National Identities and Migration Policies

Tr@nsit Online

Europe is in the process of moving from the denial of immigration to its endorsement, but has yet to reach a sense of common purpose with immigrants in its construction of a vision of its own future. Can 'Old Europe' finish its transformation? And can the postcommunist countries be expected to accept the challenge to their ethnic self-image that immigration poses?

I. Two Contradictory Principles of the Liberal Nation State

The contemporary international system has been progressively built up since the 17 th century, when the principle of territorial sovereignty of states became entrenched in Europe. In the same century, the modern doctrine of human rights was formulated. This doctrine became the foundation of the liberal-democratic institutions which have been subsequently developed in the states of western Europe and northern America. The synthesis of the principle of territorial sovereignty with the principle of human rights brought about a specifically modern political form – the liberal nation-state. The two principles at its foundation are, however, potentially conflicting. One establishes a special ownership claim for members of a particular national community to a given territory, the other establishes the right to equal treatment (or concern) for all members of the universal community of humankind. The principle of national sovereignty requires the state to care for the well-being of one particular nation, rooted in a particular territory; the principle of human rights requires the state to respect the rights of human individuals, regardless of their national membership. The predicament of the liberal nation-state consists in a permanent effort to meet those two obligations which are, most of the time, at cross-purposes with one another.

This tension between the particularistic and collectivistic mandate of states and the universalistic and individualistic spirit of their liberal constitutions is exemplified acutely in the dilemmas of their migration and integration policies. Wavering between the two poles is inescapable since – as the very expression adumbrates – the liberal nation state has to ensure both the collective goods of members of a particular nation, and the individual rights of members of the universal community of humankind (once they find themselves under its jurisdiction). In so far as these two memberships coincide, everything may run smoothly. The predicament begins when the state needs to adjudicate between claims of people who are nationals and claims of people who are not.

Precisely this is usually at stake in immigration and integration policies. We can locate these policies on a continuum spanning the two poles. The predominance of the universalistic consideration amounts to the readiness of a state to open its gates to ethno-culturally alien immigrants and to include them among its citizens. The predominance of the particularistic consideration amounts to the closing of the state’s borders and the reserving of its own territory, resources and institutions for the members of its own nation, already living on the territory. All liberal nation-states try to strike a balance between these two poles and, thus, their immigration and integration policies are situated somewhere in the middle of this continuum. As stated above: being both „liberal“ and „national“, they have to find a compromise between the individual rights of the person as a member of the human species and the specific claims of their own nationals.

II. Four Ideal Types of Nationhood

An exact place on the continuum between liberal immigration (and integration) policies on the one hand and nationalist or restrictionist policies on the other is contingent not only upon outcomes of political decision-making processes but also on the historically constructed identities of nations. The different genealogies and self-understandings of different nations tend to move them closer towards one or the other of the two normative standpoints which they have to combine. We can order various articulations of the two poles from the more universalistic, inclusive and liberal identities (and attitudes towards immigration and integration) to the more particularistic, exclusive and nationalist identities (and attitudes towards immigration and integration).

I propose a typology that rests on two oppositions. The first is that between the countries of the New and the Old World. Whereas in the former nation-building coincided with immigration and the settlement of a land, the latter conceived of themselves as endogenous, that is, as descendants of those who used to live on the national territory continuously up to the present since some mythical time of arrival and rooting. While for the nations of the New World belonging was a result of free choice with an eye to the future, for the nations of the Old World belonging was a result of historical destiny. The second opposition is that between ethnic and civic nations – the former vesting the criteria of membership in blood lineage, the latter in political belonging to the territorial state. By combination of the two oppositions we arrive at the following table.

Four Ideal Types of Nationhood
  immigrant-settler endogenous
civic USA France, Britain
ethnic Israel Germany

At first glance, the ethnic nation is nearly an absolute opposite of the immigrant nation – it is based on destiny rather than on free choice, and it is past-oriented rather than future-oriented. In this view, the civic nation strikes a middle ground between those two mutually exclusive options. The absolute opposition between immigrant and ethnic nations is, however, problematised by many examples of immigrant-settler nations which, within the process of modern European colonization, claimed an ethnic pedigree. Israel is chosen as a prime empirical prototype since unlike the others (such as Afrikaaners in South Africa before 1994), Israel wants to be a liberal-democratic, „western-type“ nation-state. To include Israel under the category of the immigrant ethnic nation presupposes that we make a qualitative difference between a modern Israeli identity, linked to the Zionist state-building project, and a pre-modern diasporic Judaism that referred to statehood only in relation to the biblical past or the messianic future (Attias, Benbassa: 2001). The secularization or politicization of the religious concept of statehood into the Zionist project of return and state-building amounted to a radical transformation of Jewishness: migration and settlement in Palestine and the establishment of the state of Israel there coincided with the creation of a national identity in the modern sense of this word. As the title of the play by Theodor Herzl – Das Altneuland (1907) – intimates, the Zionist project combines the opposite traits of the New- and Old-World identities: a community of destiny was to be realized as a community of free choice and radiant future. Unlike the revolutionary French or Americans, who conceived of their republics as the homelands of all humankind, Zionists conceived of Israel as the homeland for Jews only as they are defined by blood lineage and religion.

The Immigrant Civic Nation: USA

In the USA, Australia and Canada, immigration and the settling of immigrants coincided with nation-building. As these nations were created out of the people who originally belonged to other nations, their immigration and integration policies have been in the long run closer to the universalistic and inclusive end of the continuum. They have encouraged permanent immigration and treated most legal immigrants as future citizens. Once ethnic and racial prejudices were overcome in the last quarter of the 20 th century, the USA, Canada and Australia came progressively to conceive of themselves as „multicultural“ (that is, multi-ethnic or multi-racial) nations. (Glazer 1994; Takaki 1993; Kymlicka 1997)

The Endogenous Civic Nation Assimilationist Republic: France

France is a good example of how a civic nation in Europe may occupy a middle position between an immigrant civic and endogenous ethnic nationhood. The French founded their modern identity not only on past ethnic history but also on the projected political future, that is, on a conscious choice of the republican form of government. This political form allegedly expressed universal values of humankind so that, in principle, France was supposed to be the true fatherland of all freedom-loving people across the whole world. Since the time of Napoleon, this revolutionary universalism provided an ideological cover for the French colonial project, and, simultaneously, made France quite open and inclusive as far as immigration was concerned. The integration pattern, however, had been distinctly assimilationist. The inclusion of others (be they colonized or immigrants) required that they abandon their particular ethnic identities and fully buy into the French national culture which allegedly incarnated universal values of humanity (Brubaker 1992; Dumont 1990; Favell 1998).

The Pluralistic Empire: Great Britain

A different example of the civic nation is Great Britain. As an empire, Great Britain was supposed to be a universal commonwealth for many particular regional, religious or ethnic groups. They could retain their differences under one imperial roof, albeit under the condition that they respected the superiority of English culture. The development of liberal norms with their antiracist and antidiscriminatory thrust brought about a transformation of this hierarchical cultural pluralism into a liberal multiculturalism. The latter view conceives of partial ethnic identities as complementary to an overarching Britishness. Since Britain was traditionally a country of emigration, rather than immigration, liberal immigration policy towards overseas „subjects“ between 1948 and 1962 was not motivated by a genuine openness towards them but rather by the goal of keeping the Empire. Once this goal proved unattainable during the 1950s, Britain subscribed to a zero-immigration tenet (Favell 1998; Grillo 1998; Hansen 2000; Parekh 1990).

The Endogenous Ethnic Nation: Germany

Whereas political membership in Britain and France was traditionally conferred by ius soli (that is, on the basis of the place of birth), in Germany it was conferred by ius sanguinis (that is, on the basis of blood lineage). This constitutive element of German nationhood was further strengthened by the homeland role which the Federal Republic of Germany played for East Germany and the East European German diaspora: this role meant that West Germany had to care for all ethnic Germans no matter where they lived or whether they were formally German citizens or not. This implied very exclusivist and particularistic attitudes to immigration and integration in the years of post-war reconstruction. Whereas Germans conferred an automatic right to citizenship on all ethnic Germans, regardless of whether they had ever lived in Germany, they denied this right to their labour immigrants even if they had resided in the country for a long time (Brubaker 1992; Dumont 1983, 1985; Joppke 1999).

The Immigrant Ethnic Nation: Israel

Since the establishment of Israel, Jewish immigrants (and their family members), called „returnees“, have been given automatic citizenship and large assistance has been provided for their integration – over two million Jews have arrived and been absorbed into Israeli society since 1948. The right of return has been denied to the Palestinian exiles of 1948 – originally more than 700,000, now around 3,5 million. The Arabs who stayed – originally 186,000, now more than 1 million – have been given citizenship but many of their rights have been curtailed (the right of movement, land property rights, political rights etc.) and the development of their communities has been barred by many formal and informal measures. There is no other avenue for immigration and naturalization than the ethno-religious one. Since the first Intifada (1987 – 1993), which caused the frequent closure of the territories occupied in 1967, and especially since 1991, when the Israelis began to regulate entry into Israel proper from the territories, a growing number of guest workers have been accepted (there were around 200,000 of them in Israel in 2003) with no opportunity to integrate and naturalize (Dieckhoff 1998; Kimmerling 1989; Lustick 1980; Smooha 2001).

III. Contemporary Convergence of Western European Policies

Despite initial differences, stemming from different national histories and identities, France, Great Britain and Germany have moved toward common ground in their immigration and integration policies over the last several years. They have all explicitly recognized that they are countries of immigration and formulated outlines of their policies in this field accordingly.

For France, this acknowledgement was the least difficult. Thanks to the universalistic republicanism and mass immigration preceding the post-war influx, immigration was „normal“ for France. In a sense, even if it is not an immigrant nation, modern France has always been a country of immigration. A report ordered by the socialist government of Lionel Jospin from Patrick Weil (1997) and two statutes stemming from it – the Law Guigou and the Law Chevenement (1998) – took to its consequences the universalist strand of the French tradition with its roots in the ideology of 1789 and acknowledged overtly the experience of immigration which had characterized the country since the middle of the 19 th century.

It was not that simple in Britain and Germany. Rather than to im-migration, Britain had been accustomed for centuries to colonialist e-migration, and the post-war influx of non-European immigrants seemed to be merely an unintended consequence of an effort to maintain an overseas empire (especially the Old Commonwealth) rather than a normal state of affairs. While as late as in the 70s and 80s, Britain declared itself to be „a zero-immigration country“, Germany claimed in the same period repeatedly that it is kein Einwanderungsland (not an immigration country). In this latter case, the established tradition of ethnic nationhood together with the fact of a divided Germany and millions of Germans in Eastern Europe made the Federal Republic of Germany the homeland for all ethnic Germans and thus excluded in advance the very concept of the settling and national integration of ethnically and culturally alien populations.

Only in the 90s did Britain finally emerge from its post-colonialist „mourning“ period and the German state completed its ethno-nationalist mission by uniting with East Germany and opening its doors to all Eastern Germans who wanted to use their newly acquired freedom of movement to resettle. The facts on the ground (that is, the massive presence of second- and third-generation immigrants and the impossibility of stopping immigration) but also economic expediency and a series of progressive ideas made sizeable parts of the political elite in both Britain and Germany re-assess their established national self-conceptions. In Germany this development was completed on the legal level by passing a new Nationality Law in 2000 that introduced jus soli. In July 2001, the Süssmuth report outlined guidelines of the Immigration Law, which was tabled in the Parliament first in 2002 and then in 2003. The British White Paper Secure Borders, Safe Haven. Integration with Diversity in Modern Britain (2002) recognized immigration as an inevitable feature of British society and continued the previous pluralistic line of integration policies stressing, however, that ethno-cultural „diversity“ be embedded in a common civic identity that is based on a shared set of values and loyalty to British political institutions.

Around the turn of the century, France, Great Britain and Germany have all explicitly recognized that they are countries of immigration and formulated quite similar migration- and integration-policy frameworks. Their migration policies converge on two points. On the one hand, active immigration policy schemes are designed to attract and recruit young and high-skilled labour migrants who it is intended should [my alternative suggestion is: who are considered likely to] contribute to economic growth, fill labour shortages, and compensate for aging home populations, thereby ensuring sufficient input into the welfare and pension systems. On the other hand, an extensive apparatus is deployed to restrict and limit the immigration of unwanted (low-skilled, culturally alien) groups who are portrayed as liable to disrupt the social order and drain welfare state resources. For this restrictive purpose, special measures have been introduced to fight illegal immigration. At the same time, asylum-legislation has been revised and refined so as to be able to capture and offset an alleged surge in „bogus asylum seekers“.

France, Britain, and Germany also converge on the strategic guidelines for their integration policies. On the one hand, they try to build a clear procedural line connecting immigration to naturalization so that the passage from settling and residence to citizenship is as easy as possible. On the other hand, they have shifted the onus of accommodation onto the immigrants. There has been a strong tendency in recent years to temper the celebration of diversity (driven by the liberal multiculturalism of the 1970s and 1980s) with stress on the obligation of immigrants to adapt and accept the basic values and cultural givens of the receiving society. This emphasis on national „unity“ over multicultural „diversity“ received new momentum in the wake of „9/11“ terrorist attacks which intensified the perception of the rise and increased threat of Islamic terrorism (if not outright islamophobia).

We can conclude that the European move from immigration denial to its endorsement has got stuck half-way: rather than invite strangers of different origin to share a common future, as the immigrant nation (ideally) does, the societies of western Europe still prefer to ground their common political identity in their own national origins, and, consequently, invite only those strangers who may contribute – economically or culturally – to this predefined project. But even this half-opening seems to be too much for the post-communist countries which have recently joined the EU. Only recently have they recovered their national sovereignty which they conceive in ethnic terms, however tempered these terms are by their liberal constitutions. So far, these countries have had difficulties in accommodating even their own „old“ minorities. Can we expect them to follow Germany’s lead and begin to dispose of their ethnic self-images?

Tr@nsit online, 2005
Copyright © 2005 by the author & Transit – Europäische Revue. All rights reserved. This work may be used, with this header included, for noncommercial purposes. No copies of this work may be distributed electronically, in whole or in part, without written permission from Transit.

Pavel Barša is Associate Professor of Political Science at Charles University Prague and was an Andrew W. Mellon Fellow of IWM in 2004


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