Practical recommendations for political parties’ communication on integration of minorities

Read our general recommendations on why and how mainstream political parties should communicate integration of minorities. Available in five languages here:

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Integration of Minorities: Why Talk about It

Radko Hokovský, Jiří Kopal

Practical recommendations for political parties’ communication:

In our study on the political discourse about integration of immigrants and minorities we have shown that the mainstream political parties are significantly less willing or able to justify and explain their policy positions on immigrants and minorities to the voters than the extreme parties. Our assumption is that this lack of sufficient political communication is the main reason why populists and extremists dominate the public debate about this issues and why they are even often perceived by the voters as more competent to solve the related problems. What should the mainstream parties do in order to regain control of the political agenda, recapture reluctant voters and push the extremists aside?

Here we offer four straightforward recommendations for the centre-left and centre-right parties that are applicable in both countries where strong extremist parties are already in the parliaments, as well as in those states where they are just knocking on the doors. Leaders of the mainstream parties should consider implementation of these recommendations already in preparation for the elections to the European Parliament in May 2014 unless they are willing to pass significant number of seats to the populists.

a) Politicise the issue

Leadership of the mainstream parties needs to change the way they think about integration policies. They should not remain a technical question over which mainstream parties try avoiding political debate. On the contrary, they should politicise the issue and make it a standard item on the political agenda. In countries such as Austria, Denmark or the Netherlands, where strong extremist parties have resided in the national parliaments for quite some time, the issue of immigration has already been politicised. But it has happened exclusively by the initiative of the far right, which thus has dominated the public debate and successfully pushed for changes in immigration policy. Now it should be the centre-right and centre-left who recapture the issue and make it a legitimate object of decent and constructive political contestation.

b) Prioritise on the political agenda

The mainstream should not only acknowledge the political nature of the issue, but must also put it high on the list of programme priorities. The issue of immigrants or minorities likely does not have the potential to win elections, but if the mainstream parties don’t pay enough attention, it may cost them electoral victory. Integration of immigrants and minorities should come as second or third priority after reinvigoration of economic growth in case of the centre-right, and after reducing unemployment for the centre-left. These parties should clearly describe what their precise policy position is, and they should provide understandable and attractive arguments in favour of their position based on authentic values of the respective political party. Such programmatic equipment will enable them to move from the position of a passive observer who is just occasionally reacting to the demands of the far right, to the role of a decisive actor, who sets the agenda, leads the public debate and offers realistic solutions to the existing problems.

c) Appoint speakers and choose experts

Mainstream parties need not only sophisticated and detailed programmes on integration policy, but also faces, people who will represent it in the public and provide expertise in debates. Party leadership should appoint speakers for the issue. Ideally, these should be younger, popular personalities with excellent communication skills, who would be ready to extend their expert knowledge and play a strong voice in the public debate. However, appointing a political speaker is not enough. Such a politician needs a team of experts in the field of immigration and integration policy, which will be continually consulting its policy drafts with civil service, think-tanks, academia and NGOs.

d) Compete within the mainstream

The final step is to relocate the political fight about immigrants and minorities to the mainstream arena. Today we see the extremists from the edges of the political spectrum attacking the centre over the future of integration policy. But what we need is to civilise this contest by moving it to the mainstream, between centre-left and centre-right. As those parties regain control over this policy agenda, they will be able to start decent, substantive, constructive, yet perhaps sharp debate about immigrants and minorities, which will be understandable to the voters who in turn will be allowed to choose between competing policy options. As a result, populists and extremists will lose their comparative advantage (based on the passivity of the mainstream) and will start losing votes. Secondly, the shift of political competition to the centre and its intensification will prompt creativity in looking for and formulating the most effective shape of immigration and integration policies. Ideally, such policies would be the result of a transparent public debate and would be backed by a majority of the society.

…and after successful communication… don’t forget to enforce, implement and evaluate measurable long-term policies into practice

Although proactive and decisive political communication about sensitive issues of integration is a must for all the mainstream parties, without improvements and results stemming from practical day-to-day policies, we cannot expect long-term trust in the society and successful integration on a broader scale. We again focus on genuine measures that could be ideally employed by politicians of both sides of the mainstream.

a) Take a transparent decision on how to measure the policies over the years

Politicians from both the centre-right and centre-left part of the spectre have to focus on good governance and accountability when financing and implementing projects of integration. The first issue is the ability to obtain measurable data about minorities, which European majority societies would like to integrate. As they have to finally see positive progress over the time after many years of unaccountable practices, lack of prioritisation and doubts about possibilities of success. The media expect quantitative data to measure integration success. However, these are hard to obtain, both in the case of Muslims and even more in case of Roma, and proved to be too superficial and unable to describe complex situations because ethnic data are missing. In addition, successes in integration should also not be seen through just de iure evaluation as the most international agencies with a lack of local experience are, and have to be more based on de facto experience.

Thus, we recommend in case the issue of ethnical data collection remains too sensitive, despite the privacy safeguards available and long-term advocacy of anti-discrimination NGOs, investments in methodology and standardised procedures of qualitative research of particular communities and their comparison both in time and between different communities and their progresses would be a possible solution. Another advantage of thorough and regular qualitative research in time relies on the fact that such a method can point out dangerous trends and new, unseen problems. These evaluation methods could be improved over the years through sharing results from national evaluations at the EU level.

b) Prioritise education

A priority policy should be education that is based on inclusion. The focus should be put firstly on pre-school institutions and elementary schools. All mainstream politicians have the chance to avoid negative impacts on state budgets and social policy if they are able to provide and enforce mainstream education to minorities in all districts of particular countries. They have to start at the local level. Inclusive education should be seen as a preventive measure against segregation and ghettoisation of both Muslims and Roma, and also against the establishment of parallel societies. Social competencies to majority pupils who will be able to communicate with minorities in day-to-day situations and learn how to cope with them in a peaceful way is another added value of inclusive approach.

c) Continue the debate about anti-discrimination and follow its pros and cons into practice

Anti-discrimination policies have so far divided left and right much more than the policies mentioned above. They are still seen by many centre right, both liberal and conservative liberal politicians, as a product of “socialist Europe.” Moreover, they were de iure successfully introduced in all the EU countries “from Brussels” through the help of legally binding directives just very recently, often with hesitation or even protests from local politicians and authorities. Until today, the vast majority of the population – at least in Central Europe – does not understand their added value, nor sometimes even the meaning, and remains suspicious of their benefits. These policies should be firstly followed closely over the years, including the case law of various court instances and evaluate what benefits and dangers they brought from the eyes of both right and left wing mainstream politicians and how they impacted the business and personal sphere. The balance between freedom and equality should be maintained in a manner that allows for successful integration as well as for preserving freedoms in the private sphere. Then, any new measures should be proposed, discussed and implemented in order to obtain the legitimacy needed at national and local level.

Source: Hokovský, R. & Kopal, J. (2013) POLITICS AND POLICIES OF INTEGRATION IN AUSTRIA, HUNGARY, CZECHIA, DENMARK AND AT THE EU LEVEL. Brno & Praha: League of Human Rights & European Values Think-Tank. ISBN 978-80-87414-12-5