Impressions from Copenhagen and Malmö Integration Seminars

Last week’s integration seminars in Copenhagen and Malmö gave me a better appreciation of European debates on integration and multiculturalism (an updated version of my deck with 2016 citizenship numbers is Integration, Diversity and Inclusion – Copenhagen April 2017).

While the two seminars had different participants – Copenhagen included members of the diplomatic corps, officials involved in integration issues and academics from the Centre for Migration Studies, University of Copenhagen, Malmö had only academics, mainly Masters and PhD students – common themes and discussion points emerged. Both events were well attended: between 50-60 in Copenhagen and 25-30 in Malmö.

My pre-reading highlighted just how different Denmark and Sweden’s national policies on integration and multiculturalism are, one reflected in both the Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) and the Multiculturalism Policy Index (MPI), with the two countries largely at opposite ends of the spectrum. At the municipal level, however, the differences are less clear-cut.

None of the participants in both locations could explain how and why this difference emerged, given that on most other issues both countries have broadly comparable policies and outlooks. Some possible factors mentioned Sweden’s self-perception as a large country compared to Denmark’s being small compared to its earlier history, and thus possible greater societal insecurity. Moreover, Sweden has more urban centres, where diversity is more a fact, whereas Denmark is largely rural save for Copenhagen. But these were cast more in the nature of possible hypotheses, and there appears to be sensitivity, at least among academics, to probe more deeply into the differences.

The Copenhagen event, hosted by the Embassy and the Centre for Migration Studies, was part of the government’s agenda of promoting the Canadian approach to diversity and inclusion (Malmo was in part a follow-on activity to the Governor General’s earlier visit but was self-funded).

As Global Affairs Canada looks at different approaches to meet this commitment, ranging from the symbolic (e.g., this resolution tabled at the UN’s Human Rights Council, The Power of Inclusion and the Benefits of Diversity), high level dialogue (e.g., more senior level engagement like the GG’s messaging in Sweden) or working level (which I would characterize this event as being), I think it is important to emphasize sharing experiences, not promoting models, with some humility in how we approach such discussions.

After all, as I emphasized in both seminars, each country’s geography, history, demographic mix is unique. While we can and should learn from each other,  models and approaches cannot be easily transplanted or applied.

Some of the more interesting comments and observations, at least to me, were:


Immigration and related debates (integration, citizenship and multiculturalism) are largely only viewed through a refugee lens, with little public debate or discussion on what appears a need for skilled immigrants to meet labour shortages. Ironically, there is some recognition in rural areas regarding the contribution immigrants make to the sustainability of rural centres (examples of immigrants from Eastern Europe were cited). This recognition, however, did not translate into any nuance in Danish political debates, where neither rural or business community needs were generally raised, and where all nine political parties hold the same position and focus on refugee issues.

There was considerable discussion of values, which are the important ones and what are the friction points (gender equality being the one most signalled). Some participants were perplexed by Canadian use of the term visible minorities and how it is defined (Denmark does not systematically collect comparable data.)


Some of the questions and comments of particular interest included:

How does private sponsorship of refugees work? What is the comparative evidence on how well private vs government sponsored refugees integrate, and over what period of time. Some noted that Sweden’s focus on equality made it difficult to discuss and implement what would be perceived as a “two-tier” system.

Participants noted that like Denmark, immigrants were welcomed in rural areas given their contribution to the local community’s sustainability.

There was an interesting exchange on possible tipping points on reasonable accommodation issues and how these are resolved – or not – through public discussion or, as more likely, through practical accommodations in the various public and private institutions.

An equally interesting question and exchange was with respect to definitions of social cohesion and social inclusion, where I noted that it was largely a question of emphasis: social cohesion stressed expections, social inclusion put more weight on accommodation, but both occurred within the same legal and general framework.

Also raised was the question of “disadvantages” of multiculturalism which led to some discussion about diaspora politics and how foreign policy becomes influenced by homeland concerns.

My observation that in many ways, the citizenship program was “broken” prompted a question (provoked but not planted!) asking for an explanation of how so (i.e., under-resourcing and under-management leading to periodic processing backlogs, recent changes that have resulted in a decline in applications, leading to a decline in the recent naturalization rate).


About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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