ETTW – A bridge between the EU and the Council of Europe in building a Pan European Diaspora Policy?

ETTW President Pierre-Yves Le Borgn’ : “We need a Pan-European Diaspora policy”.

One of ETTW’s top priorities is advocating a Pan-European diaspora policy to the benefit of the more than 18 million European Expatriate citizens living in the EU.

In several individual European countries active diaspora policies are being drawn up. ETTW’s president, Pierre-Yves Le Borgn’, has addressed this topic in two recent events – one in Amman, Jordan, the other in Strasbourg.

Here is a summary of the points, he made:

Diasporas are often dispersed and not immediately visible. Yet, they are part of the history and identity of Europe. A diaspora can be defined as a community of individuals who maintain some form of attachment to a specific country of origin in relation to a migration background. These individuals can be migrants themselves or the children or grand-children of migrants. Some are citizens of their country of origin, others are not. 

There is limited data about the amount of diaspora members. In the European Union only, it is said that the number of citizens living in another country than theirs peaks above 20 million (3% of the EU population). This excludes people who do not hold the nationality of their country of origin, meaning that the proportion of diaspora members in the overall population is much higher than this.

Globalization and greater mobility among Europeans have dramatically changed the concept of diaspora. Nowadays, living abroad has become more common and temporary than in the past. One can live in another country while pursuing studies, career opportunities or retirement plans and then return home. This adds another layer to the more traditional forms of diaspora communities which continue to exist and sometimes even to expand.

It is in this changing context that the definition of a pan-European diaspora policy has become critical. Diaspora members are not inactive citizens. They do have an impact on the economy and the same can be said of culture. Diasporas are an asset to Europe. Their organizations facilitate integration in the country of residence while maintaining a link to the country of origin. Diaspora members need to be listened to, heard of, associated to public policy decisions and even challenged so that they could give their best to our societies.

Diasporas contribute to economic development. Their impact is tangible in several critical areas. Remittances are an important feature of the economic contribution of diasporas to their families and communities in the country of origin. This contribution extends to trade as diaspora members create business connections between producers and consumers in the countries of origin and of residence.

Another area of positive diaspora impact is investment. Diasporas invest directly in their country of origin, convincing non-diaspora investors in their country of residence to follow suit, boosting investor confidence as a result. The influence of diasporas can be further measured through skills and knowledge transfers between countries of residence and countries of origin. 

The existence of active associations locally and the increasing use of social media are other distinctive features of diasporas and a powerful tool in the constitution of their identity. These networks not only help develop links between the country of origin and the country of residence or between members of diasporas in the country of residence but they also extend globally. This underlines the true power of diasporas in terms of mobilization.

Some European countries have set up over the years government bodies and sometimes even ministries in charge of relations with their diaspora populations abroad. Yet, with the exception of Portugal, most of these countries – not to mention those which have not put in place any structure – still fail to a certain extent to recognize diasporas as effective and even critical partners. It is regrettable.

Why is that? Because relations between diasporas and countries of origin are not exempt of clichés and ignorance. I was for years an MP representing the French living abroad and I knew that some of my parliamentary colleagues looked at my constituents and perhaps even at me as different people, notably because the recurring perception that mobile citizens are a loss to the country remains high in the population.

This has to change. Clichés are wrong and diaspora members should no longer be seen or treated as exotic second-class citizens. It is about time for European organizations to encourage the definition of a pan-European diaspora policy so that the potential of diasporas for the country of origin and the country of residence can be maximized.

Here are the main recommendations to be made in support of a pan-European diaspora policy.

Countries should develop comprehensive diaspora strategies and coordinate them at European level. This is notably where the Council of Europe and the diaspora parliamentary network set up as of 2017 have a major role to play. 

Examples of concrete actions to be undertaken by governments are as follows:

  • Documenting diaspora profiles: knowledge about diasporas is rather limited. It is important to generate and update reliable data to understand the situation, the motivations and the potential of diasporas in a given country in order to articulate an appropriate outreach to them;
  • Putting in place diaspora-friendly policies enabling better diaspora involvement in the country of origin and consolidating the sense of belonging, especially beyond the first generation: such policies should include facilitated access to dual citizenship, the right to vote from abroad (including Internet voting), the right to a dedicated parliamentary representation in the country of origin, the possibility for diaspora children to learn the language of the country of origin in the country of residence, better efficiency of consular support, reduced bureaucratic and tax hurdles for mobile citizens, portability of social rights, healthcare benefits and pensions between country of origin and country of destination, mutual recognition of diplomas and training periods;
  • Engaging actively with diaspora associations, including supporting them financially as they are often underfunded and need empowerment;
  • Allocating more means to the development or strengthening of government services dealing with migration and diaspora issues in the country of residence, in fact creating a dedicated coordination structure for diasporas at national level and also at local level (like the concept of “Ausländerbeirat” in Germany);
  • Enhancing cooperation on migration and diaspora issues between the governments of the countries of origin and of destination as well as between countries and international organizations involved in diaspora issues. There is a need here for the Council of Europe and the European Union to team up together.

These are the main recommendations. Evidently, they should be further discussed and enriched. 

It is critical for policymakers and government leaders to see diasporas as an asset and to reach out to them decisively. This is getting traction in some countries but the evolution remains too slow. 

European organizations have a duty to engage on migration issues. Populist forces depict migration as the most ultimate threat to our continent and the future of our respective countries. Migration is not wrong, migration is part of our history and identity as Europeans, migration requires a European strategy. Casting light on diaspora communities, providing support to them and enhancing their benefits to society is necessary to articulate genuinely inclusive policies and yield concrete results. 

This is where and why a pan-European diaspora policy could prove useful and decisive for the future of our continent. 

ETTW President Pierre-Yves Le Borgn’