From principles to policies: Creating an evidence base for a European approach to migration management

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by Thomas Huddleston

The Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX), launched in Brussels on October 15 2007, is an instrument for benchmarking successful integration policies in Europe. MIPEX is a bi-annual assessment of integration policy, which examines an enlarging number of policy areas critical for a migrant’s opportunities to participate in her country of residence. This second version looked at six areas: labour market access, family reunion, long-term residence, political participation, access to nationality, and anti-discrimination. The study uses the official EU definition of migrants, third-country nationals, which can be generally understood as persons without EU citizenship. The study covers the Member States of an enlarging European Union (EU 25, prior to the accession of Bulgaria and Romania) as well as selected countries of immigration outside the European Union. The study opens up direct comparisons between two countries by benchmarking their policies to the highest European standards for legal integration.


The study has grown immensely since the 2004 pilot version to become the largest study of its kind, from eighty to 140 policy indicators, thirty to almost one hundred national experts, and fifteen to 28 countries, including Canada, Norway, and Switzerland. The study is undertaken alongside an extensive network of 21 national partners, from think-tanks to large-scale NGOs and foundations, who contribute to the research design and launch debates in each of their countries. MIPEX is co-financed by the European Commission and co-managed by the British Council and the Migration Policy Group. The research is led by MPG, along with two research partners, the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom and the Free University of Brussels.

This discussion paper draws on many ongoing draft papers and past contributions to various conferences in order to situate the MIPEX project within the methodological framework of benchmarking as well as within the recent political context of European governance on migration policy.

How MIPEX can be used in the benchmarking debate on European governance of migration policy

EU governance of
migration policy

1) Sharing information                        


Comparative policy data
"what is"



2) Standard-setting
(planning, analysis)  
   - Recommendations
   - Non-binding principles
   - EC legislation as benchmark

Normative framework
"what should be"


3) Monitoring transposition and 
Mutual learning (implementation)

Monitoring standards
"what has been"
Ex-ante evaluation
"what could be"

Benchmarking is a methodology for good governance that can be defined as the systematic and continual improvement of policies and practices based on the identification of high standards and the application of lessons learned from best practice. The process is broken down into four stages, which can then be applied to the progress made by the European institutions on issues of integration. Member State governments, European-wide networks of academics, social partners, and umbrella-NGOs have been drawn into a mapping process of defining integration, establishing a comparable vocabulary, and identifying areas of improvement for national policies across Europe.

In the planning phase, migration, integration, and citizenship have become areas of increasing European competence, be it through the Council of Europe or the European Union, particularly for the latter since the benchmark 1999 Tampere Conclusions. Successful mapping and planning exercises lead directly to the analysis phase, where new European measures set common European standards for these areas of improvement. In all cases, policy recommendations entailing high European standards have emerged from the mapping exercises led by European-wide networks of academics, proposal directives from the European Commission, or proposals from networks of stakeholders and NGOs. For instance, the Migration Policy Group helped bring together the Starting Line Group for the anti-discrimination directives as well as the Amsterdam Proposals for the migration and integration directives, all of which draw on the Tampere legal benchmark.

Where have these recommendations for high European standards led to? Member States have incorporated these standards into the high, but open-ended, principles of many of Europe’s non-binding measures, such as the Lisbon Strategy and the Common Basic Principles on Immigrant Integration Policy, which serve as general guides (rather than fixed standards) for national policies. In addition to non-binding European measures, European cooperation has also provided integration actors with binding legislative actions, such as EC directives on family reunion, long-term residence, and anti-discrimination or Council of Europe conventions on access to nationality and political participation at the local level. Certain directives, notably on anti-discrimination, retain high standards introduced in Commission, academic, or stakeholder proposals, whereas the negotiation process on other directives have watered high standards down to minimum standards which leave Member States great room for manoeuvre.

If one assumes that the analysis phase on integration is completed within the remit of the 2004-2009 Hague Programme, then the European institutions have progressed onto the implementation phase. On the one hand, the institutions have tasked networks of legal experts to undertake monitoring of the transposition of the EC directives (and their alternatively high or minimum standards). For example, due to the monitoring work of European Commission’s network of legal experts in the field of non-discrimination, the Commission has sent formal requests for ‘reasoned opinions,’ the first step towards legal infringement proceedings, to 14 Member States who have not correctly implemented the Racial Equality Directive.

On the other hand, numerous integration actors can undertake mutual learning in order to identify policies and practices across Europe that correspond to the highest common standards possible. This exercise enables countries to go beyond minimum standards and develop their own pathways to policy improvement in an objective and transparent manner. Governments and stakeholders may also track progress along these pathways as policies improve or backtrack over time. Successful monitoring and benchmarking exercises generate policy feedback, whereby new areas of improvement are identified, gaps in vocabulary remedied, and calls for European standard-setting and action initiated.

MIPEX, as one critical part of a benchmarking process, provides integration actors with comparable policy indicators, which measure to what extent a government’s policies meet high European standards on promoting integration. It reveals where the legal and policy framework affords migrants the opportunities to participate in their country of residence. Cross-national scientific analysis and additional research may later link MIPEX scores with additional national implementation and outcome indicators as well as contextual data. Areas of strength or weakness can be identified in policy itself, its implementation, its target group, public perceptions, the effect of the labour market model, etc. Follow-up benchmarking exercises can help to explain why a migrant does, does not, or cannot in practice take up the opportunities provided under the law. Benchmarking enables social scientists and policymakers to observe how successful integration measures lead to successful integration outcomes in many local, regional, and national contexts.

MIPEX: from principles to policies

Legal integration, meaning a migrant’s legal status, residence rights, citizenship, and access to rights, goods, services, and resources, receives wide expert acceptance as the first step in promoting integration. Groenendijk, Guild and Dogan put it this way in the introduction to their seminal 1998 Council of Europe report on Security of residence of long-term migrants;

“Our central hypothesis is that security of residence provides the immigrant with a firm base for orientation forward settlement and integration in the new society. For the native population, security of residence is a clear signal that public authorities have accepted the indefinite residence of the newcomers, that they are going to stay, will probably one day acquire full citizenship and that unequal treatment can no longer be justified on the basis of their provisional status in society. Hence, the importance of secure residence rights as a step towards full citizenship and social integration can hardly be overestimated.” (Groenendijk et al. 1998 5).

This main expert assumption that legal integration is the necessary but neither sole nor sufficient prerequisite for integration resurfaces again and again in the academic literature on integration. Most importantly, it forms the basis for the European Union’s approach to legal integration of third-country nationals in the development of European Community law: the Tampere Council Conclusions of 1999.

This discussion of legal integration as the necessary but not sole prerequisite for promoting integration reaffirms the importance policy indicators as the starting point in an integration policy evaluation chain. The Migrant Integration Policy Index has produced the first quantitative and comparative dataset based on policy indicators comparing measuring the legal provisions in place across various European countries to promote the integration of third-country national migrant residents. The 2007 second edition established MIPEX as a reliable biannual stocktaking on a widening range of policy areas critical to legal integration. Future editions may consider additional realms relevant to integration.

Given that policy indicators compare policies to an overall vision and set of principles and norms, the first step in drawing up MIPEX was the design of a normative framework. The choices in MIPEX were inspired by Europeanisation and the positions taken by policymakers and civil society stakeholders in setting Europe’s standards on promoting integration. The overall framework is the guiding Tampere conclusion that a non-EU migrant’s legal status should be approximated to that of nationals of Member States.

This legal integration framework has been articulated in the very specific terms of equality of opportunity and comparable rights and responsibilities located in EC Directives, which EU Member States are obligated to transpose into their national laws, or Council of Europe Conventions, which ratifying countries have committed to implement. Where Directives and Conventions only provide minimum standards or allow numerous derogations, the normative framework draws on higher standards from EC Presidency Conclusions, proposals for EC directives and recommendations from EU-wide policy-oriented research projects. This resulting normative framework allows for evaluations of whether the legal policy framework provides the conditions which are necessary but not alone sufficient for promoting integration.

One challenge endemic to policy comparisons is that such frameworks are by definition based on certain normative assumptions as to the principles and policies that best promote the overall goal, in this case immigrant integration. Although the mainstream inclusion principles expressed in European cooperation and academic discourse are also found in many government definitions of integration, these principles are translated into laws and policies to varying degrees, especially given the piecemeal creation of integration policies in many European countries. Policies deviating from general principles of equality may run the risk of becoming legal obstacles to rather than facilitators of immigrant integration. 

In some countries the normative framework may not correspond on every point to the public philosophy and priorities of the current government. The onus is then upon governments to provide and to prove their objective and reasonable justifications as to how these digressions will pursue the legitimate aim of promoting the vision of integration. In this light, MIPEX makes its normative framework fully transparent and open for discussion in its national launch events. Indeed the fact that the project has brought a normative framework to the realm of integration facilitates new debate about what principles lie behind different national integration policies, what justifications are made for changes in law, and what policy coherence has been attained.

The second step in MIPEX is the design of 140 policy indicators to compare national laws and policies according to the normative framework. To be precise, a policy indicator is developed relating to a very specific policy component of one of the six strands. For each the normative framework is translated into three possible answer options. The maximum of three points is awarded to policies that meet these highest European standards. A score of 1 and 2 points corresponds to some of the more restrictionist policy options observed in practices of EU Member States or the derogation clauses of Community directives. Individual indicator scores can then be aggregated together into dimensions and strands that provide a broad-brush overview for policy comparison. It is important to highlight that policy indicators do not replace in-depth research. Rather, MIPEX’s quantitative and comparable results make integration policies in Europe more accessible to a wider range of stakeholders and provide a framework for more comprehensive investigations.

The contribution of MIPEX to a joined-up approach is the systematic provision of a quantitative, comparable, and updated database for evaluating integration policy in the following five respects. At the national level, users can assess the success of government policies in meeting the MIPEX’s normative framework for promoting integration. For instance, the labour market access strand in Sweden scores best practice (100%) since resident migrant workers have approximately equal access, security, and rights as Swedish workers as well as possibilities to take up labour market integration measures.

Comparisons can also be made between areas of policy strength and weakness to check for policy coherence. Luxembourg’s policies score consistently halfway to best practice, except in the area of political participation where policies are found to be favourable for promoting integration. Published biannually the MIPEX has an additional longitudinal component to track policy changes over time. At the international level, a country’s successful performance can be compared to those of its neighbours as well as to the ‘average’ for the EU-25, EU-15, or EU-10.

What policy indicators can do best are ex ante evaluations by holding a mirror up to EU Member States for stakeholders to use in the evaluation of new law and policy proposals. The European Commission has since 2006 ensured that future legislation is compatible with the Charter of Fundamental Rights, while Equality Impact Assessments and other mechanisms involving equality bodies and ombudsmen are possible in countries like Norway, Sweden, and the UK. In practice, Ardittis and Laczko’s 2008 international review of assessing the costs and impacts of migration policy found frequent implementation evaluations but little to no ex ante evaluation. Publically available evaluations are even rarer. For Joanne van Selm 2008 the reason is that ex ante evaluations have the greatest policy influence;

An ex ante evaluation assesses the potential impact and seeks to demonstrate weaknesses as well as strengths in the proposed policy instrument and the capacity to meet the stated objectives. It is also the point at which questions can still be raised concerning the objectives, and whether realization is both reasonable and viable given a particular context. (96)

The underdevelopment of ex ante evaluations means that evaluations in integration policy tend to privilege efficiency and effectiveness over vision and principles. This discrepancy favours recommendations to toughen, reinforce, or improve current measures and rules out other options. As noted by Professor Carl Dahlström in Swedish case on immigrant integration; “the conclusions for policymakers were, therefore, that they were doing the right thing, but just not enough.” The European Commission’s second edition Handbook on Integration observes that exclusively implementation evaluations will not capture problems with the overall strategic direction and use of integration standards. In that sense policy indicators are also useful in ex post evaluations when evaluating new directions and higher normative standards for unsuccessful policy approaches.

One of the conclusions from the Handbook is that policies and their principles should themselves be made the subject of evaluations, since policy indicators, like those in MIPEX, may bring significant improvements to the appropriateness and quality of a country’s integration strategy. For instance the Runnymede Trust (UK) saw the role that the MIPEX framework in evaluating proposals in a February 2008 Green Paper on the path to citizenship;

The type of rules a country will adopt to regulate entry and citizenship will depend to a considerable degree…its vision for the society it is seeking to build. While identifying integration as a goal, many of the ways in which this is meant to be achieved may, in our view, be counter-productive. The range of additional burdens and restricted rights to be extended over an increased number of years is more likely to alienate rather than to integrate people who choose to come to the UK to work or to join their families. Runnymede 3.

The evaluation found that should the proposals be adopted the UK would lose its place as 5th most favourable for promoting integration to fall to 10th, just around the EU average. However, the UK’s ‘middle of the road’ conditions for naturalisation would become some of Europe’s most onerous, on par with Austria and Denmark. The contribution of MIPEX to the evaluation chain, particularly for ex ante evaluation, is the systematic provision of a quantitative, comparable, and updated database in the following five respects. Using the MIPEX policy indicator database, stakeholders build their arguments around assessments of policy’s success in meeting the highest standards for promoting integration, track changes over time, check for policy coherence, and compare national policy performance to that of neighbours and the EU on average.

What policy indicators have difficulty doing is make recommendations for change. Certainly the normative content of the MIPEX indicators draws attention to areas of policy weakness and away from areas of policy strength. On the basis of policy indicator scores alone, it is difficult for governments, with their limited political capital and many tradeoffs and lags, to know which policies to reform when and in what order (Kaufman 2004 8). Kaufman further cautions against ‘teaching to the test’ or ‘reform illusion’ where, in the international development field, rules are changed in isolation on easily ‘actionable’ indicators with the aim of climbing higher on donor’s scorecards. The same could be said for the transposition of EC directives where Member States may adopt a ‘copy out’ strategy by lifting the minimum requirements and wording from the directive in a new national law that goes unenforced. Here the aim would be ticking-the-box on Commission scorecards and thus avoiding infringement proceedings.

Coming back to the hypothesis that legal integration is the necessary but not sufficient first step, it holds that policy indicators must be complemented with the other indicator types in the evaluation chain.  This joined-up approach will capture the poorly understood casual links between policies, outcomes, and the other parts in the ‘missing middle.’ These assessments can then give weight to policy indicators found to have a significant effect on outcomes and inform policy recommendations for change. A diverse set of other integration actors must step up with complementary indicator types in order to evaluate which actionable MIPEX indicators are also ‘action worthy,’ meaning changes in these policies will translate into real progress on meeting integration principles.


The road to successful integration leads from principles to the comparison of policies and other governmental inputs and from there to the more complicated measurements of outputs, outcomes, and impact. It is a bumpy road with many challenges, yet indicators and analytical tools can illuminate where policies match high principles, are efficient and effective, produce clear results and have an impact on the convergence of outcomes despite the various other factors at play.

Realistically speaking, a joined-up approach would be required to link MIPEX’s policy indicators with the various indicator types needed to produce a complete evaluation chain to measure policy success. What cannot underestimate the significant time and investment from its partners and favourable policymaking conditions, timing, and political will that will be required to move evaluation forward in the migration policy field. Piecemeal progress has been achieved through contributions like the MIPEX in various local, national, and European circumstances. The British Council and Migration Policy Group hope in their own ways to facilitate new partnerships in this joined-up approach, as part of its mandate to enhance European cooperation between and amongst governmental agencies, civil society organisations, and the private sector.

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Thomas Huddleston is a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Group and co-authored the second edition of the Migration Policy Index (MIPEX).