chapter  10
European integration, consensus politics and family migration policy in Belgium and the Netherlands
Pages 20

Introduction This chapter aims to investigate the relationship between European integration and consensus politics in the domain of family migration policy in Belgium and the Netherlands. We are interested both in how domestic traditions of consensus politics have affected policy-making on family migration at the European level, and in how the establishment of EU legislative competence has influenced the domestic dynamics of policy-making on family migration. As asylum flows towards Europe have declined since the end of the 1990s, family migration has become the major channel for legal migration to many European countries. Family migrants are admitted on moral grounds, rather than selected on economic grounds. Family migration has therefore increasingly been cast as a problematic immigration flow, which should be controlled. Today, family migration is among the most salient topics on the migration agenda of the European Union and its member states (Boswell and Geddes 2010; Bonjour 2011; Bonjour and Vink 2012). To what extent have these family migration policy dynamics been shaped by consensus politics? In line with the editorial introduction of this volume, we define consensus politics as formal and informal decision-making arrangements aimed at making decisions in a cooperative style involving as many political actors at the elite level as possible and avoiding decisions by simple majorities. A crucially important feature of this definition is that consensus politics is only a procedural arrangement, and does not imply substantive consensus. Rather, consensus mechanisms are aimed at accommodating fundamental political disagreement; where there is strong substantive consensus, consensus politics is superfluous. As a starting point for our analysis we make the observation that, while the Belgian and Dutch cases have much in common, the contemporary political dynamics in the field of family migration policies is strikingly different between them. In Belgium, there is no clear voting pattern with regard to family migration laws: some laws have been accepted by large coalitions, others follow the seat distribution between government and opposition. In the Netherlands by contrast, despite increasing politicization, substantive consensus has remained the

norm. These different political dynamics in the Netherlands and Belgium allow us to analyze both the effect of consensus politics on European integration, and the effect of European integration on consensus politics. Before testing the propositions outlined by the editors of this volume for our two cases, we provide a brief background of post-war policy-making dynamics in the domain of family migration policy.