The high point of the Expert Council’s work each year is easily identified: every spring, a press conference is held at which the latest Annual Report of the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration (SVR) is presented. Nine professors then take the podium before an audience of some 40 representatives of Berlin’s media. Television crews film and photographers snap away when Christine Langenfeld, the SVR’s chairwoman, holds the around 200-page report aloft at the start of the event.
Scientifically-founded policy advice for the key social issues of integration and migration.
Germany is a country of immigration. Migration and integration are key topics of future political relevance at federal, state and municipal level, as well as in the area of public debate. People of migrant origin in Germany are still at a severe disadvantage in the field of education and on the employment market. Long-term and far-sighted action is needed here to intensify integration efforts, yet previously this crucial area of social policy lacked any overall, continuous, independent, critical and scientific support. Against this backdrop, leading German foundations launched the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration (SVR) in October 2008.
What are the objectives?
The objective of the SVR is to support civil society and politicians at federal, state and municipal level by providing scientifically founded and action-oriented recommendations in the areas of integration and migration – and thereby to make debates on the issue, which are often highly emotional, more objective.
How will this be achieved?
The SVR is an independent and scientific body of experts tasked with assessing the current state of affairs, carrying out development analyses, providing critical policy-making support and informing the public on issues relating to integration and migration. Its job is to make critical observations, carry out neutral and reliable evaluations and provide action-oriented advice. The Annual Report containing the Integration Barometer is the Expert Council’s central publication.
How is the project organized?
The SVR, which is formally set up as a non-profit limited company, is based in Berlin; since 1 June 2014 its director has been Cornelia Schu.
At least a dozen microphones are then pointed in Christine Langenfeld’s direction. She presents the publication’s key findings and answers the questions of the press, flanked by experts who respond to questions concerning their particular specialist fields. The reporters furrow their brows as they make their notes. Dorothee Winden, the SVR’s communications manager, can be sure that the Annual Report will already be an important topic on the radio and television before the day is out, and that it will feature in the country’s major dailies the next day, as well as in regional and local newspapers from Flensburg to Freiburg.
As yet the podium is still empty. Chairs and equipment are being set up in the room on the first floor where the press conference is to be held. One floor above, in the offices of the 18 members of staff, everyone is hard at work. Dorothee Winden is on the phone, answering questions from journalists and setting up interviews with chairwoman Langenfeld. Migration and integration have long been recognized as an important sociopolitical issue, as also evidenced by reporting in the media. The immigration of highly skilled workers is one question that is repeatedly discussed; another is the issue of economic refugees, especially since the restrictions on freedom of movement for Romania and Bulgaria were lifted. Although there are repeated reports of problems in certain crisis-ridden areas, the public debate – unlike in the past – is remarkably factual and objective in the way it is conducted. “The discussion is no longer as emotional”, notes Christine Langenfeld, adding that the SVR has played its part in this: the fact that its analysis found that migrants from Romania and Bulgaria are for the most part graduates and skilled workers – making economic migration the exception rather than the rule to date – had the effect of largely dispelling prejudices and misinformation at an early stage.
Putting the debate about migration on a sound scientific footing and thus making it more objective is the overriding objective of the SVR, which according to Dorothee Winden enjoys “a high degree of credibility” thanks to its independence and the fact that it comprises senior and high-ranking experts. A number of academics who focus intensively on integration and migration in their specialist fields belong to this interdisciplinary body: alongside constitutional law expert Christine Langenfeld from Göttingen, they are the two Bochum professors Ludger Pries (sociology) and Thomas K. Bauer (empirical economics), Gianni D’Amato, professor of migration and citizenship studies at the University of Neuchâtel, Dortmund educational researcher Wilfried Bos, Heinz Faßmann from the Institute of Geography and Regional Research at the University of Vienna, Bremen educational science expert Yasemin Karakaşoğlu, Hamburg educational science specialist Ursula Neumann and Hacı Halil Uslucan, director of the Center of Turkey Studies and Integration Research at the University of Duisburg-Essen.
“The Expert Council issues scientifically founded and concrete action recommendations as to how objective political decisions could be taken in for example the area of modern citizenship law”, explains Christine Langenfeld. The work of the experts follows a solely scientific approach, and they alone decide on the central topic for the Annual Report. The fifth Annual Report (2014) looks at Germany’s transformation to a modern immigration country, while last year’s report was entitled “Europe as a successful model? Consequences and challenges for Germany posed by free movement within the EU”. An integration barometer is also compiled for the Annual Reports: a broad-based survey of the integration climate in Germany. The requisite scientific independence is ensured by the support of eight major German foundations. Stiftung Mercator alone has contributed 3.28 million euros to the SVR since 2008.
The work of the nine experts is supported by the researchers who work at the SVR’s offices. Since 2011, there has additionally been the Expert Council’s Research Unit, which conducts independent, practice-oriented research projects in the field of integration and migration, thereby complementing the work of the Expert Council. To cite one example of the practical relevance of its work: graduates from non-EU countries who had undertaken a course of study at universities in Germany used to be sent back to their home countries shortly after graduation. A process of rethinking then began, with the result that foreign graduates were allowed to work in Germany under certain conditions. The Expert Council fought for the regulations to be further relaxed, and a study conducted by the SVR Research Unit focused public attention on the problem – today the legal regulations that enable foreign graduates to work after completing a course of study in Germany are extremely liberal, even by European standards. “This represents a huge potential that now needs to be even better exploited”, notes Jan Schneider, director of the SVR Research Unit. Education is the most important focal area of the Research Unit’s scientific work, accounting for more than half of its publications.
The SVR has established an excellent reputation for itself, as can be seen from the level of attention paid to the presentation of its Annual Report. After the press conference in 2013, Federal President Joachim Gauck invited the experts to Schloss Bellevue, his official residence, where he was presented with the report and took part in a long discussion with the experts – a first sharing of ideas that was continued on later occasions.
There is considerable interest in the expertise of the Expert Council, as testified by the numerous enquiries it receives from federal and state ministries, municipalities and associations. As Cornelia Schu, who took over as the SVR’s director on 1 June 2014, notes: “Integration and migration policy will also remain key policy-making areas in the coming years, with the result that independent policy advice will continue to be in high demand.”
A Fresh Start for EU Refugee Policy: More Europe, and A Different Europe
The Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration (SVR) presents guidelines for [...]
In its Annual Report, now out in English, the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration [...]