This report looks at multilevel governance dynamics and at the integration policies targeting post-2014 migrants developed by six small and medium-sized towns and rural areas in the Netherlands. Primarily based on interviews conducted in each of the selected municipalities, it provides an overview of
1) national, regional, and local integration policies targeting migrants in the Netherlands;
2) policymaking relations among the key actors involved in these policy processes in the six localities and key features of policy networks within which these actors interact;
3) how these actors perceive and define integration.
The report finds that despite the Netherlands’ centralized approach to immigrant integration, the four localities in our case study have adopted their own localized responses to immigrant integration, by making use of the leeway provided within national legal regulations, by developing local policies addressing the issue at hand and by choosing their (local) collaboration partners to carry out the necessary tasks.
All four localities opted for a rather mainstream, integrated approach instead of a target group-specific policy because of local governments’ previously limited role in this policy domain and because of the rather low number of recognized refugees coming to the localities each year. Furthermore, integration is seen as being closely interrelated with other policy areas such as work, care, or the social domain.
We find that local governance networks differ in terms of size, type of collaboration partners and distribution of tasks and responsibilities. They are often marked by close collaboration due to the smaller size of partners involved in SMsTRA, but also by conflict due to competition for funding, the politicized nature of integration and diverging ideas on how to address the topic. Support structures set up by informal actors such as volunteer or migrant-led organizations are particularly important because they represent the voices of migrants, mobilize resources, lobby for more inclusive policies, and question the existing system.
We see that governance structures do not only exist locally, but municipalities also collaborate at the (supra-)regional level – especially in the light of the decentralization of integration policy under the new Civic Integration Act. This is especially visible in smaller municipalities which often do not have the capacity, resources, and expertise to deal with the assigned tasks alone.
Finally, actors draw on various integration frames, most importantly a socio-economic frame with a focus on participation (through work) and self-sufficiency and a socio-cultural frame where integration is often defined as a two-way process that does not only rely on the individual newcomer but also on the receptivity of the society.
Important factors explaining the differences – and similarities – between the four case studies include size, political orientation, and economic/structural conditions. Experience with diversity draws a mixed picture.
Authors: Elina Jonitz, Maria Schiller, Peter Scholten