Speech by Finland's Minister of Labor at EUMC European round: migrants must learn local language

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Thu Oct 5 12:39:56 UTC 2006

Ms Tarja Filatov, Minister of Labour at the EUMC European Round Table
Conference in Helsinki, 4 October 2006

Ladies and Gentlemen, Distinguished Guests,

It is my pleasure to welcome you all to this European Round table
Conference in Helsinki organized by the European Monitoring Centre on
Racism and Xenophobia. The Conference focuses on the racial discrimination
as a critical barrier to integration. In order to do this,
anti-discrimination work has to be seen as an essential part of
integration policy. The link between attitudes and integration has to be
emphasised, and integration seen as a two-way process, in which both the
attitudes of immigrants and majority population have an impact on the
integration process.

In Finland, integration measures have been developed on a long-term and
continuing basis to enable newcomers to learn the language and have basic
knowledge of the society. Furthermore, orientation to the working life and
further studies has been included. However, majority of the integration
supportive measures have been targeted to immigrants themselves. Measures
to prepare the mainstream society to pay attention on the needs of the
newcomers has been carried out to a lesser extend. In the future, it will
be necessary to emphasise the two-way nature of the integration process.
It is widely acknowledged that the responsibility of the integration
equally rests on both the newcomer as well as the host society. Successful
integration is unthinkable in the atmosphere of hostility, suspicion or

Therefore, our integration measures can succeed only with mutual and full
commitment of all actors involved. The involvement of civil society,
social partners, service providers as well as minority cultural
communities is needed. Among the barriers for successful integration are
often lack of contacts and interaction with local population. Lack of
interaction makes it more difficult to adopt the knowledge on language,
habits and social structures. It also limits opportunities for accessing
employment, since a great deal of recruitments is based on contacts and
references. So, by promoting good ethnic relations, interaction and
participation, we also promote immigrants access to employment and
learning of the local language.

According to the results of so called victims research made in Finland,
immigrants face discrimination in recruitment and at workplaces. In
recruitment it appears for example so that applicants with non-Western
names are not invited to job interviews. A typical form of indirect
discrimination is the demand of perfect language skills for a work, in
which there is no contextual need for that. In order to combat these
direct and indirect forms of discrimination, we need to strengthen the
identification of discrimination, raise awareness on rights and
obligations, and develop measures to prevent discrimination both in
national context and transnationally.

In this context, I would like to stress the importance of the European
Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia and the forthcoming Human
Rights Agency. It is utterly important to have reliable and comparable
data related to the fulfilment of equal opportunities, barriers of
successful integration, trends and developments. In its reports, the EUMC
demonstrates that anti-racism policies are not only desirable, but also
necessary and feasible. The Centre has called on the Member States and EU
institutions to redouble efforts to combat racism in its different forms.
It has also put forward proposals for effective racial equality policies,
based on the good practice it has identified.

On behalf of the EU Presidency, I would like to encourage all Member
States to examine closely the policy proposals developed by the Centre and
to consider them when designing relevant policies. Next year is the
European Year of Equal Opportunities for All. The specific objectives of
the Year are Rights, Representation, Recognition and Respect. Although we
in the European Union have an advanced legislative framework to prohibit
and prevent discrimination, awareness on these rights and obligations must
be increased. This should be done both among the general public and among
people exposed to discrimination.

Some population groups, for example the Roma are also under-represented in
all sectors and at all levels of the most European societies, and
therefore initiatives and good practices to promote their increased
participation should be introduced. Promotion of diversity is necessary
for the further development of the European societies. Advantages related
to diversity policy should be brought more visible and under public
debate. In Finland, this discussion has been ongoing for example in
connection to the future demographic challenges. The Government has
prepared its Immigration Policy Programme. The programme is targeted to
promote labour immigration and has a strong emphasis on integration and
promotion of good ethnic relations and zero-tolerance of discrimination
and racism.

The concept of equality has been interpreted in different ways in
different times. It has been common that similar treatment has been seen
equal as well.  That is a false interpretation, since individual features,
possibilities and starting points differ from person to another. Therefore
positive measures are needed to ensure actual equality. Equal
opportunities policy emphasizes positive measures, acknowledging of
differences and celebrating diversity as a strength of Europe as a whole.

Ladies and Gentlemen, In order to gain credibility and involve committed
partners, added value of diversity policy has to be justified with both
facts of today and visions of the future. Identification of discrimination
and racism is the bases for equality and diversity in the society.
Discrimination takes different forms in different times. That is why we
have to evaluate and monitor the situation all the time and try to
anticipate and prevent possible discriminative structures and developments
before they take place. In this work the EUMC has a remarkable role.

Discrimination in its different forms can be seen as the greatest obstacle
for integration. Therefore, the fight against discrimination and racism is
utterly important. Specific actions to promote integration must be
complemented by measures to tackle discriminatory barriers. Policies to
combat discrimination and racism are not always connected to the
integration strategies pursued by the Member States. There is, however, a
clear recognition of the need to act.Todays deepening and enlarging
European Union offers a proven and effective framework for co-operation,
and this is the way we have been furthering our joint efforts. This
European Roundtable offers an excellent opportunity to keep working

I wish all the participants constructive discussions and practical
insights on how to continue our joint efforts in an effective manner.



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