The term ‘integration’ has been used in various fields of Transatlantic policymaking over the past decades: at the political technocratic level of EU integration, trade initiatives from both governments to help promote global economic integration, and relatively open immigration policies to promote the integration of labor markets. Ethnic, national, and socioeconomic integration at the societal-level was aösp assumed to take place in tandem with aforementioned policies from the top. In the past few years, the emergence of far-right and populist movements in both Europe and the United States suggests in fact this latter, more sociological integration, did not keep pace.
What explains this latter phenomenon? What does it mean for any ‘integration’ agendas by, from, or between the two sides of the Atlantic, moving forward? Two issues are of interest: first, elite-driven processes within democratic political systems; second, socialization processes and their time frames. In other words, any policies that impact upon domestic constituencies need to be designed in greater dialogue with the public in order to maximize buy-in from the outset, and as well that integration policies and agendas need to be seen in very long time frames.
Discourse about the ‘liberal elite’, ‘the establishment’ (in pejorative terms), the ‘snobs’ in Washington, the Brussels ‘technocracy’ and the EU ‘democratic deficit’ suggested that substantial and rather underestimated parts of society felt politically disenfranchised even within their democratic systems. Integration has been seen as a pet project by political elites and bureaucrats who by their nature are in fact able to do little bottom-up legwork on ‘convincing’ people. This means post-election, politicians need to continually appeal to broader swathes of the populace, beyond their voter base, on the values, benefits, and rationale behind their policies. In the EU as well, mechanisms to address the real or perceived democratic deficit need to be built into the policymaking structure.
Secondly, integration norms do penetrate into the society, but at a slower pace than policy gets made. According to polling data for the Brexit vote, there was a very direct correlation between age group and the ‘stay’ move: above two-thirds of those in the below 34 age category voted to stay in the EU, with older age groups swinging in the opposite direction.[i] Likewise in the United States’ elections, Trump was given an edge only in the above 45 age category.[ii] It is therefore not a stretch to claim that those groups most drawn in by anti-globalization and anti-immigration discourses indeed had had the least formative exposure to the positive benefits that such ‘integration’ brings. In other words, sociological integration can often be a slow process that may be even generational in time frame. This is something that policymaking proponents of integration must consider from the policy inception, whether in regards to open-door refugee policies towards refugees or minority policies in their own home communities.
There is true hope for the future for social integration as historically driven and espoused by the West. Given the age breakdown in relation to values of pluralism, inclusiveness, and openness, these principles are not at threat in the long term. However, democracy is a constant dialogue and a debate – not a monologue by few. This means that integration cannot only be top down, but also bottom up processes that allows for long time frames. Two recommendations therefore follow: incorporate more youth voices into public debates, and incorporate more open debate into political life in general.
[i] John Murdoch, “Brexit: everything you wanted to know about turnout by age at the EU referendum,” 1 July 2016
[ii] Jon Huang, et al., “Election 2016: Exit Polls,” New York Times, 8 November 2016