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New citizens and the Italian Constitution’s values

Bologna, 16/10/2018, National Roundtable

Aspen Institute Italia’s aim in organizing this roundtable was to foster debate on the challenges involved in integrating foreigners into Italian society. By way of introduction, it was noted that, over the years, the number of foreign nationals permanently residing in Italy has grown steadily and is set to continue to rise, as will the number of immigrants acquiring Italian citizenship. In a very short space of time, Italy’s society has been transformed, in line with what has happened in other countries such as France and the United Kingdom, and can no longer be considered mono-ethnic.

The participants urged the need to avoid the risk of society splintering along cultural lines, which would lead to the emergence of a national community in which everyone places reliance on their own values, there being no shared body of ideals. It was suggested that all Western societies, including that of Italy, are faced with a series of options ranging from either viewing integration as entailing peaceful but separate coexistence of distinct communities or conceiving of integration as a fusion and blending of identities.

It was stressed that there are many public policies that need to be adopted in this regard. Up to now, the problem of integration has been treated as a temporary quandary, linked to managing crisis-level migration flows. In contrast, it was felt that better integration policy planning is required, given that the peaceful social integration of foreigners is an issue that also affects the second and third generations of immigrant families. Viewed from this perspective, cultural and constitutional values may be areas worth investing in to overcome mutual mistrust and misunderstandings.

A key role must be played by schools, which it was deemed are well-placed to impart Italian cultural and constitutional values as vehicles of social cohesion. Schools could serve as a meeting ground for Italian culture and the cultures of origin of immigrant children, and as a bridge for dialogue capable of breaking down barriers and prejudices. Since immigrants tend to congregate in urban localities where they can count on the solidarity of their fellow nationals, it was considered desirable for local authorities to be invested with powers and resources necessary to implement farsighted housing policies aligned to a dispersed settlement model that avoids ghettoization. Intermediary bodies, such as associations, banking foundations, and voluntary organizations, could also contribute to familiarizing immigrants with Italy’s cultural and constitutional values through specific initiatives and events.

The hope expressed was that Italy, based on the rights and obligations of solidarity enshrined in its Constitution, might rise to the challenge of integration and meet it with a balanced approach, avoiding, on the one hand, assimilation, and, on the other, the splintering of identities, to favor pluralism instead.