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Is the EU a failed exercise in economic integration?

The European Union was born out of a dream that spawned a noble project to join 27 governments, millions of people, four million square kilometers of land, a millennium of diverse though interrelated histories, shared cultures, and common boundaries under an integration arrangement with one currency, one economy, and a shared destiny. That was the dream, and the vision spelled out under the provisions of 1993’s Maastricht Treaty.

Sadly, getting the one currency, despite all the hiccups and upsets, proved to be the easiest part. The dream has now become a mere utopia that has turned into a nightmare. The common aspirations for economic integration have not only reached a dead end but has ripped through the union with debilitating and deepening social, and financial distress. Greece, Spain, Portugal, Belgium and Ireland, have gargantuan sovereign debt and weakening GDP situations and except for Belgium, all suffer negative creditworthiness. As the dream morphs into nightmare, what recent months have shown is that Europe’s integration into a common union does not possess the will nor the agility to compete head-on with the same determined aggressiveness, speed and growth that developing nations have .

The original willingness to cooperate with decisional authority spread among EU member states have all but vanished. As of August’s Sarkozy-Merkel summit, an unmistakable Franco-German bent towards hegemony reared itself anew with guidelines the EU must follow to avert an impending economic integration catastrophe. The Summit proposed the establishment of a European Economic Government, a mandate to the 17 EU member States to adopt the “Gold Rule” in their respective constitutions as well as the Tobin Tax. Now what will all these mean?

Apart from the obvious establishment of an Economic Government made up of heads of state, the “Gold Rule” specifies that by each fiscal year’s end, the local economies must show a break even where total revenues can cover total expenses. If this is not attained, there can be no internal fund to rescue these “Lazy” States. Meanwhile, the Tobin Tax first championed in 1972 by economist James Tobin is essentially a duty to be paid for each financial transaction intended to redistribute capital to public coffers.

Despite strenuous complaints coming from businessmen and traders, most politicians and economists agree that such extraordinary measures are needed to salvage EU’s economic integration gains. It appears there’s still a chance for the EU experience to morph back the nightmare into a pleasant dream, provided the bitter remedial pill is consumed.

Is immigrant integration in Germany succeeding?

The stereotypical image of an immigrant who couldn’t speak a word of the local tongue, stands out in the streets dressed in native or religious garb, has irrelevant education and can’t find employment in the new land has taken center stage anew and initiating debates, as some EU states are pushing for the social integration of Muslim immigrants into mainstream society with the banning of full-face veils required in the strict practice of their religion.

Social integration puts more responsibility on the immigrant to blend in the society that by choice, the immigrant now lives. While society tolerates and welcomes diverse ethnic peoples, it is in the majority and is not expected to adapt to the ways of the few strange immigrants in its midst. This has been the immigration policies Germany has adopted and banning the Muslim veils has more in common with security reasons that enable the state to easily identify a person rather than impinging on their religious sensitivities.

This is the essence of multiculturalism or “multikulti” as Germans know it. But after years espousing the immigrant integration idea, Chancellor Merkel openly declares, it has failed. “Immigrants should learn to speak German. We kidded ourselves a while. But this isn’t reality. And of course, the approach [to build] a multicultural [society] and to live side-by-side and to enjoy each other … has failed, utterly failed.”

A survey conducted in Germany in October 2010, revealed that 55% of Germans considered Muslims as burdensome to the local economy. In another study, 33% of Germans view immigrants as settling in the country to abuse its welfare benefits. Germany happens be the best welfare state in the EU boasting almost 28% of its DEP allocate to the best programs for healthcare, pension plan, accident, and unemployment insurance long with tax-financed child and family services.

But these findings were disputed in an annual report released by the country’s Advisory Council for Integration and Migration in May 2010. The council’s head, Klaus Bade, reported that the barriers to social integration between Germany and ethnic immigrants are breaking down with encouraging results.

The council surveyed in excess of 5,000 people that included Germans and immigrant to establish an integration baseline barometer with both groups surveyed as to how they fell about each other. Surprisingly, 54% of German trusted fellow citizens while around 66% of immigrants said they fully or partially trusted Germans. In addition, the same two-thirds perceived Germans as being honestly interested in social integration.

Is immigrant integration working in Germany? It appears to be so. Ines Michalowski at Berlin’s Social Science Research Center explained that the report “shows that there is more optimism and that people are pretty much used to immigrant neighbors and immigrants are used to having people without immigrant backgrounds as their neighbors.

School Integration by income and race, does it work?

There are public schools meant for everyone and there are private chartered schools with exclusivities meant for the rich. Can’t they all be integrated?

That’s what the government has been attempting all this time. Economic integration is not new as it has been floated around by such crusading public figures like Horace Mann with a sensible idea: reduce schools meant for the poor and spread the economically disadvantage students around. The idea has been revived as early as October 2010 with the release of a Century Foundation study pointing to the benefits of economic integration between rich and poor in schools.

The study focused on around 850 financially poor families that have availed of housing programs enabling them to reside in affluent Montgomery County communities in Maryland. In seven years of integration, impoverished students educated in upscale schools showed remarkably better academic skills than their counterparts attending schools meant for financially disadvantaged students. What is outstanding in the study was that elementary level performance gap was halved in math and reduced by 33% in reading.

Now is there anything new here? Educators armed with empirical data have always known that as the poverty level rises, academic performance suffers. Schools face greater challenge educating students in subsistence families to start with. This is worsened by fewer training facilities and knowledge enriching resources to make the task easier in many schools targeting the disadvantaged.

For sure, the results of the study give much encouragement to economic integration. Unfortunately, there is just so much disconnect between economic integration in schools and the social realities to get it implemented nationwide.

Abetting this gap is that the nation’s schools remain segregated as they are run to meet the needs of communities which happen to have housing that also remains segregated in terms of income level and even by race or religion. Schools are the most affected since their location draw a student population from communities nearby. And if the school is in an affluent sector of the city or country, it gets a corresponding profile for its student population. The same applies for schools situated in low income communities.

A concentration of poor folks in the ghettos tends to patronize a public school in close proximity than have their kids travel a longer distance to an upscale part of town where they get mixed with the elites attending an upscale school. Vice-versa, you can’t expect a rich kid from an upscale neighborhood to go across town to attend a public school in the ghettos. Now if the government is really serious about economic integration in schools, it better implements fast programs for social integration between the haves and have nots in society and make sure they can live together in the same neighborhood.