Lisbon’s Lusofona University and Nova University hosted the mid-term conference of the European Sociological Association RN27 (Southern European societies) these 21 and 22 September 2023. This year, the Research Network focused on “Territories, Communities and Sustainability” in the South of Europe.
At this occasion, I presented the results of the Integrim Lab’s research done within the framework of the MILE project; and my own research conducted last year, with the Localacc project. My talk started with a provocation: Is EU funding a de facto integration policy?
I put this question to the test in three mid-sized cities located in Southern Europe: Amadora, Ioanina and Ripollet. In fact, with the MILE project, the consortium had the chance to bring together a wide range of information and analysis regarding the state of budgets, policies and activities fostering the inclusion and participation of migrant residents. While migration inclusion is still the prerogative of member-States, and not an EU policy, we have found that a lot of cities execute a range of activities linked to migration inclusion and participation with EU monies. EU funding agencies usually grant subsidies based on a range of pre-established criteria, which tends to homogenise responses. And cities and other partners are encouraged to create consortia, a work in networks which facilitates policy diffusion. The same source of funding, with the same selection criteria, within regional networks, point out to a convergence of policy responses that could operate as a de facto European integration policy. However, the re-adaptation and re-territorialisation of these policies in local contexts, and the politisation that occurs – breaking away from a discourse of expertise and neutrality – mean that there are some limitations to this hypothesis.
The presentation was well received, and participated in a wider debate on migration issues. Indeed, the interrelated issues of migration and asylum, diversity, race and inequalities were addressed right at the beginning of the conference in the first semi-plenary session. Apostolos Papadopoulos, Manuel Carlos Silva and Laura Oso shared their own works on these topics. In particular, Laura Oso presented the conclusions of the H2020 Welcoming Spaces project, where several universities investigated welcoming activities in so-called “shrinking areas”. Oso and her colleagues looked at Spain, and the Galician case in particular. She portrayed active migrant communities, which established associations, and are involved not only in the local economy but also in socio-cultural events. Unsurprisingly policies and support is better and more mainstreamed for “returning” migrants (that is persons from the Spanish diaspora).
In a parallel session, her colleague and partner in the Welcoming Spaces project Mateo Nunez Martinez studied narratives related to migration and the so-called “empty Spain”. He shows that media narratives often relate to two different discourses: an utilitarian discourse where migrant residents are seen as saviors and pillars of the struggle against depopulation; and a discourse highlighting vulnerability and integration issues. His work also shows the persistence of invisibility for certain groups. Oso and her colleagues’ work, while fascinating, illustrate the difficulty to bring to the fore the contribution of migrant residents in specific localities, without falling into a neoliberal discourse where migrant residents ought to be productive in order to be deserving.
Indeed, a few other parallel sessions were dedicated to migration issues, and addressed more particularly issues of intersectional inequalities where vulnerabilities are not only produced through ethnic/racial discriminations but also strongly related to the degradation of the welfare state and the lack of provisions for poorer persons. With the renewed increased arrivals at the Southern shores of Europe in 2023 and the lethality of the crossing towards Europe, what conditions are awaiting the persons who make it and settle?
A handful presentations touched upon possible bridges between academia, social work and communities to co-create innovative responses, such as Marcos Olímpio dos Santos’s talk on academic community partnership in the Alentejo region of Portugal, and Robson de Souza Martins’s talk on academia and social work in Lisbon’s “bairros” (state-owned housing estates). As Beatrice pointed it out in her last blog post, this remains an under-explored question in most scientific events.