The Role of Schools in Motivating EU Citizens to Act in Accordance With the Fundamental Rights of Non-EU Citizens

Schools may be especially promising avenues, argue Tommaso Colombo and Jos Philips, to motivate individual EU citizens to act as needed for realising a central EU ideal: the ideal of a Union where fundamental rights are guaranteed, not only those of EU citizens, but also those of non-EU citizens.

Tommaso Colombo and Jos Philips, University of Utrecht

In an earlier blog post, we argued in favour of a right-based reconstruction of the EU ideal to guarantee fundamental rights. According to this reconstruction, the EU has moral reasons to guarantee the fundamental rights also of non-EU citizens, among whom non-EU citizens who are fleeing their homes. However, can this ideal be realised? As will soon become clear, a direct answer to this question is not the purpose of this post. Rather, our purpose is to suggest that schools could play a role in realising this ideal within the Union, and that, thus, further research should be pursued in that direction. In this blog post, we will focus both on non-EU citizens whose habitual residence is outside the EU and on non-EU citizens who live within the EU’s borders (meaning to leave it open whether they have the citizenship of a non-EU state or are stateless). We are primarily thinking of non-EU citizens in need, and not so much of, for example, affluent immigrant communities; but the points we make are applicable to all non-EU citizens.

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Searching for ‘European Values’: Quality Newspapers and Immigration

European quality newspapers identify, interpret and defend ‘European values’. But there is no consensus on what these values actually mean. Volker Heins reports on a recent NoVaMigra roundtable discussion and argues that the value language conceals differences within the EU that should be addressed head-on.

Volker M. Heins, University of Duisburg-Essen / Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities (KWI)

On 22 February 2021, NoVaMigra held an online event on the recently published policy paper ‘Quality Newspapers vs. Populism’ which was followed by a roundtable discussion chaired by Martin Deleixhe (Paris). Participants were Volker Heins, the editor of the policy paper, Laura Bérard (Press Officer Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship), Christoph Dreyer (Media Relations Officer, Reporters Without Borders), Sándor Zsiros (European Affairs Correspondent, Euronews Brussels) and Rebecca Harms (Executive Board European Centre for Press and Media Freedom and former Member of the European Parliament).

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Measuring Well-Being, While Treating Autonomy as a Value: A Literature Review

What are values and how can they be operationalized for the empirical social sciences? The University of Malmö’s graduate student Irina Widmer traces debates on how to measure well-being. In her blog post, she focusses specifically on the value of autonomy. How relevant has it been for measurements of well-being?

Irina A. Widmer, University of Malmö/ University of Neuchâtel

Do conceptions of well-being vary across societies – and, if yes, how seriously should we take these variations? Felicia Huppert and Timothy So’s social psychology article on “Flourishing” points to the need to analyse well-being in a specific context and to pay attention to “cultural differences in well-being”. Alex Linley et al. came to the challenging conclusion that well-being might be measured with the same tool in different groups (gender, ethnicity, age), the context having little influence on the outcome of the study. Due to a missing common definition of well-being, the range of values which are included to measure well-being varies greatly from one study to another. Huppert and So attempt to build an objective definition of well-being, based on positive mental health criteria, defined as the opposite of internationally accepted symptoms for depression and anxiety. This “medical diagnosis” seems promising; nevertheless, some values considered central in many other methodologies are left out, notably autonomy.

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The EU and Non-Members: A Rights-Based Philosophical Reading of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union

The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union definitely has implications, beyond the right to asylum, for how the EU should act towards people in need outside the EU, Tommaso Colombo and Jos Philips argue. They defend this by proposing a rights-based philosophical reading of the Charter, rather than a relational or consequence-based reading.

Tommaso Colombo and Jos Philips, University of Utrecht

The so-called ‘refugee crisis’, which involved the arrival on European territory of more than 1,5 million refugees in 2015, has generated several, sometimes conflicting views concerning how to deal with refugees, both among the public and in more ‘official’ political debates in the Union. This fragmentation of views among Europeans arguably represents a challenge to the European ‘project’, more precisely, to the Union’s goal of creating a common, stable normative understanding focused on the importance of guaranteeing people’s fundamental rights. One of the most prominent places where such a focus is found is in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, on which this blog entry will concentrate. The Charter testifies to a clear commitment to human rights and explicitly addresses the right to asylum. This suggests that the EU’s commitment to human rights includes refugees within its scope.  Yet the ‘refugee crisis’ –we will stick to this common albeit not very fortunate expression– has shown that there are heterogeneous views about the scope of this commitment. Does the Union’s commitment to guaranteeing fundamental rights concern its own citizens and those who stand to be recognized as refugees? Or is its scope broader and does the Charter have – more or less clear – implications, beyond the right to asylum, for how the EU should act towards people in need who are outside the EU (and who are not its citizens)? In this blog post, we propose a philosophical reading of the Charter – as an articulation of the Union’s ideal of guaranteeing fundamental rights – where there are definitely such implications.

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Are Human Rights a European Value?

Europe’s commitments in the context of its migration policy are often framed in terms of promoting or protecting ‘European values’. Marie Göbel dissects the grammar of ‘European values’ – and argues that we should drop the value language if we are really committed to protecting migrants’ human rights.

Marie Göbel, University of Utrecht

The idea of European values has seen a revival recently in EU politics. It was mainstreamed when Ursula von der Leyen introduced a Vice Presidency for “Promoting our European Way of Life” after becoming European Commission president. Responding to criticism, von der Leyen was quick to point out that the idea behind this was simply to reaffirm Europe’s commitment to the basic values laid out in the EU’s founding treaties: freedom, equality, democracy, the rule of law, human dignity and human rights. But what do we mean when we speak of human rights, for example, as a European value? And what practical difference does this make?

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Researching Norms and Values: The Emic and Etic Approach

In this blog post, Elzbieta Goździak , Izabella Main, and Iza Kujawa reflect on the methodological approaches they have deployed in their field research in Poland, Hungary, Lebanon, Turkey, and Thailand to differentiate between the insiders’ points of view and the researchers’ interpretation of the collected data.

Elzbieta M. Goździak, Izabella Main, and Izabela Kujawa, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań


Empirical research on norms and values constitutes a big part of the NoVaMigra project. We want to understand what role different values play in the refugees and immigrants’ integration into the European host societies. The readers of this blog have already gotten a glimpse at the research our colleagues are doing in Germany. In a blog post published in November, Franziska Bohm wrote about her attempts to explore transmission of European and national values in mandatory integration courses all immigrants in Germany must take.

Today, we want to reflect on our own research, both in terms of the subject matter we are studying and in relation to the methodological approaches we have deployed. Read More

Protecting the European Way of Life ? Von der Leyen Caught in the Paradox of Liberal Identities

Von der Leyen’s decision to create a portfolio titled “Protecting our European way of life” in her Commission prompted a large political row. However, most critical comments contended themselves with a moral condemnation of her use of far right language. In our view, this response misses the deeper issue, namely that the European project rests on a liberal identity affected by a paradox : since its supposedly unique identity is defined in universalist terms, it is at pain to highlight what is so specific about itself.

Martin Deleixhe, University Paris 1 – Panthéon Sorbonne


When the portfolios of the von der Leyen’s Commission were first announced, one title immediately stood out. Margaritis Schinas, the former Chief Spokesman of the European Commission, had been appointed Vice-President of the Commission with a portfolio oddly coined “Protecting our European Way of Life”. Critical questions duly arose in the wake of the press briefing. Is there any such thing as a European way of life? And even if there was, from whom ought it be protected? Where would an existential threat come from? Worryingly, Schinas’ portfolio included the coordination of three main political tasks: upholding the rule of law, overseeing migration and internal security. The not-so-subtle link between a “European way of life” that needed protection and immigration soon turned the initially perplexed questions into firm condemnations. Hadn’t von der Leyen made an ill-judged concession to the far right? Was she attempting to tap into the vocabulary of nationalist Eurosceptics to undercut their domestic appeal? The most charitable pundits were inclined to grant von der Leyen the benefit of the doubt: perhaps she had just made a communication blunder? However, the latter seems unlikely. The title is highly unusual and was bound to attract some attention in the lukewarm and diplomatic EU environment. Surrounded by a team of communication professionals, von der Leyen could not have ignored that the “Protecting the European way of life” label was courting controversy.

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Talking of Values & Migration Policy

In their new NoVaMigra Research Paper “Talking of Values: Understanding the Normative Discourse of EU Migration Policy”, Angeliki Dimitriadi and Harris Malamidis explore the normative discourse of the EU institutions and identify which values were the most prominent in the discourse on EU migration policy from 2014-2017. They find that values are both useful and instrumental to the EU institutions – and highlight the exclusionary potential references to shared values can have as regards migrants*.

Angeliki Dimitriadi, The Hellenic Foundation of European & Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP)


Ιn the recent United Nation’s General Assembly , the President of the European Council, Mr Donald Tusk, noted that “if you want to follow the principles of international solidarity, you always have to help the weaker […]”. The call to solidarity has been repeatedly echoed in the EU and by the EU in recent years, usually in response to crises; financial crisis, the refugee crisis, Brexit.  Despite the many calls for it, solidarity remains an ambiguous term, perhaps even more so within the EU than at the global stage. Yet, it has been critical, along with other norms and values, in the discourse of EU institutions throughout the refugee crisis (2015) and its aftermath.

What role have values played and continue to play in migration policy? It is a difficult question to answer, since it is impossible to know what leaders and institutional representatives think of values and how the latter truly affect policy. In our NoVaMigra research paper “Talking of Values: Understanding the Normative Discourse of EU Migration Policy”, we instead propose to look at how institutions talk of values. By focusing on the narrative around norms and migration, it is possible to see the extent to which values and norms are acknowledged, what policies they frame and draw preliminary conclusions on whether values have a role to play in migration policy. Read More