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EU policy framework for migrant integration

Immigrant integration policies are a national competence. However, since the signature of the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007, European institutions have the mandate to ‘provide incentives and support for the action of Member States with a view to promoting the integration of third-country nationals.’ The EU has nonetheless periodically set priorities and goals to drive EU policies, legislative proposals and funding opportunities since the 1999 Treaty of Amsterdam. The 2004 Common basic principles represent another a stepping stone as they have guided and continue to guide most EU actions in the area of integration.

MigrantinEU - timeline

From the 2016 Action Plan to the Treaty of Amsterdam, here is a timeline in reverse chronology of how the EU has been shaping the integration of third country nationals during the past 2 decades.

2016 - forward: The holistic approach

The June 2016 Action Plan on the integration of third country nationals is the latest goals setting document published by the European Commission. It provides a comprehensive framework to support Member States' efforts in developing and strengthening their integration policies, and describes concrete measures the Commission will implement in this regard.

In line with the May 2015 European Agenda on Migration which outlines immediate measures to be taken in response to the “refugee crisis” situation in the Mediterranean and resulted in the adoption of EU's emergency relocation and resettlement schemes in September 2015, the Action Plan targets all third country nationals legally residing in the EU while also addressing specific challenges faced by refugees and asylum seekers.

With its 4 action types and 5 thematic priorities, the Action Plan mainstreams integration into all relevant policy sectors and levels of government. Featured goals are to be achieved through policies, funding opportunities, mutual learning initiatives and resources such as websites and reports. Actions focus on pre-departure and pre-arrival measures; education programmes; participation and social inclusion; access to basic services; and employment and vocational training.


Labour market integration is a key priority of the Action Plan. It is to be accomplished through several funding schemes. The Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund - AMIF, the Employment and Social Innovation - EaSI programme, the European Social Fund - ESF and the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived - FEAD are available for projects promoting the labour market integration of migrants, including refugees and women, as well as fast track insertion and vocational training.

Other initiatives include a toolkit for the timely identification of skills of newcomers and the sharing of good practices in the area of qualification recognition, under the New Skills Agenda for Europe.


In the education field, the June 2016 Action Plan on integration contains a range of measures to be implemented by the Commission: from peer learning support to language assessment and higher education integration. Support to the school community is for example to be provided through the online School Education Gateway while the European Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care - ECEC will promote the access of all girls and boys to early childhood education.

Basic services

As a cross-cutting policy agenda, the Action Plan makes reference to services such as housing and health. The Commission is committed to support best practices in the care provision for vulnerable foreigners under the Health Programme. Pilot training modules will be developed to upgrade health professionals’ skills while Member States are to create (mental) health expert networks and coordinate healthcare policies with housing and social services, to mention but a few.

The Action Plan also presents tools to strengthen policy cooperation between national, regional and local integration actors. Mandating the European Integration Network (former National Contact Points on Integration) with a greater mutual learning role and the creation of an Urban Agenda Partnership focusing on the integration of third country nationals are 2 good examples of increased coordination between respectively EU Member States and other relevant stakeholders, including European cities.

Follow the implementation of the Action Plan

2011-2015: Funding for Integration

Prior to the 2016-2017 Action Plan, migrant integration issues were guided by the European Agenda for the Integration of Third-Country Nationals, adopted in July 2011. The Agenda, which covered the period 2011-2015, focused on increasing the economic, social, cultural and political participation of migrants and fighting discrimination, with an emphasis on local actions. It also already explored pre-arrival measures and the role of countries of origin in integration. The multiplicity of funding opportunities made available is another major legacy of this period.

The Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF), adopted in 2014 to run until 2020 is the current overarching financing instrument for migrant integration issues. It replaces the Integration Fund, the Refugee Fund and the Return Fund. 88% of its €3.137 billion budget is earmarked for multiannual National Programmes; 20% of which are dedicated to integration actions. The remaining 12% are divided between EU actions and emergency assistance. A wide range of concrete actions such as accommodation services or awareness raising campaigns can be funded through call for proposals.

Additional Programmes finance specific integration aspects prioritised in the 2011 European Agenda for Integration:


Projects looking to foster European citizenship and improve civic and democratic participation at EU level can be funded through the 2014-2020 Europe for Citizens programme. The Commission has also allocated €400 million till 2020 under Erasmus+ for those promoting civic values.

In addition, the Rights, Equality and Citizenship programme, replacing the Fundamental Rights and Citizenship Programme, the Daphne III Programme, and the Anti-discrimination and Gender Equality strands of the Progress Programme, likewise finances since 2014 and until 2020 initiatives fighting discrimination and intolerance, among other priorities. It has a budget of 439 million euros.

Besides these financing schemes, the March 2015 Paris Declaration to tackle intolerance, discrimination and radicalisation represents a milestone of this period. The declaration calls for Europe's combined efforts to prevent and tackle marginalisation, intolerance and radicalisation, as well as to preserve equality for all. It was adopted during an informal Council meeting in response to the terror attacks in Paris and Copenhagen.

Furthermore, a single European network of legal experts in gender equality and non-discrimination was formed in 2015. The merged network is composed of country experts that provide advice to the Commission on all grounds covered by the Racial Equality and the Employment Equality Directives dating from 2000. Its work complements other European platforms such as the network of governmental bodies – Equinet that promotes equality and supports people facing discrimination.

Economic participation

As migrants face discrimination and many administrative, cultural, linguistic and other obstacles to enter the European labour market, they are often more likely to start their own businesses than natives. To address this situation, on one hand, self-employment of migrants was set in the Commission’s 2013 Entrepreneurship Action Plan wherein policy and legislative initiatives to facilitate entrepreneurship are planned both at the EU and national level. Programmes such as Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs are also accessible to immigrants. On the other hand, the 2014 Employment and Social Innovation - EaSI programme promotes high employment by supporting the modernisation of employment policies and European job mobility. It also supports access to micro-finance and social entrepreneurship, with the goal of combating social exclusion and poverty.

The fight against poverty among the immigrant population is however mainly financed by the Regional Development Fund ERDF and the European Social Fund - ESF, both available since 2013. The latter is Europe’s primary tool for promoting employment. Between 2014 and 2020, it will provide some €80 billion to train people and help them get into work; 20% of such projects should target migrants, with a particular focus on refugees, asylum-seekers and their children.

Social participation

Education plays an important role in the social inclusion of third country nationals. As migrant education emerged on EU policy agenda, knowledge resources also became available. Inequalities in education outcomes have been monitored for migrant pupils through the EU Education & Training Monitor since 2012. The same year, the SIRIUS network was founded as the only European policy network on migrant education by the Commission. It has since then conducted numerous studies on the education of children and youngsters with migrant background.

The main EU funding instrument in the field of education and youth policy is the 2014-2020 Erasmus+ programme which provides opportunities for over 4 million residents to study, train, gain work experience, and volunteer abroad. To ensure that the programme works for disadvantaged young people, the Erasmus+ Inclusion and Diversity Strategy was designed in 2015. In response to the 2015 refugee arrivals, migrant and refugee pupils were made one of its top priorities.

Besides education, the Erasmus+ programme also promotes dialogue, support and participation across all areas of sport policy. Physical activity can be extremely valuable in the context of social Inclusion and integration. It allows marginalised and underprivileged groups, particularly immigrant women, to interact with other social groups. Current EU activities of in the field of sport are outlined by the Work Plan for Sport for the period 2014-2017 while the third EU Health Programme, launched in 2014 with a budget of €449.4 million, is the main instrument the European Commission uses to implement the EU’s health strategy.

Cultural participation

The 2015 to 2018 Work Plan for Culture is the most relevant goal setting document for the cultural integration of immigrants as it sets out the strategic objectives for European cooperation in cultural policy-making. In terms of funding opportunities, the Commission launched Creative Europe in 2014. It is a consolidated framework programme in support of Europe's cultural and creative sectors. One call for proposal was published in 2016 with refugee integration as a cross-sectoral strand.

Besides these thematic financing schemes and related tools, the EU launched some mainstreamed initiatives during this period which continue to contribute to successful integration policies and practices across Europe. The introduction of the European Integration Modules in the field of introductory and languages courses; commitment by the host society; and active participation of immigrants in all aspects of collective life is one of such initiatives. The 2012 update of the Common Integration Indicators encompassing employment, education, social inclusion and active citizenship is another example. While the Modules are designed as flexible reference frameworks that can be adapted to national contexts, the set of Common Indicators serve as a basis for EU level monitoring and contributes to enhanced coordination of integration policies.

2005 to 2010: Knowledge exchange

Until 2010, the Common Agenda for Integration, presented by the Commission in 2005, was the strategy document providing the framework for the implementation of the EU integration policy. It contains a series of supportive EU mechanisms and instruments to promote integration and facilitate exchanges between integration actors.

The platform for dialogue between civil society organisations and European institutions - European Integration Forum - was created in this context in 2009, before it became the European Migration Forum in 2015. So did the European Fund for the Integration of third-country nationals - EIF - which ran between 2007 and 2013, before it was included in the Asylum Migration and Integration Fund -AMIF. The European network of cities for local integration policies - CLIP, supported by the Eurofound agency from 2007 on, is example of a local level network on migrant integration initiated in this period.

2005-2010 also saw the release of key European knowledge resources on immigrant integration to drive the exchange of information and good practices between integration stakeholders in all Member States. Two editions of the European Handbook on Integration were respectively published in 2007 and 2010. The first edition dated back to 2004. 6 years later, a common set of integration indicators to better monitor policies across Europe was agreed at the Zaragoza Ministerial Conference.

The launch of the European Web Site on Integration in 2009 represents another milestone in EU’s effort to foster knowledge exchange between practitioners and other integration stakeholders. As a unique one-stop-shop resource point, the Web Site features news, good practices, funding opportunities and country fiches explaining national integration governance structures and evaluating integration outcomes of all 28 Member States. It also presents EU’s work in the field of integration. Subscribe to the Web Site’s newsletter

Networking and knowledge exchange were also supported in specific thematic areas:


To strengthen the protection of fundamental rights in the light of social progress and scientific developments, the EU Fundamental Rights Agency - FRA - was established in 2007 as successor organisation to the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) dating back to 1998. It provides findings, knowledge and advice from independent and comparative research; several of which directly concern immigrants and refugees.

On a legislative level, the EU took a Framework Decision on certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia in 2008 to fight intolerance by means of a common criminal law. Member States were obliged to implement it into their national laws by 2010. In addition, the Treaty of Lisbon entered into force in 2009 after its adoption in 2007 and with it, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights became legally binding. For the first time, the primary law of the EU provided a legal basis for the promotion of migrant integration at EU level, while immigrant integration policies remained a competence of the Member States.


Migrant integration aspects gained visibility in EU cultural policies with the European Agenda for Culture adopted in 2007 which focused on the promotion of cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue. Relevant knowledge exchange instruments for the cultural integration of migrants included the Intercultural Cities network and the Platform for Intercultural Europe.


To provide knowledge resources for European cooperation, the Eurydice network which provides information on education systems and policies of 38 countries published 2 reports in 2009 on tackling social and cultural inequalities in early childhood education. Its later key studies on migrants included one on tackling early leaving from education.

At the end of this period, in 2009, within the framework of the Stockholm Programme, Member States were encouraged to further develop structures and tools for knowledge exchange and coordination with other relevant policy areas, such as employment (Europe 2020) and social inclusion (EU Youth Strategy for the period 2010-2018).

1999 to 2004: Genesis of a common policy

With the Treaty of Amsterdam, the integration of migrants from non-EU countries became affected by EU policies for the very first time. Adopted in 1997, the treaty entered into force in 1999. From then on, the EU could take appropriate action to combat discrimination, including those based on racial or ethnic origin and religion or belief. The EU was also to develop a common immigration policy which was guided until 2004 by the so-called Tampere Programme wherein Member States agreed that the aim of such policy should be to grant third-country nationals rights and obligations comparable to those of EU citizens.

Common Policy

The process of developing a common immigration policy resulted in the adoption of the Common Basic Principles for Immigrant Integration Policy in the EU by the Justice and Home Affairs Council in November 2004. Principles to which Member States renewed their commitment 10 years later, in the June 2014 council conclusions wherein Integration is reaffirmed as a long-term and multi-faceted.

The comprehensive set of 11 principles starts with the assertions that integration is a dynamic, two-way process of mutual accommodation by all immigrants and residents, and implies respect for the basic values of the EU. It further stresses the significance of employment, knowledge of the host society’s language and institutions, education and participation in the democratic process and equal access to public goods and services. It also recognised the key role of mainstreaming integration policies and measures in all relevant policy portfolios and levels of government.

Furthermore, Directives on Long-term Residents and Family Reunification adopted in 2003 reflected the Tampere conclusions. The first one introduces the single status for non-EU long-term residents to ensure equal treatment throughout the Union: all those legally residing in EU’s territory for at least five consecutive years are to be granted long-term resident status while the second one establishes that they can bring their non-EU national spouse, under-age children and the children of their spouse to the EU State in which they reside.

To support the development of EU integration policies, 2 networks have been created during this period: the National Contact Points on Integration in 2002 and the European Migration Network in 2003. The first, which became the European Integration Network in 2016, consists of national coordination bodies in charge of shaping the EU migrant integration agenda while the second aims at responding to the information needs of policymakers and citizens through reports and studies.

The first EU financial resources to specifically support integration measures became available in 2003 with the Preparatory Actions for integration of third-country nationals (INTI) which promoted activities at local level, strengthened networks and the exchange of information and good practices between Member States, their regional and local authorities, and other stakeholders.