Attitudes to Migrants, Communication and Local Leadership (AMICALL)

The AMICALL project

Attitudes to Migrants, Communication and Local Leadership (AMICALL) is an eighteen-month transnational project. It is funded by the European Union’s Fund for the Integration of Third Country Nationals (European Integration Fund – EIF) under its Community Actions 2009 programme. It specifically responds to Priority 3 of the 2009 programme: “Promote the role of civil society organisations and the local authorities in shaping integration strategies.” Led by a partnership of six European research institutions, with the Council of Europe as an associate partner, the project seeks to provide a platform for the sharing of good practice and the development of new strategies for the promotion of positive attitudes towards migrants and towards migrant integration at the local and regional level. Thus it addresses two core areas of integration policy and debate: the role of local and regional authorities (LRAs) in integration, and the importance of communication and public attitudes.

AMICALL intends to make a contribution to the debate on integration in three ways:

  • Map existing LRA practice on changing attitudes towards migrants in six European countries (including both new and old migration countries, with a range of integration philosophies and forms of governance), showing the opportunities and barriers that exist, and understanding the factors in each country that facilitate this work.
  • Engage LRAs in learning exchange on good practice and challenges faced, and also involve civil society organisations and representatives of third country nationals in this process. This process will explore the scope for national action to support the development of LRA practice.
  • Share this knowledge across Europe and develop a rigorous transnational comparative framework for analysis, demonstrating what can be generalised from the case study countries to Europe as a whole, in order to inform local policy-making across Europe as well as to inform evaluation and benchmarking of practice at local, national and European levels. 

Background

Survey after survey and poll after poll reveal high levels of anti-migrant attitudes across Europe. In many countries, migration has become a “toxic” topic, and is manipulated by populist and extremist political entrepreneurs, as can be seen in the electoral rise of xenophobic political parties across Europe. More and more Europeans are opposed to the cultural diversity associated with migration – in 2005 the EUMC found that about one quarter of the EU-15’s population does not share the notion that “the diversity of a country in terms of race, religion or culture is a positive element and a strength” and that there had been a significant increase (to two-thirds) who are convinced that “multicultural society has reached its limits”. However, a closer look at the evidence reveals a more complex and nuanced picture.

 

There are wide disparities in opinion on immigration in different national contexts, and a considerable body of data allows us to see this. However, it is harder to get data on local or regional differences, partly because sample sizes at smaller geographical scale are often not representative. Among the key findings of this small body of research is the gap between attitudes at the local level and attitudes at the national level. This is indicated in three ways. First, attitudes to migrants and to integration vary in different regions, and there is some evidence that cities tend to have much weaker anti-migrant sentiment and more embrace of diversity and cosmopolitanism. Second, polls suggest that citizens see migration as a problem for a country, but not their local area. Analysis of electoral support for anti-immigrant parties confirms this, showing that local conditions shape anti-immigrant attitudes but only in the presence of salient national rhetoric about immigration. Third, in some European countries, there is evidence that migrants have a much stronger local identification (especially with cities) than national identification.[1]

 

The literature on how politicians and policy discourse interact with attitudes tends to focus on national rather than local contexts, while the literature on local contexts tends to focus on formal party politics rather than on local and regional authorities holistically. This means that much of the emphasis has been on anti-immigrant parties and on elections, rather than local government actions.

 

A key premise of the AMICALL project is that integration happens primarily at a smaller geographical scale than the nation-state. The body of work focusing on the local and regional state has not included much emphasis on attitudes and communications. Existing practice varies from isolated initiatives (e.g. after a terrorist incident) to a municipal dissemination of factsheets, transparency on issues such as housing allocation where perceptions of unfairness can fuel resentment, and local mediation projects. The AMICALL project aims to identify what work has been going on at this level, create platforms at national and European level for sharing that work, and identify ways forward. Thus, the AMICALL project is an action research project: reviewing practice in case study countries as rigorously as possible, and then using this research to provide a space for reflection and development for LRAs.


Project scope

In defining attitudes towards migrants, LRAs may aim to change the attitudes of the whole public in an area, only the non-migrants, or specific sections of that population. For the purposes of the research, we will take attitudes to mean those of all inhabitants, including migrants. In terms of defining migrant groups, the project takes a general approach, paying attention in the research to which groups of migrants are framed in communication strategies. Turning to the scope of LRA activity, our primary focus will be on the communication activities aimed at influencing attitudes towards migrants.

Considering context, our research will also establish whether the case for LRA involvement in integration has already been accepted, or if it needs to be made for the first time; whether LRAs are synchronised or in conflict with, “ahead of” or behind national governments on this topic; how civil society and migrant voices are heard at the local and regional level; and whether there is scope for positive partnership. The political issues constraining or enabling this work, including the balance of party politics, and the role of local and regional media, if any, are also relevant.

Turning research into action

The AMICALL project is aims to provide a platform for local and regional authorities across Europe to participate in knowledge exchange, share their practices, reflect on their strategies and develop better practices. In this spirit, we hope to contribute to policy debates on benchmarking practice in Europe, drawing out practical lessons from our research. We will explore how LRAs themselves define and understand good practice. We will also assess what knowledge, assumptions and evaluation is present in LRAs around such practice, and whether there are general lessons worth sharing with other LRAs and with policy-makers at higher levels of governance. And we will provide an independent assessment of the claims being made around this good practice.

We will use action research platforms to take back our findings to LRAs and other stakeholders, to test our research findings, to share learning at practice level, and to develop policy recommendations at LRA, national and European levels. The two platforms we will initiate will be:

·         Technical workshops: to share examples of good practice and discuss learning points, challenges, barriers, etc. Partners will present the background papers, and invite LRAs to contribute examples of their own practice.

·         Policy roundtables: researchers will present national and transnational findings and invite responses from policy-makers. Recommendations will also be developed, including the beginnings of a national action plan.

 

Through these meetings, the AMICALL project will develop a transnational report highlighting key learning points, good practice guidance and benchmarking, intended to inform LRAs across Europe as to the opportunities and practices that might be utilized in developing public leadership on migrant integration at the local and regional level.

 

Outputs/Publications

Final Reports

Country Reports

Country Context Papers

Country Research Reports

Country Final Reports

Presentations