Author: Katharina Bamberg, Policy Advisor Migration & Integration, Eurocities
It’s no secret that cities take on the lion share of responsibility for integrating migrants and refugees. They put in place many programmes, projects and initiatives to ensure decent housing, jobs and opportunities for education. Of course, challenges remain, and cities regularly re-assess and adapt their measures to improve integration outcomes.
However, one challenge that cannot be overcome that easily is the funding of local integration policies. Municipal budgets are notoriously overstretched, and cities often face the hard choice of which projects to continue and which ones to abandon. The lack of financial resources directly impacts people who rely on these local services, be they migrant groups or the wider community.
We live in the European Union, a financial and economic powerhouse moving around several billion Euros every year to fund all kinds of policy initiatives. Naturally, one would be forgiven for thinking that money must be readily available to support cities when it comes to such essential initiatives as building inclusive societies and ensuring that everyone has access to the services they need and deserve. If only it were that easy!
The gap between local and national level priorities
The national level receives the majority of EU funds for integration in the form of national programmes. Unfortunately, EU member states do not always make it easy for cities to access the money they need for local priorities. Often, local authorities are not appropriately consulted in planning and implementing these national programmes.
This can be especially critical when the national government has in mind different political priorities that do not consider the lived realities of migrants in cities. This comes at the dire expense of refugees and vulnerable people in search of protection or better opportunities in life.
EU funding opportunities for cities
There is another way of accessing EU funding, and that is through money that is managed directly by the EU Commission and disseminated in the form of regular funding calls.
At Eurocities, we have highlighted the importance of making them more accessible for cities and including the local perspective in the legislative frameworks governing these funds. This advocacy has been successful in many ways: The EU Action Plan on Integration and Inclusion 2021-2027 clearly recognises the role of cities as key stakeholders in integrating migrants.
Funds that are relevant for integration measures, such as the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) or the European Social Fund (ESF+), point out a number of areas where local authorities are eligible for receiving financial resources.
This is crucial, as many cities have benefited from EU funds over the years and have scaled up their integration projects to respond to their local challenges and priorities. Still, issues persist there as well.
Shortcomings of EU funding
Much of the funding supports comparatively short-term periods of three years and frequently calls for innovative projects. Building a sustainable integration environment, with all the projects, civil society partners and political buy-in needed, is a long-term process. And there is not always a need to innovate just for the sake of innovating, especially in the case of promising developments or positive integration outcomes.
Local projects often respond to a more complex environment than what can be covered by individual funds.
It is very positive that cities are mainstreaming integration across different policy areas and design projects that not only benefit migrants but also the wider population and neighbourhood. It also shows that concepts of who is and who is not a migrant are becoming outdated by today’s lived realities in culturally and ethnically diverse cities.
Therefore, it should be easier for cities to mix different EU funds that may individually only cover actions for specific groups, yet taken together, can lead to a more holistic approach to integration.
A big problem is the complex application processes and demanding deadlines for EU funding calls.
Especially cities that may not have sufficient resources or expertise, or that are simply new to the whole world of EU funding are disadvantaged when accessing funds. In the interest of democratising cities’ possibilities to benefit from EU support, especially also in Central Europe, more assistance and easier application guidelines are needed.
All these are issues that can be, and are already being tackled by the European Commission. Thankfully, the Commission is refreshingly realistic about cities’ challenges and the need to include local authorities more effectively to improve integration outcomes.
However, it is also necessary to empower cities more broadly in the EU policy framework. The EU institutions and national governments need to structurally include cities in devising EU legislation on migration and integration. Member-states need to properly consult them in programming and implementing national funds that make this legislation a reality. And finally, cities need more direct EU funding for local integration measures.
Cities are the places where integration happens. They know what can be done and what is still needed. These realities need to be fully reflected at the EU level as well.
 Eurocities (2020), “Cities in the EU Action Plan for Integration and Inclusion 2021-2027”. Available here: https://eurocities.eu/latest/action-plan-for-integration/
See also: Urban Agenda Inclusion Partnership (2019), “Access to EU integration funding. Providing better access to funding for cities”. Available here: https://www.inclusionpartnership.com/access-to-eu-integration-funding
 See also: Malisa Zobel & Johannes Krabbe (2022), “The new EU budget: more access to migration and integration funding for cities or a missed opportunity?”, Humboldt-Viadrina Governance Platform. Available here: https://www.governance-platform.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/PolicyBrief_EUfunding_integration_cities_HVGP.pdf