Integrating Cities Conference 9 March 2012,contribution Ahmed Aboutaleb, mayor.Ladies and Gentlemen,My speech for today consists of three parts.First, I will comment for a bit on the current state of Rotterdam.Where are we at? Where do we stand when it comes to diversityand integration?Next, I will list a number of requirements or conditions forintegration on the local level. This will, in truth, be a shortsummary of the experiences I have had and insights I havegained in this area over the more than three years I have by nowserved as mayor of Rotterdam.Finally, I will offer a number of recommendations for integrationpolicy on the European level. Recommendations which, I hope,you will follow up on.Lets start with a few statistics on Rotterdam. Rotterdam hassome 600,000 inhabitants and serves as the core of a wider areawith a population of well over 1.2 million. An additional 7 millionpeople reside within one hours commute.In fact, Rotterdam is situated in a densely-urbanised areaincorporating highly diverse landscapes and residentialenvironments. Consequently, the population composition is alsohighly diverse.Rotterdam, like all other cities in Western Europe, ischaracterised by change. An old city, with a new city centre and ayoung population.Over the last 150 years, we witnessed remarkable growth, due tomigration from the countryside. At first, from different parts of theNetherlands, later on from the whole of Europe and the overseasterritories.Rotterdam is a multi-ethnic society, harbouring more than 174different nationalities. Population forecasts predict that ten yearsfrom now some 60% of the inhabitants will have foreign roots.Rotterdam is a city made up out of minority populations, which iswhat grants the city its special dynamism.
And it raises the question what a city is able to cope with. Myview would be that a city can cope with a great deal. As a citysabsorption tolerance is very high. But we do need to be aware ofthe feelings such an influx generates in the current residents. Weshould not trivialise or deny the existence of these feelings, buttake them into account where the pace of this influx and themanner in which the new entrants merge with the old populationare concerned. Nonetheless, the influx is necessary and good forthe city.Cities are attractive to people wanting to get ahead. Cities arewhere people are able to climb a few rungs on the social ladder.This applies to Rotterdam, and also to Amsterdam. Though wedo notice a difference. In Rotterdam, people start out a bit loweron the social ladder than they do in Amsterdam, and jump offearlier as well.We may look at cities as places where people develop theirtalents, as workshops in which the rough diamonds are cut. Onemay perhaps think it a bit of a shame to then see them leave tosparkle somewhere else, but one may also rejoice in the newlyarriving rough diamonds. In fact, one may be proud that the cityin this fashion brings a new light into the world. Whats more, allthose diamonds are the ambassadors for ones city.The statistics show that this process of social advancement does,in fact, take place. Over the past ten years, Amsterdam saw thepercentage of people having received secondary or highereducation rise from 66% to 74%. In Rotterdam, the figure rosefrom 51% to 60%. Here, too, we can see that both cities aredoing well, albeit with a phase difference.This forms an important conclusion from the report De Staat vande Integratie, in English, the State of Integration, which waspresented this week by Han Entzinger, of Rotterdam, and PaulScheffer, of Amsterdam. We are we are pleased with theanalyses of both scientists for their analyses, and we can reallyput them to use. As we should. 2
Because the statistics show that the upward movement is comingto a standstill on some rungs of the ladder. It has become clearthat some groups miss their connection and stay behind. Weneed to be on high alert for this. This, as such conditions ofslowdown and standstill are dangerous to a city, may give rise todisintegration and crime.To use the metaphor of the acceleration lane, in order to mergeyou have to speed up and floor the accelerator. Flooring heremeans: develop yourself, go to school, learn a language, takecourses. If you dont do this, if you step on the brake, you are adanger to yourself and to others.If you dont learn new things, youre standing still.To continue the acceleration lane metaphor, this also means thatthose on the highway should have a regard for those trying tomerge. They need to make way. Sometimes, this will even callfor zip merging. But this, too, is easier if those trying to merge aregoing at the same speed as those on the highway.It is every metropoliss task to enthuse and stimulate people toexpand their knowledge and range of skills. Our goals are: higherCito standardised test results, a better command of spoken andwritten Dutch, a higher educational level, higher basicqualifications, more attention to healthcare and a higheremployment rate.We, the city government, have a duty to make it clear to allRotterdammers that education and the development of talentsare number one priorities. Rotterdam is a learning city.***Next, I will list a number of requirements or conditions forintegration on the local level.Its been six years since we held the first Integrating CitiesConference. Politicians, policy makers and practical experts gottogether to find ways to boost the integration process. 3
It was launched in 2006, in Rotterdam. The then EuroCommissioner Frattini desired that collaboration be morepermanent. He took the initiative to organise an annualconference, held first in Rotterdam and next in Milan, resulting inthe Milan Declaration, containing agreements between theEuropean cities and the European Commission on improvedcollaboration in the field of developing integration policy. TheEuropean Commission also launched the European IntegrationFund. The following year, in Berlin, relationships were solidified,and in 2010, in London, a Charter was drawn up, whichRotterdam co-signed. The Charter sets a shared vision for citiesall over Europe: Our vision of integration is one where all cityresidents can develop their full potential and have an equalchance of a life in safety and dignity.On the basis of six years worth of debate, we are now able tophrase a number of starting principles, of conditions for theintegration process.I will list three:Integration depends on the enforcement of the fundamentalhuman rights;Integration will only succeed if people are themselvesresponsible for making it happen;Integration means collaboration, co-creation.I will briefly comment on these points:(1)We agree that cultural relativism is not an option. In the finalyears of the previous century the view that we should not criticiseeach others cultural or religious backgrounds was widely held.This was a strange form of tolerance. A lot of blind eyes wereturned to preserve the peace. The turn of the centuryrepresented a marked change on this viewpoint. The traumatic9/11 experiences certainly contributed. It was ever morerecognised that Western society is based on a set of universalvalues which are worth defending. Those fundamental valuesare: freedom of expression, freedom of religion, equality of menand women, of homosexuals and heterosexuals, and combatingdiscrimination. New arrivals must accept the norms and values of 4
the rule of law. A great many things are subject to change, butthese are fixed, fundamental core values. Values we shouldcherish. During every civic integration ceremony at city hall, wesay: Today, you will receive your certificate, but you may declineto accept it. This is your own, free choice. Should you choose toaccept the certificate, you choose for Dutch society. You willadhere to the rules we have agreed on together, you will speakDutch and will actively participate. That is all. Should you notwant to do this, should you choose not to do this, no offencetaken - but in that case, there are planes available every day toreturn you to countries more in agreement with your views. Itsthat clear.(2)The second requirement is for us to look, not at where we comefrom, but where we are going to. This is a process involving bothparties, just like merging on the road. You give each other spacehere, as well. The European New Agenda even speaks about aprocess involving three parties, as transitions in the countries oforigin also play a part. I would like to emphasise that we need torealise were lucky to live in a world granting us opportunities. Butthis comes with a duty for every person to seize thoseopportunities present. There is no room here for unwarrantedvictimisation. Everyone is tasked with developing themselves byimproving and making use of their talents. This is ones ownresponsibility. Pointing towards others or the government doesntcut it. New arrivals are themselves responsible for their civicintegration. Should you come here, should you come to live here,you will have to do your utmost to integrate into society, to find ajob, to follow education and to learn to speak the language. Thisis why we put so much emphasis on talent development inRotterdam. We say to all students: finish school and find achallenging job. Companies are in dire need of motivatedprofessionals. We also call on the first generation of new arrivalsto learn the language, together with their school-goinggrandchildren. They are given a unique second chance. 5
(3)Which brings me to the third requirement of integration: agovernment that knows its place. A society of confident,responsible citizens deserves a government that knows what todo, but also where to stay its hand. A government strictlyenforcing the fundamental rights. A government listening to thefeelings of local residents, sounding out discontent andemploying the right measures when a neighbourhood needs abreak. A government providing the right stimuli for inter-culturaldialogue, for talent development, for participation. The how of agovernment performing its duties becomes ever more important.Its not about taking away the initiative from others, but aboutproviding support where needed. So, a government that inspirestrust.We do so, for instance, through our the neighbourhood rulesinitiative. Every two weeks, the chief constable and I visit aneighbourhood and talk with the residents about issues ofsecurity in the area. Together, we determine the main issues,which then become leading priorities for the police and themunicipality. But we also make agreements about what residentsand entrepreneurs themselves will do to improve theneighbourhood. Because its their game as well.These are the three main requirements for a form of integrationwhich no longer allows for cultural relativism and unwarrantedvictimisation. Integration is based on the fundamental values ofthe democratic rule of law. Integration is something one doesoneself. The government then only has the responsibility toprovide support, opting for co-creation. That is integration in theyear 2012.*** 6
Ladies and Gentlemen,Id also like to make a few critical comments today.Europe launches Charters and Conferences. Thats great, butwhat we really need are results. Not that theres a reason to havesomething against declarations and memoranda, but, as a formerpolitician once said: You cannot live in them. Problems requiresolutions and that is why we ask Europe for help. And we say:Dont just talk, act!What would the EU be able to do? Ill list six points of attention.1) Arrange for clear frameworks and preconditions for successfulintegration, but do realise that integration policy, in itsimplementation, is predominantly a local matter. It is on the locallevel that social cohesion may be enhanced. Continue to facilitatelocal governments, both by providing information and funds andby exchanging best practices.2) Be aware of the currently uncertain legal status and rights ofthird-country residents. Local governments are particularlyaffected by this when it comes to integration policy. With regardto asylum seekers who have exhausted all appeals, all MemberStates and Europe must coordinate their laws and regulations. Incurrent practice, that particular group often falls between twostools, the cities having to carry the burdens (crime, education ofthe children).3) Strive for a level playing field. Member States implement EUregulations differently. Legislation needs to be harmonised, assome Member States pursue a stricter policy than others do(Poland debate). Further harmonisation of legislation isnecessary. The debate needs to be held. Primarily, of course, bythe European Parliament and the national parliaments. Andduring city debates (though preferably not over the Internet...).4) Broaden European integration policy to encompass not onlythird nationals, but all new arrivals. In practice, thecity/Rotterdam does not differentiate between new arrivals. Itsinconsequential whether they come from third countries or fromother EU Member States. 7
Rotterdam thus advocates involving integration of EU citizens inthe European Integration Agenda and using European IntegrationFund funding not only for the integration of third-countrynationals, but also to remedy integration issues involving newarrivals from Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and the Baltic States.5) Support and facilitate city debates, dialogue, languageeducation, civic integration courses, employment projects,emancipation projects, anti-discrimination projects, etc. Arrangefor a systematic exchange and monitoring of experiences,innovations, successes and failures on the local level. Make ESF,Progress and INTI funding available for these types of initiatives.6) Establish priorities. Europe currently proceeds from the tenCommon Basic Principles. Thats nice, but it is too vague. Weneed to make clearer choices. I propose making the threerequirements I mentioned in the first part of my speech intostarting principles:Respect for fundamental rights, personal responsibility and co-creation. These, to me, are the three cornerstones of a commonEuropean integration policy.I hope well set to work on making this happen! 8