What are “European values” and how do they relate to migration?
References to “European values”, and to values more broadly, have recently proliferated in political discourse on migration issues. Right-wing nationalist and conservative parties have framed immigrants’ cultural orientation as a threat to European values, including liberal values, such as tolerance, autonomy or gender equality. National and supranational governments on the centre-right and centre-left have increasingly appealed for respect of civic values – the rule of law, democracy, a commitment to human rights – in response to the rise of right-wing nationalism, which has often thrived on anti-immigrant messages. At the same time, governments across Europe have ascribed increasing importance to value transmission in their civic integration policies, with some moving to make an adherence to values a condition not just for acquiring citizenship but also for residence permits or eligibility for social security payments.
To complicate the picture even further, it may be argued that value-laden language also increased on the side of pro-immigrant and human rights activists. Throughout Europe, local support groups have lobbied municipal governments to remain open to immigrants in spite of restrictive national policies, often invoking local values and identities (for case studies, see
Goździak, Main and Suter 2020).
In particular, human rights activists have argued that aspects of its migration and refugee policy contradict the EU’s foundational values and commitments. In the area of migration and refugee policy, the argument has resonated with many, given the documented infringements on fundamental rights and applicable procedures in various member states and at the EU’s external borders. But seeing the loose connection between values and political commitments sketched above, in what sense, if any, can we really extrapolate a concrete meaning from the EU’s foundational values when it comes to its migration policy? And how, if at all, has this changed in the course of Europe’s “refugee crisis”?
NoVaMigra (Norms and Values in the European Migration and Refugee Crisis) set out to provide a comprehensive understanding of the content, meaning and use of values in European migration and integration politics since the “refugee crisis” of 2015. From 2018 to 2021, the project combined philosophical analysis with legal theory, social sciences and anthropological approaches to pursue three leading aims:
(1) NoVaMigra reconstructed what Europe’s core values are and how they relate to migration.
(2) NoVaMigra analysed if and how these values have changed in the wake of the 2015 “refugee crisis”.
(3) NoVaMigra constructed core principles for a realistic cosmopolitan migration policy, based on our empirical analysis.
Read here in brief for NoVaMigra’s key findings and NoVaMigra’s policy recommendations.