Norms and Values in the European Migration and Refugee Crisis

NoVaMigra has summarized its main findings and recommendations in a comprehensive Final Report Norms and Values in the European Migration and Refugee Crisis. See here for the full report.

Key Findings
Policy Recommendations
Policy Recommendations

1. Focus a public dialogue on the European Union’s core commitments on human dignity and human rights rather than the idea of “European values”

While “value talk” has the merit of facilitating emotional commitment, the concept of values is ambivalent and can be used in ways that exclude outsiders and undermine the rule of law. What is needed instead is more clarity about the normative implications of human rights and their relationship to preserving cultural identity. This would address fears that a commitment to cosmopolitan norms could be over‐demanding.

Read more

Stakeholders in public relations at EU level should be aware that framing the EU’s core commitments in terms of “European values” has ambivalent connotations, especially in the migration context. Values may be interpreted as part of a cultural identity that needs to be protected. This becomes especially apparent when universal principles like the rule of law or the protection of human rights are framed as specifically “European” values. Rights, by contrast, articulate standards that are owed to people. Accordingly, the protection of human rights is not only an act of benevolence, but a moral, political and legal duty.

Further Reading: Marie Göbel, “The European Union as a Cosmopolitan Structure: Reference Points and Constraints”, in: Norms and Values in the Migration and Refugee Crisis: NoVaMigra’s Final Report, pp. 234-245.

2. When values are discussed as part of civic integration lessons, make explicit if and how they connect to applicable norms, rights and duties.

In the wake of the “refugee crisis”, many member states have expanded civic integration lessons and moved civic integration to an earlier stage of the integration process as a whole. As a consequence, newcomers find themselves increasingly confronted with the obligation to demonstrate knowledge of and, in most cases, adherence to specific norms and values. It is important that they are given an opportunity to understand and discuss what kind of commitment is asked of them – and where its limits lie in a liberal society.

Read more

In order to enable a dialogue about the commitments expected from newcomers in the process of civic integration, stakeholders in integration policy and integration course providers should ensure that course curricula and materials make explicit whether they refer to legal norms, moral norms, social conventions or values in a stricter sense. This should also be reflected in the teaching methods used for integration lessons. In particular, where the intention is to address deeper-level value commitments as part of a civic integration course, course schedules should leave room for discussing legitimate value conflicts.

Further Reading: Therese Herrmann, “Values in Civic Integration for Immigrants: Evidence from Five Member States”, in: Norms and Values in the Migration and Refugee Crisis: NoVaMigra’s Final Report, pp. 168-182.

3. Involve stakeholders, including refugees and immigrants, in decisions about the proper place of value transmission in civic integration.

Values are plural and contested, both among immigrants and in member states’ domestic public spheres. The design of integration course curricula and materials should be based on the experience of integration practitioners at municipal and regional level. Refugees and immigrants often have their own experiences of defending universal rights and principles in adverse conditions, and their voices should be heard in the consultation process.

Read more

Stakeholders in integration policy at EU, national and regional level should ensure that the increasing diversity of European societies is adequately reflected and appreciated in integration courses. Some member states, including Sweden and Germany, have started (regional) programmes that match newly arrived refugees with locals from similar cultural backgrounds, who act as teachers and “bridge builders” in civic orientation courses. While this has the potential to facilitate early orientation, it is important that the representation of people with refugee and immigrant biographies in integration courses go beyond this. To underline the universal content of the values transmitted in civic integration, refugees’ and immigrants’ experiences of defending core rights and principles – both in their country of origin and their country of residence – should be highlighted at all levels of the integration process.

Further Reading (with a focus on the example of gender equality): Brigitte Suter, Ingrid Jerve Ramsøy and Franziska Böhm, “Valuing Gender Equality: Ideas, Practices and Actors in Integration Courses”, Norms and Values in the Migration and Refugee Crisis: NoVaMigra’s Final Report, pp. 184-199.

4. Strengthen civil society in the reception and integration of refugees, especially through better access to funding.

Europe’s “refugee crisis” has not only led to polarisation between member states but also prompted an unprecedented enthusiasm in civil society to support the reception and integration of newcomers.
Across the EU, initiatives have collaborated closely with municipalities to establish good practices. However, actors in civil society often face unstable working conditions due to a reliance on short-term external funding and, in some member states, government obstruction to accessing EU funds.

Read more

Policy makers at national, regional and local levels of governance need to ensure that organisations and initiatives supporting the reception and integration of refugees, as well as anti-racism more generally, have access to funding that enables long-term planning and stable working conditions.
At EU level, it is particularly important to make sure that civil society organisations are given direct and bureaucratic access to AMIF funding, particularly in member states where they are put under political pressure by right-wing authoritarian governments.

Further Reading: Elżbieta M. Goździak and Izabella Main (Lead Authors), “Value Agents in Public and Civil Society Institutions”, in: Norms and Values in the Migration and Refugee Crisis: NoVaMigra’s Final Report, pp. 150-167.

5. Remain adamant about the unconditional character of the EU’s cosmopolitan core commitments.

The EU’s legitimacy rests on its claim to further cosmopolitan norms. Although the exact content of these norms is open to discussion, their egalitarian and universalist core cannot be compromised. Following an ethics of hospitality when dealing with migrants and asylum seekers is one minimum requirement in any conception of cosmopolitanism. This does not mean fully open borders, but it does require that newcomers be granted access to legal institutions and the right to apply for asylum status upon arrival.

Read more

It is important that stakeholders in migration policy and public relations at EU level remain aware of the fact that these core principles cannot be relativized by being put in the service of defending a “European value order”. A strategy that seeks to enhance the appeal of the EU’s commitments to the human rights of all and the universal principles of the rule of law, democracy, freedom, equality and respect for human dignity by framing them as part of a “European way of life” is unlikely to command success. Internally, reinterpreting the EU’s core principles as cultural values runs the risk of undermining the legitimacy of the European Commission in the eyes of member states, since member states can rightly claim that they understand or rank these values differently. Externally, it threatens to jeopardize the EU’s credibility in the eyes of third countries, as it relativizes the EU’s commitment to the core principles of international refugee law.

Further Reading: Martin Deleixhe, “A New Idea(l) for Europe: Report on the Future of Cosmopolitanism in Europe”, in: Norms and Values in the Migration and Refugee Crisis: NoVaMigra’s Final Report, pp. 246-263.


NoVaMigra has summarized its main findings and recommendations in a comprehensive Final Report Norms and Values in the European Migration and Refugee Crisis. See here for the full report.

For latest News and Updates: Subscribe to our Newsletter