‘Warm and caring’ Lodewijk Asscher wants to introduce a participation contract which asks newcomers to this country to promise to uphold the constitution and the state of law. But their right to vote in the local elections may be postponed by another two years, write Linda Bakker and Tim Immerzeel
‘We have to be clear about what newcomers can expect from the Netherlands and what the Netherlands can expect from them’, social affairs minister Asscher said when he put forward his views on this cabinet’s integration policy.
If Asscher has his way, all new immigrants from inside and outside the EU who register with a local council will have to sign a participation contract. The thinking behind it is that immigrants will integrate more quickly because by subscribing to the principles of democracy and the state of law they show a willingness to conform to Dutch norms and values. (People who have been here for a while will not be asked to sign a contract).
Apart from the legality of the measure, we ask what, if any, effect it will have on integration with the government trying to postpone citizenship for newcomers at the same time. The government proposal postpones the right to vote in local elections from five to seven years. Newcomers may know more about the Dutch democracy but will only be allowed to participate in it after another two years. The government is putting newcomers on the sidelines of society and that is a waste.
Asscher’s integration policy is based on the assumption the present immigrant population is not, or only to a very small extent willing to participate in society. Figures from the socio-cultural advice bureau SCP show the opposite is true for newcomers. The Survey Integratie Nieuwe Groepen (Survey Integration New Groups) held among the four largest refugee groups shows, for instance, that 48% of Iranians follow Dutch politics every day compared to 49% of the native Dutch population. 80% of refugees would vote if a national election were held today. That is 5% more than the 2012 national election turnout! This level of commitment is vital for an active role in society and politics.
If the minister wants to encourage this kind of enthusiasm by means of a participation contract, he should not exclude people from voting. Integration, moreover, is a two-way street: if newcomers have no say about what happens in society they will be less willing to participate.
More than anything, this government’s immigration policy is an economic policy. It’s like that Youp van ‘t Hek joke: ‘Is your wife attractive?’ ‘Well, she’s holding up financially’. In line with the migration policy advice from the advisory body Council of Societal Development (2011), Asscher seems to look on newcomers from a predominantly economic perspective. The participation contract will teach them the norm is to find a job and pay tax. But on how this tax money is going to be spent the contract remains strangely silent. No taxation, no representation turns newcomers into economically attractive assets with no thought for how they can help shape a pluriform democracy.
In short, a symbolic measure such as the participation contract can only work if it is accompanied by measures that will give newcomers real autonomy, like the right to vote. If you want people to integrate then you should give them the chance to put what they have learnt into practice.
This article appeared earlier on Sociale Vraagstukken
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