into mainstream society. One point here should be clarified, the understanding of such phenomena in different countries varies. On the one hand, some countries could choose to approach integration as a dual process where both newcomers and locals put some effort to live harmoniously. On the other hand, however, some countries could take this phenomena as a one-sided procedure, meaning that acceptancing migrants as a unit who are responsible for adaptation to the local people, it could mean assimilation in many cases. In this essay, I will be providing information about the integration policies and implications of two different countries in south-western Europe in three parts. In order to create an outline, in the first part of the essay, I will talk about the general scheme for the integration policies of the European Union (EU) in the first part of the essay. Then, in the second part, I will move on to the specific approaches by explaining the Spain case and followingly in the third part, France national policies about integration will be given. Overall, the comparison between these two European countries and its everyday effect on civilian lives will be enhanced throughout this work.


Understanding the European Integration Towards Immigrants

Before going further examination with case studies, one should fully understand the limits and scopes of European integration. Because it provides a  common structure for its member states to shape their national policies on integration of immigrants. What is European Integration actually mean? What are the basic frameworks of the system? How does it operate across Europe and what are the challenges related to its terminology? All detailed answers to such questions are key to acknowledge the Spain and France cases.

European Union (EU) is one of the well-known international organizations that aims to create political and economic alliances among 27 member states. EU policies have been built to enhance free movements of goods, services and peoples between its parties. In that sense, forming common principles related to the international immigrants and their integration policies are a valuable part of the EU. Overall, the EU policies have influence over two distinct areas: migrants within EU member states and non-European migrants from other regions. First part of the matter primarily covered by the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992 by providing all member states’ citizens a Union citizenship.[3] From that treaty member states have to accept all migrants from other parties of the Union.

The first time that the EU affected its members integration policies for migrants coming outside of Europe was ensured by the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1999.[4] Together with the treaty, the EU started to have an impact on individual member states while they are regulating their integration policies towards non-European immigrants. [5] Following that development, the EU was able to position itself to the point where it can intervene in national policy-making processes by regulating periodic sets and goals. Between 1997 to 2016, the organization generated seven different policy frameworks. In that way, common agenda documents were created, knowledge exchanged, and funds were accumulated for integration plannings. The lastly signed framework, The Action Plan (2016), targeted specific categories such as education, employment, social inclusion, vocational training, and migrants’ access to basic services like housing, and healthcare.[6]

Finally, Europeanization of the integration matter started with the Tampere Council in 1999 as it called for “comparable rights’’ for non-EU citizens.[7] Following that development, in 2004, the Hague Programme highlighted the necessity of coordinated operation in migrant integrations across Europe. After 3 years of the programme, the treaty of Lisbon generated more clear Europeanization efforts as providing a legal basis for the EU to intervene with the integration policies of its members. The same year, a new EU Fund for Integration formed, again targeting the immigrants from third-country nationals. Further details considering the European Union role on the integration policies, there is the text of ‘’Common Basic Principles for Immigrant Integration Policy in European Union’’. Within this text the Union focuses on the integration process from a very large perspective from integration to social life and related practical issues like language barrier to integration into work and welfare state system.[8] However, the text only aims to guide member states, since it cannot legally force any of the countries to take the exact same measures.

The Council of Europe Report in 1999 stated that the integration cannot and should be standardised since intentions of migrants can be varied in different forms.[9] For instance, while one group could demand for assimilation and fully incorporating into mainstream society, other groups could seek integration on only some basis. Even though the fundamental intentions underlying here could be in favor of not applying restrictions but this framework provided holes for the members who seek not to maintain integration policies but assimilation. By the way, all these mentioned integration policies are targeting the third-country nationals and exclude the member states citizens. The reason for such a distinction comes from the point that the government draws a line of ‘’us’’ and ‘’them’’outside of the European borders. They do not see a reason to integrate member states’ citizens. The policies aim to affect non-European citizens.

Finally, in 2010, the meeting was held to discuss the strategy of integration in the year of 2020. In that meeting, another new dimension took place as for the very first time integration defined in economic terms.[10] It was a success in a sense that it achieved to relate the integration policies to the employment and wealth policies.


 A Closer Look to the Migration and Integration policies of Spain: What are the elements of the system?

In Spain, the dynamics of South European immigration is well displayed. For instance, a very short look at the history of migration in Spain will represent a changing status from being an emigration country to becoming an immigration country. This is a common element in that mentioned region of Europe. Beside of these being a frontier country and focusing on border control is another feature of Spain related to South European migration dynamics.

Then, as one of the key countries of the Union and being a frontier country, what are the dynamics of migrant integration in Spain? How does the government understand integration? What are the effects of Spain’s integration in labor market participation, educational services or participation in political life? Through the following paragraphs, I aim to explain these phenomenons by taking a closer look to the operational side of integration in Spain.

In Spain, the matter of migrants and immigration policies are not a hot topic in political life. Since the politicization does not take a huge place, anti-migrant approaches are often not increased within society. Also, during the 1980s and 1990s, the Spanish government’s approaches to integration, when the country recently became a destination country, were considered ‘’no-integration policy’’. Meaning that the widespread understanding was not to create and implement integration frameworks and let the migrants to integrate society by themselves. However, then, in years, it became a more mature country of immigration and integration started to be on the political agenda. From now on, the Spanish government operated two integration strategies as one in between years of 2007-2010 and, then, a second announced strategy took place in 2011.[11] First one evolved around the basic elements of needs like education, housing, healthcare, and employment. Additionally that prior strategy, the second one aims to eliminate the discrimination against migrants, racism and xenophobia. While there is no additional strategy to these, the official main approach stayed as inclusion and non-discrimination policies in Spain. Finally, considering the integration programmes we see that there is no government-led programme on national level but there are some programmes in regional and municipality level.[12] Language courses, civic education and vocational training are the services that are provided by some regions of the country.

What are the results of mentioned integration strategies and programmes? How does it affect the real life standard of migrant populations? In economic and labor participation terms, Spain appeared to be the fourth European countries that have relatively open labor markets for migrants and held one of the best positions in terms of economic migrant activity.[13] While the order made by the researchers, they particularly pay attention to the risk of unemployment for migrant workers and inactivity of migrant populations compared to the local citizens. These results underline the situation that Spain integration that targets the high participation of migrant workers into the labor market is successful to gain what it aims.[14] Therefore, it can be argued that Spain consists of a good example for economic integration.

Following this, let’s take a look at the educational outcomes of Spain integration and evaluate the success of its policies in education performances. While considering the consequences of integration in any country, the educational results play a significant role since it provides a long term integration to social life. Here, the measurements include the school participation of migrant childrens, the success in school assignments and the higher level of education. Stanat and Christensen (2006)  revealed in their work that, across Europe, immigrant populations are worse off than local populations in almost every educational indicator. Beside the authors highlighted the notion that in order to achieve high rates in educational performances, European states that pay attention to the institutional integration structures and the ones that have already well-taught education systems are better off. In the case of Spain, the outcome demonstrates that being an immigrant in Spain has a chance to bring larger disadvantages in the educational performance.[15]


A Closer Look to the Migration and Integration Policies of France: How the European and national policies operate?

France is another key country to the Union and one of its founder members. Back in French history, immigration was encouraged and demanded by the government. However, due to the effects of rising populist parties from the 1970s and 1980s, the government started to take more anti-migrant segments.[16] As a result, according to the current position of the country, on the contrary of Spain, immigration policies are highly politicized in France. The emphasis made on the issue of nationality, citizenship and perceived crisis of integration.

In 2007, the French government created the Ministry of Immigration and National Identity to deal with migration and integration policies. It stayed in power, until in 2010, when the Interior Ministry became responsible for immigration. The main institution in charge of integration in the Interior Ministry is the Office for Integration, Reception and Citizenship (DAIC). Another structure that deals with immigrant integration is the Agency for Social Cohesion and Equal Opportunity (Asce). These two institutions have different base structures since the first is a central government institution, the later one is an umbrella agency with delegates in French region. According to the French constitution, integration policies will cover migrants who are in the country no more than five years. After that time passes, their integration lies within the individual networks and social ties. Also, France embraces the mainstreaming immigrant integration, that is sharing the responsibility across all relevant institutions, among the approaches to migrant integration.

French integration policies underline the role of government to ensure that the creation of one, unified French nation is successful.[17] The idea is that, in order to achieve integration, newcomers should learn the social rules in French communities and act accordingly. Overall, the French Model takes action on three different categories: education, employment, and social cohesion.[18] In these three areas, DAIC and Acse share responsibilities as in education they offer language classes, in employment, they provide access to the labor market, and in social cohesion category they finance community associations.



Migrant integration policies are one of the dimensions of the European Union. At the beginning, the organization was only able to guide member states to shape their policies in a similar framework. In those years, the national governments have a prior position to decide which policy they will regulate. Then, the organization gained more space to manoeuvre and had more voice in the subject matter. Together with the Lisbon treaty, for the first time in European history, the Union achieved a status that enabled it to intervene in domestic politics of its parties and gave a chance to regulate legally forcing laws. However, still the Union, of course, had not fully control on the integration policies that display in the borders of each member state. Also, different governments could understand different things from a word of integration. In our cases, for instance, while Spain’s government took a more laissez-faire approach to integration, the French government usually chose more assimilationist policies. For all of these reasons, even though there is some level of shared principles and practices on migrant integration, we cannot talk about the high level similarities in government-led integration policies across European countries. Cross-national differences play a role in terms of applied integration strategies and regulated integration programmes. Also, not all European countries deal with the same levels of migrant flow, while in some of them rates remain relatively slow, others could face higher numbers of migrants. Afterwards, the outcomes of such different strategies and programmes also vary. For instance, in the case of Spain, the results indicate that the labor market participation of immigrant populations is relatively higher than many other European countries. However, educational performance indicators display much lower outcomes for migrant children than native children. Finally, in France, the main model is characterized as assimilationist and mainstreaming since it comes from a one-sided approach to the integration of immigrants. They have two different structures, DAIC and Acse, to deal with the topic.









[1] UN DESA, Recommendations on Statistics of International Migration, Revision 1 (1998)

[2] IOM World Migration Report 2020,

[3] European Parliament Free Movement of Persons 2020,

[4] European Union Website on Integration 2020,

[5] European Union Website on Integration 2020,

[6] European Union Website on Integration 2020,

[7] Roxana Barbulescu, Inside Fortress Europe, 2015.

[8] Darrell Jackson, Europe and the Migrant Experience: Transforming Integration, 2011.

[9] Pierluigi Contucci and Rickard Sandell, How integrated are immigrants, 2015.

[10] Roxana Barbulescu, Inside Fortress Europe, 2015.

[11] European Website on Integration, Governance of Migrant Integration in Spain, 2020.

[12] Paweł Kaczmarczyk, Magdalena Lesińska and Marek Okólski, Shifting migration flows and migrant integration in Europe, 2015.

[13] Hector Cebolla-Boado and Claudia Finotelli, Is There a North-South Divide in Integration Outcomes, 2015.

[14] Erik R. Vickstorm and Amparo Gonzales-Ferrer, Legal Status, Gender, and Labor Market Participation of Senegalese Migrants in France, Italy and Spain, 2016.

[15] Hector Cebolla-Boado and Claudia Finotelli, Is There a North-South Divide in Integration Outcomes, 2015.

[16] Claudia Diehl, Marcel Lubbers, Peter Mühlau and Lucinda Platt, Starting out: New migrants’ socio-cultural integration in four European countries, 2016.

[17] Marius Lupsa Matichescu, The Immigrant Integration Policy in France 2012.

[18] Angeline Escafre-Dublet, Mainstreaming Immigrant Integration Policy in France: Education, Employment, Social Cohesion, 2014.



Barbulescu, R. (2015). Inside Fortress Europe: The Europeanisation of immigrant integration and its impact on identity boundaries. Politique Européenne, (47), 24-45.

Cebolla-Boado, H., & Finotelli, C. (2015). Is There a North–South Divide in Integration Outcomes? A Comparison of the Integration Outcomes of Immigrants in Southern and Northern Europe. European Journal of Population / Revue Européenne De Démographie, 31(1), 77-102.

Dietrich-Ragon, P., & Grieve, M. (2017). On the Sidelines of French Society: Homelessness among Migrants and their Descendants. Population (English Edition, 2002-), 72(1), 7-38.

European Website on Integration: Migrant Integration Information and Good Practices, EU Commission.

European Website on Integration: Integration Action Plan of Third-Country Nationals Launched, EU Commission.

European Website on Integration: Governance of Migrant Integration in Spain, EU Commission.

European Parliament, Fact Sheets on the European Union: Free Movements of Persons

Fine, S., & Torreblanca, J. (2019). (Rep.). European Council on Foreign Relations.

Fratzke, S. (2015). ‘’Not Adding Up: the Fading Promises of Europe’s Dublin System’’. Migration Policy Institute, pp. 2-37.

Jackson, D. (2011). Europe and the Migrant Experience: Transforming Integration. Transformation, 28(1), 14-28.

Kaczmarczyk, P., Lesińska, M., & Okólski, M. (2015). Shifting migration flows and integration policies in Europe: An overview. In Pietsch J. & Clark M. (Eds.), Migration and Integration in Europe, Southeast Asia, and Australia (pp. 25-44).

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, The Dublin Regulations

Vikstrom, E., & Gonzales-Ferrer, A. (2016). Legal Status, Gender, and Labor Market Participation of Senegalese Migrants in France, Italy, and Spain. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 666, 164-202.


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