IMISCOE’s Annual Conference: 4 takeaways on the Multilevel Governance of migration in European small localities and rural areas

by Floriana Russo

Whole-COMM's Communications Manager

Last week over nine hundred migration researchers gathered for the 20th IMISCOE’s annual conference to share the latest findings in the field. Whole-COMM has contributed with the panel “Beyond MLG: how levels and actors entangle policy logics and interact in immigrant policy practice” which focused on multilevel governance (MLG) relations on immigrant integration in small- and medium-sized towns and rural areas.

We were happy to have the opportunity to present research results produced by our project in the last two years and engage in discussions with fellow researchers. The conference provided an invaluable platform for exchanging ideas, gaining new insights from various perspectives, and collectively advancing our understanding of multilevel governance in migrant integration in Whole-COMM small communities.


1. Small communities are always on the forefront, especially in times of crisis

Several researchers highlighted the significant role of small towns and rural areas in times of crisis, particularly in responding to the arrival of refugees from Ukraine. These communities demonstrate a multiplicity of actors and decentralized governance structures that can favor the emergence of unexpected cooperative initiatives. Local actors possess a relevant room for maneuver in responding to emergency situations, whereas national policies may take a highly politicized tone and can result less effective in dealing with unexpected situations.
Recognizing the invaluable contribution of small communities is crucial in developing inclusive and effective policies, especially during times of crisis.

2. Policymakers should nurture positive relationships among different levels of governance

Achieving positive relationships among public and nonpublic actors at various levels is vital for the successful implementation of immigrant policies. However, the presence of actors with diverse local understandings of immigrant integration poses challenges to collaborative relations. Policymakers must acknowledge this diversity while working towards a more cohesive narrative that can facilitate governance within local communities. Embracing inclusive and collaborative policymaking processes can help navigate the complexities of multilevel governance and address the needs of small communities effectively.

3. Opportunities clash against politics of dis-integration

While local communities can be an opportunity for integration due to increased possibilities for interaction with local residents, Whole-COMM researchers found that local actors can sometimes also hinder migrants’ integration. At IMISCOE’s, we presented the results of WP4 research on asylum seekers’ access to housing and employment, showing that, while many local measures compensate for the exclusionary effects of market forces and popular prejudices, there are cases in which local policies intentionally create disadvantages for newcomers. Local factors such as financial resources, the presence of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and administrative practices, can either compensate for exclusionary effects or intentionally create disadvantages for newcomers.

4. Party (in)congruence explains conflicts or cooperative dynamics

When different parties hold power at the national, regional, and local levels, immigration policies may become contradictory or conflicting across these levels of governance. This finding challenges the assumption of coordinated action and policy congruence across levels within the multi-level governance framework. Through a relational lens it is possible to gain insights into the reasons behind conflicts or cooperative dynamics between governance levels and support them in developing more effective and coherent local immigration policies.

The participation of the Whole-COMM team at IMISCOE’s annual conference has provided valuable insights into multilevel governance in smaller communities and rural areas. Policymakers must recognize the pivotal role of small communities, strive for positive relationships among different governance levels, and address inequalities that may hinder integration efforts. The Whole-of-community approach to integration seeks precisely to foster collaborative relationships among all concerned policymakers and stakeholders, in order to promote inclusive and effective policies that contribute to the well-being and integration of migrants in small communities and beyond.

We would like to thank all the researchers who participated and enriched our panels: Peter Scholten, Elina Jonitz, Maria Schiller (EUR), Irene Ponzo (FIERI), Måns Lundstedt (MAU), Reinhard Schweitzer, Blanca Garcés Mascareñas (CIDOB), Ilke Adam, Louise Hantson, Laura Westerveen (VUB), Tiziana Caponio, Andrea Pettrachin (CCA), Francesca Campomori (University of Venice), Jan Schaller (TRAWOS Institut), Hanne Schneider & Friederike Enßle-Reinhardt (Technische University of Chemnitz), Matteo Bassoli (University of Padua), Marie Jelínková (Charles University), František Ochrana and Michal Plaček (Univerzita Karlova).

Our panels

Our panels challenged the conventional analytical framework of MLG, highlighting the unpredictable nature of relationships between policymaking levels and actors when politicized migration issues are at stake. We discussed the interwoven and contradictory nature of immigrant policy logics, emphasizing the significance of understanding these dynamics within the context of small localities. In their papers, our researchers proposed exploring novel theoretical developments, including complexity governance, to move beyond the narrow understanding of levels as purely institutional entities. 

Panel – part I: Local vs. national Tue 4 July

Irene Ponzo, Eleonora Milazzo, Orlando Di Gregorio, Repair multi-level governance: how Italian small and medium-sized towns and rural areas make up for the lack of national strategies and institutional settings in the field of migrant integration
Discussant: Peter Scholten

Måns Lundstedt, Local divergences in a state-centred framework: local integration policy in Sweden after the “refugee crisis”
Discussant: Elina Jonitz

Reinhard Schweitzer, Blanca Garcés Mascareñas, Multi-level politics of (dis)integration. Policies, initiatives, and practices for and against migrants’ access to housing and employment in small and medium-sized towns across the EU.
Discussant: Ilke Adam

Ilke Adam, Louise Hantson, Laura Westerveen, Cities and immigration: A relational approach towards cities’ immigration policies in Belgium Discussant: Maria Schiller

Panel – part II: Local Battlegrounds

Tiziana Caponio and Andrea Pettrachin, Governance or Battleground? Exploring policy actors’ understandings of immigrant integration in small European localities
Discussant: Maria Schiller

Elina Jonitz, Maria Schiller, Peter Scholten, Polyrational landscapes of immigrant governance: Insights from four small localities in the Netherlands
Discussant: Francesca Campomori

Jan Schaller, Governance in a Context of Conflict – The Case of Bihać
Discussant: Andrea Pettrachin

Panel – part III: Governance of Ukrainian reception in small and rural localities

Hanne Schneider & Friederike Enßle-Reinhardt, Negotiating local governance in times of crisis: a whole-of-community perspective on how local responses to COVID and the Russian War in the Ukraine alter local conditions for integration
Discussant: Tiziana Caponio

Marie Jelínková, František Ochrana, Michal Plaček, The responses of smaller municipalities to recent Ukrainian migration: local contexts and street-level bureaucrats
Discussant: Elina Jonitz

Francesca Campomori, Matteo Bassoli, Vices of policy making in reception of Ukrainian refugees in Italy: messy institutions and poor implementation
Discussant: Peter Scholten 

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