Questions and answers with Rainer Bauböck (the extended version)

Could you briefly outline the main themes of your scholarship, and how you came to be interested in migration studies?

“I stumbled into migration studies quite by chance. I had been working on social policy questions when a colleague invited me to join a survey project on guest workers in Austria. From the mid-1980s I became very interested in theories of nationalism and political liberalism. I realised then that migration raises a major challenge for both as it blurs the boundaries of political community that have been taken for granted by these theories. My subsequent work has strongly focused on citizenship as a status of equal membership in a self-governing polity. In my first two books on citizenship (published in 1991 and 1994) I argued that democracies need to transnationalise their citizenship in response to migration. In practical terms this happens when they tolerate dual citizenship, grant voting rights to their expatriates and a status of quasi-citizenship to long-term resident immigrants. I was then strongly influenced by the work of Swedish political scientist Tomas Hammar who had introduced the concept of “denizenship” to characterize the bundle of rights enjoyed by long-term resident migrants and who discussed dual citizenship and denizenship as options for immigrants’ political integration.

In my subsequent work I added the idea of “citizenship constellations” and a theory of political inclusion in multilevel democracies. The notion of constellations is meant to highlight that the legal statuses and rights of migrants are always co-produced by several states (of origin, transit or destination). We need to keep in mind that immigrants are also emigrants and analyse their opportunities, rights and status transitions not just from the perspective of a single country of immigration. Applying the same idea to multilevel democracies, we can see that independent states, sub-state autonomous regions, local municipalities and supranational polities like the EU have distinct citizenship regimes and respond to migration in quite different ways. While citizenship in independent states is always grounded in birthright and a life-long status that emigrants carry with them, local citizenship is acquired by residence and lost when taking up domicile somewhere else. Citizenship at the sub-state and supra-state level is, by contrast, generally derivative from state citizenship. I argue that the combination of citizenship at these different levels is what allows liberal democracy to be, on the one hand, open for mobility and migration while, on the other hand, preserving the territorial boundaries of democratic self-government over time.

Alongside my political theory publications, I also got strongly involved in comparative research on citizenship laws and voting rights. This has resulted in several edited volumes on acquisition and loss of citizenship and a web-based observatory on citizenship that was initially focused on Europe and has now evolved into GLOBALCIT, the global citizenship observatory hosted by the European University Institute in Florence.”

Why is it important/useful to distinguish between different categories of migrants?

“If we lived in a world without political boundaries, all migration would appear as geographic mobility, i.e. the movement of people over shorter or longer distances in shorter or longer time intervals. Migration exists only because there are territorial borders where it can be controlled and because moving across such borders changes people’s legal status and rights. In this politically structured world, some migrants have claims to free movement, i.e. to be exempted from controls over entry and settlement. This applies to returning citizens but also to members of states that have agreed on reciprocal free movement, such as Australia and New Zealand, most South American states and the ECOWAS states of West Africa. It applies also to all citizens of the European Union who have free movement rights throughout the member states, and to multiple citizens who enjoy unconditional (re)admission rights in two or more states.

Admission claims of family migrants, refugees and economic migrants are based on quite different reasons. As denizens or naturalized citizens, settled migrants have a human right to be reunited with their close family members in their country of residence. Refugees are in need of protection of their basic rights by other states because their countries of origin have failed in their responsibility for protecting these rights. And economic migrants’ normative claims to admission are based on a presumptive triple benefit for the destination country, for the origin country and for themselves. These categories are often mixed in migration flows, but destination states still need to distinguish them by opening different admission channels for these categories. If they fail to do so, this will erode domestic democratic support for admitting any migrants at all and will push migrants towards irregular migration and implausible asylum claims. This is what we are currently witnessing in many European states, as a result of the closing of legal channels for economic (and somewhat less so also for family) migration.” 

You say that EU borders have become more porous — what do you think the effects of this change will be for Europe’s future?

“Europe’s internal borders have been widely opened and its external borders are inevitably porous. This porosity results, on the one hand, from the global upsurge in mobility that allows billions of people to travel to Europe for short visits, which makes external border controls rather ineffective. On the other hand, Europe has two global regions in its vicinity, the MENA region and sub-Saharan Africa, where a demographic “youth bulge” and moderate economic development have created a large population of potential migrants looking to Europe as a destination where they could improve their fortunes or escape from failing political regimes. Given this geopolitical context and its own demographic ageing, Europe has two options. A further closing of its external borders will contribute to political and economic instability in its neighbourhood while fuelling at the same time the rise of illiberal political parties in European states, whose nationalist ideology is the only one that can coherently support full closure. The alternative option is to mobilise politically for greater openness of European societies and development-and-migration partnerships with Africa, not only for reasons of humanitarianism and justice, but also as a way of enhancing opportunities for European citizens and Europe’s weight in the world.”

How will the topic of your talk relate to current trends that we are seeing in Europe, and perhaps also Scandinavia/Sweden in particular?

“Sweden has for a long time been considered a European best case with regard to political inclusion of immigrants. This goes especially for Swedish naturalisation rules, the early introduction of “denizenship” and local voting rights for settled immigrants in the mid 1970s, and the toleration of dual citizenship since 2001. Sweden has also admitted more asylum seekers in proportion to its overall population and also in proportion to economic migrants than other European states. Finally, Swedish municipalities, and Malmö in particular, have been laboratories for immigrant integration policies respectful of cultural diversity. If today the Swedish model appears to be in crisis, we should not draw the lessons that these policies have been wrong or even the cause of the present turmoils. Instead, we ought to consider in which ways they may have been insufficient for promoting deeper integration of immigrants within Swedish society, but also for ensuring stronger political support for immigrant admission and integration among Swedish voters and citizens. Finally, we should draw the lesson that no country in Europe can on its own develop a sustainable policy for admitting and integrating immigrants and refugees. The migration and citizenship policy of each state in Europe affects all states. The vision of a more open Europe that I have alluded to can only be achieved through joint efforts at the European level. The alternative vision of an internally closed and globally insulated Europe will instead be realised by each state acting on its own.”

Your talk will take place as part of the Knowledge for Change series. In times of increasing polarisation, xenophobia, racial tensions and anti-immigrant sentiment, how should we address the ways in which knowledge is produced and its role in creating a more just society? 

“The quality standards of academic excellence must always be defined internally by academic peers, but the results of academic research must be communicated to wider audiences. This is what academics owe to taxpayers who fund their research and to their students, many of whom will take up non-academic jobs. Developing communication skills and promoting knowledge transfer should become an aspiration for academic professionals at each level and an important effort of all academic institutions. On politically highly sensitive topics, such as migration, universities should not merely provide fact-based evidence and popularise new theoretical insights, their members should also play their role as citizens who initiate or join debates in the public sphere and who participate in civil society initiatives and protests. This will not overcome the political polarisation on migration issues, but it can contribute to better informed debates and to challenging the drift towards anti-immigrant sentiments.”