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Away forward for Europe to handle the challenges and opportunities around immigration would be the increased role and sovereignty for urban areas, in both smaller and larger cities.

The local level of governance is a place where most of the interaction between people takes place, which is also important for integration and adaptation of immigrating individuals. Such development would mean more important role for the local decision-making both at the European multi-level governance and the global integrated networks between cities.

Migration, sovereignty and human identification

Current discussions about migration and integration of refugees often include topics related to human nature and collective identification. One of the aspects mentioned in such discussions is “tribalism” and how human behaviour can occur as in cases of large scale immigration.

Such discussions are important in order to create understanding needed for policy-making concerning ways of dealing with human mobility and also in order to avoid or reduce emergence of  identity conflicts, xenophobia, “cultural wars” and populism as in Europe and USA at the current moment.

One important point to understand is that our human nature is a local one – we had namely spent most of our human history in smaller communities as families, clans, tribes etc. The key question concerning the future of human development is how we can organize ourselves with storytelling and identification needed for handling both local and global issues, such as when it comes to migration. A step forward in developing migration and integration policies for the future could be an increased role of cities and urban areas.

When it comes to migration, the main concept of sovereignty is still based around notions of national sovereignty even if migration is also connected to ideas around individual’s sovereignty and human security. It may sound ironic but the UN: s Declaration of Human Rights states that every human is allowed to emigrate from a country but not immigrate to a country.

That is how the current system of national sovereignty is functioning, something that also represents a challenge for the European Union, especially since 2015. So should the future of sovereignty remain state-centric or can it be promoted in a different way, as more local and urban-centric?

Role of the urban areas

Since the end of the Cold War more cities have become global players. This trend can be seen in the areas of finance and climate policies. Big cities as London, New York and Mumbai are financial capitals and hubs for the global trade. In the climate area cities as Bonn and Rio host climate change conferences where different stakeholders, including cities, are able to establish cooperation and create a network.

The increased institutional importance of cities also means having more political power and sovereignty. City of London has its own “finance minister” who attends global financial meetings. In the US state of California several cities as for example San Francisco cooperate within frameworks as C40 in order to deal with climate and environmental problems.

One can also keep in mind that the global urban population is growing, meaning that cities are becoming more important actors for economy, ecology and security. Another policy area that could become even more vital for the future or urban development is global migration. It could for example mean creating integrated global and interregional networks based on local sovereignty and enabling the largest cities to cooperate on issues concerning economic and humanitarian migration.

Criticism towards such processes could be based on that immigration is a vital part of national sovereignty with (nation)-states being the main actors in deciding who is to immigrate and reside on a certain territory. But having more autonomous cities or integrated networks for migration would not automatically or entirely leave states outside of policymaking. It would actually mean decentralization, dividing or sharing sovereignty rather than having centralized approaches.

From both historical and modern views there are several reasons why cities could be more important when it comes to migration. Here are the five reasons:

1. It has been done before

Historically, cities have been dealing with migration as during the time of medieval Europe. This was both the case of urbanization by seeking for opportunities and interests through emigrating from rural areas. For example, during the middle of 19th century the internal passports in Sweden were abolished and the free movement was implemented together with market liberalizations which led to more urbanization.

Economic performance of urban areas is based on aspects as connectivity with other areas and having a critical mass of consumers and inhabitants. Cities, especially the larger ones, are also places of diversity. Even in absence of a national or local multi- or intercultural policy larger cities have populations where the “way of life” is based on different lifestyles, subcultures, social trends. This also means that urban areas are often more open and tolerant towards immigration and social changes.

2. Governance

Globally, during the last decades cities have taken over more responsibilities in both economic and humanitarian immigration which before used to be connected to decision-making on state level. There are estimations made by experts and researchers that local governments are best places for responding to the needs of local community, including the needs of migrants and refugees, when it comes to the knowledge and skills needed for the policy development.

The local level, where most of the peoples’ daily interactions and exchanges take place, present the best platform for implementing actions concerning social, economic, cultural and institutional integration of a migrant, refugee or asylum seeker.

Also, especially in the larger cities, the local administration can act faster while mobilizing resources and cooperating with other civil society actors in order to help the integration processes and inclusion. Local levels of governance are therefore vital factor for promoting social cohesion and adaptation.

3. Networking

Cities cooperate in networks in the different policy areas, both when it comes to intra-city networks and multi-level governance within a country or a regional union. Such connections are essential for urban areas and enable the cities to share experiences and institutionally learn from each other.

For example in 2017 Croatia’s capital city Zagreb organized a conference on Integration of Immigrants in Cities of Europe together with the mmunicipality of Treviso in Italy. The aim was to provide a platform for the different stakeholders to share best practices on integrating migrants and refugees in local communities.

This way of cooperation could set example for Europe when it comes to facilitating the humanitarian immigration. Theoretically, if every city in Europe with more than 50 000 inhabitants, would take at least 15 refugees it would present a more open approach and better possibilities for integrating the newcomers.

4. Global trends

According to the UN:s statistical predictions the global urban population is growing and more and more people are going to live in cities by 2050. From this projection a conclusion can be drawn that cities and urban areas in general could gain a more important role as global players, sovereign actors and policymakers when it comes to migration, both in Europe and globally.

This could also mean increased intra-city competition concerning both high-skilled talents and low-skilled labour force but also when it comes to contributing to humanitarian practices such as accepting and integrating refugees and asylum seekers.

5. Citizenship

Similar to ideas related to sovereignty, the ideas around citizenship are mainly state-centric. If cities are going to become more important actors for migration and integration it could also mean having local or urban citizenship as an institution.

For example in a form of an ID-card or digital-ID by using the blockchain technology. Such kind of identification could provide an individual with equal freedom, rights and duties for all urban citizens of the area as when it comes to transportation, health-care and education. Also, such development could also mean more cities becoming “experimental zones” or “free towns” with own sovereignty as within the EU.

The future of Europe

The last 30 years of globalization have meant increased inter-connectivity and interdependence between people around the world. Global migration is a vital part of the global economy and poverty reduction. For Europe it represents challenges as well as opportunities, in order to manage economic and humanitarian migration where wealth, openness and adaptation go hand in hand.

Decentralizing sovereignty and resources where cities and urban areas can decide more on immigration and integration is a step forward to a more secure and wealthier future for Europe.

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