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Norms and Values in the European Migration and Refugee Crisis

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - NoVaMigra (Norms and Values in the European Migration and Refugee Crisis)

Reporting period: 2019-04-01 to 2021-07-31

Several, partly interconnected crises have profoundly challenged the European project in recent years. In particular, reactions to the arrival of 1.25 million refugees in 2015 challenged the idea of a united Europe that guarantees the rights of refugees and implements norms and values that many see as part of the acquis communautaire. Did the so-called migration and refugee crisis have a lasting impact on the normative foundations and values of the EU? And if so, what does this mean for its future?
The project Norms and Values in the European Migration and Refugee Crisis (NOVAMIGRA) reached the conclusion that recent European experiences with forced migration have not led to a change in values. It developed a precise understanding of core values and norms in Europe and presented extensive empirical research on the way these or other values and norms motivate or affect relevant political, administrative, and societal agents with regard to migration and the integration of migrants and refugees into European societies. NOVAMIGRA showed that in the context of the so-called refugee crisis, pre-existing differences in the understanding of values between the member states of the EU, but also among relevant actors within the respective countries, became more apparent. The fact that there has been no change in values, thus, does not mean that we can continue to assume an unproblematically shared foundation of values in the EU. Rather, the dialogue about the foundations of the European project must be conducted in a very targeted manner. As a point of reference for this, NOVAMIGRA suggested a rights-based democratic perspective for the EU and its member states that takes into account the different interpretations of values/norms and their possible development that have become visible in the refugee crisis, but also reflects anew on Europe’s global responsibility.
NOVAMIGRA’s research was divided into three steps: In the first “framing and mapping” phase, NOVAMIGRA developed a comprehensive understanding of the values found in the EU’s main legal documents, regarding which it aimed to investigate whether they have changed as a result of the so-called refugee crisis. A conceptual map defining the “grammar” of values, norms, rights, and moral principles was used as a tool for reconstructing the normative content, genesis, historical background and implementation of the EU Charter, which identifies human dignity, freedom, equality, solidarity, democracy and the rule of law as European values. With this in mind, the second step was to analyse which values are brought to bear in political and social migration and integration contexts and whether or how they have changed as a result of the arrival of refugees in Europe in the last decade. Regarding the negotiation of migration/refugee policies in main EU institutions, it could be shown that values do set limits to policy development. Paradoxically, however, this can also mean that the importance of values becomes a reason for trying to prevent immigration to Europe. This effect is further reinforced by the pressure populist parties exert on European migration policy and is not compensated for by the pro-migration discourse that also exists in quality media. The behaviour of agents relevant for dealing with migrants/refugees is also framed by values. The values agents in different countries follow are even partly similar (with important differences e.g. in terms of religion), but usually they do not relate these values directly to European values. Rather, they often understand them as local or even national values.
With these studies, NOVAMIGRA could draw a comprehensive picture of the values and norms that motivate or influence relevant political, administrative and social agents and how this affects migration and integration. As a result of this research, it can be stated that the values themselves have not changed significantly due to the “refugee crisis”. However, the respective values, even if they are supposedly shared, are interpreted and applied very differently. If there is a change, it is in new interpretations of the values. However, NOVAMIGRA assumes that in many cases we do not observe new interpretations. Around 2015, the impression of a change in values emerged because the different interpretations or applications of values became obvious and led to conflicts. So, it could no longer simply be assumed that the different European levels and agents act according to the same values, even if the values they follow have not necessarily changed.
Against the background of this empirical research and with a view to existing normative models of cosmopolitan order, NOVAMIGRA elaborated in its final step perspectives for the EU’s future development. Based on the premise that member states and relevant agents interpret European values differently, maintaining the current status quo proves to be suboptimal. Different understandings of what European values encompass lead to disintegrated and dysfunctional European governance in the field of flight and migration. The European institutions should therefore instead engage in a more robust normative dialogue with the member states to place migration policy on a more stable and integrated normative foundation. The rights-based democratic perspective for the EU and its member states that emerges from this takes into account different interpretations of European values and norms that became visible in the refugee crisis. By explicitly recognising a common mission in the area of flight and migration, Europe would at the same time assume its global responsibility.
NOVAMIGRA achieved a close interdisciplinary cooperation between normative theory and empirical social science research going far beyond usual forms of multidisciplinarity. This opened up a new perspective on the crisis of the EU in the field of refugee and migration policy and, more fundamentally, on the foundations of the EU. To understand the meaning of values among different political and civil society actors, innovative methods were developed and used, such as participant observation, volunteerism, accompaniment (i.e. being with migrants who are being assisted), focus group discussions, and ethnographic interviews. Through this use of participatory and collaborative methods, emic and etic approaches could be productively combined. Through numerous conferences, academic publications and training for junior scientists, NOVAMIGRA was able to bring its scientific output to bear in the relevant research contexts. In various policy events and roundtables, the findings on the relevance of quality media for the European dialogue and the forms that a European exchange on the normative foundations of refugee policy could take were discussed together with policy makers and other stakeholders. In addition to this, consortium members provided guidelines for best practices with respect to particular situations of political and societal conflict (integration of refugees, civic integration courses, resettlement, etc.). Finally, an effort was made to reach out to organizations of civil society and to contribute to their internal reflection on the role and place of European values in relation to immigration. In this context, NOVAMIGRA provided skills and information to overcome challenges in conveying core European values to migrant newcomers and to develop new approaches to refugee and migrant integration with them.
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