Thanks to "high levels of interaction between members of the city's different ethnic groups, which has allowed them to forge a civic identity that can withstand ethnic tensions," says Trevor Phillips, chair of Britain's Commission for Racial Equality, Marseilles, "[d]espite a significant ethnic minority population and high unemployment, . . . was relatively unscathed by the riots that broke out across France last year. Mr. Phillips attributes this to high levels of interaction between members of the city's different ethnic groups, which has allowed them to forge a civic identity that can withstand ethnic tensions."  --  Reporter Chris Smith noted in Thursday's Financial Times of London that "Unlike many other French cities, minorities in Marseilles have not been exiled to a 'doughnut' of poor-quality housing outside the center." ...

EUROPE SHOULD FOLLOW THE MARSEILLES MODEL
By Chris Smith

Financial Times (UK)
February 23, 2006

http://news.ft.com/cms/s/73ae7744-a38e-11da-83cc-0000779e2340.html

Moving across borders is good for you. That was the message from Brussels this week as the EU launched its 'Year of Workers' Mobility,' aiming to encourage Europeans to get moving to enhance their skills and job prospects. Politicians, businesses, and unions came together to discuss how a 'mobility culture' could be instilled into Europeans, who remain reluctant to relocate in search of work.

But what does this mean for the workers themselves? More mobility means more diversity. And Trevor Phillips, chair of Britain's Commission for Racial Equality, says the EU has not taken this into account. The issue of 'how different communities live together' will become more important as people leave their places of origin looking for work, says Mr. Phillips. He wants to know what Brussels has to say about the issue.

In the Year of Workers' Mobility, not a lot, it seems. One is either for mobility or against it. Speakers from business, unions, and governments queued up at the Brussels launch event to sing the praises of free movement of workers.

On the other side, the Austrian government defended its policy -- shared by 11 other governments -- of restricting the numbers of workers allowed in from the new member states in the east. The presence of foreign workers was portrayed in the abstract, either as a benefit or a threat, without much discussion of what it really means for the towns and cities in question when new communities arrive.

And it was telling that when the question of workers from outside the EU was raised, it was swiftly dismissed as off the point. This may be true in a strictly legal sense, but if mobility is so beneficial within the EU, why not beyond it as well?

By treating the matter as a purely internal one, the European establishment can avoid such questions for the time being. But as Mr. Phillips points out, the crucial question of how mobile workers should interact with their host country is only going to become more important as globalization proceeds apace.

Is there an answer? Mr. Phillips thinks that European states need to work with each other to share their local experiences, broadening knowledge of what works and what doesn't.

He points to Marseilles as a positive example. Despite a significant ethnic minority population and high unemployment, it was relatively unscathed by the riots that broke out across France last year. Mr. Phillips attributes this to high levels of interaction between members of the city's different ethnic groups, which has allowed them to forge a civic identity that can withstand ethnic tensions. Unlike many other French cities, minorities in Marseilles have not been exiled to a 'doughnut' of poor-quality housing outside the center, and Mr. Phillips believes there are lessons here for urban planners elsewhere -- notably in London's Thames Gateway.

But Mr. Phillips also has broader ambitions. Many people who come to Europe, he says, 'want to be European, but they don't know what the bargain is.' European countries, he says, 'have got to give people something larger than their tribal identity' or society will be in danger of fragmenting. He proposes the idea of a European identity, looser and more accommodating than many national identities, as a way of tying together Europe's increasingly diverse communities. A Europe based on 'certain ways of behaving' could allow common standards of behaviour, less constricting than national values, to coexist with the continent's enormous diversity.

It's an appealing idea, and may play well with European leaders' love of the big theme. But as Marseilles shows, matters of identity are best negotiated on the street, rather than at the Brussels banquet. Politicians can offer help and encouragement. But ultimately, this largest of all issues can only be resolved on the most local level.