French participation in transnational migration networks: understanding city (dis)involvement and "passivism"

February 05, 2021

Transnational city networks (TCNs) bring together the characteristics of both supranationalization and subnationalization processes. In the context of an increased securitization and criminalization of borders, several networks have become more vocal—particularly with the advent of the so-called “refugee crisis”—advocating for inclusive changes in terms of immigration, integration, human rights protection and refugee resettlement. How do French cities position themselves in this context of increased transnational activism? In comparing the cases of Lyon, Nantes and Strasbourg and their respective involvement in TCNs over the last 15 years, this article indicates that instead of becoming increasingly active, French cities within European networks have developed three distinct processes of disinvolvement, which we identify according to their “neglectful,” “testing,” and “competing” characteristics. We highlight the fact that, in some cases, the activities undertaken by municipal or metropolitan governments in city networks do not automatically lead to transnational “activism.” They may instead be understood as forms of “passivism.”

Our article highlights critical issues both in terms of immigration policy-making and multilevel governance. Detaching network robustness from its membership is critical: an increase in membership should not hide some dissatisfaction among members. For instance, access to European Union funding was not perceived as an opportunity even though French cities have been facing considerable cuts in the last ten years. Moreover, understanding why cities leave networks, show forms of disengagement, or stay active within networks highlights more diverse issues than focusing on the reasons why cities join networks in the first place. Our article also sheds the light on the diversity of the municipal units involved in migration within European networks, the instrumental roles of their managers, and the attempt of some deputy mayors to steer both Europeanization and immigration strategies through their delegations. Therefore, the debate about “entrepreneurial mayors” should incorporate more discussions about deputy mayors. They play a crucial role in structuring, developing, and assuring the operation of municipal services; but they also do most of the strategic work regarding networks. In France, the absence of partnerships with civil society organizations is notable and raises questions regarding the lack of representation, coordination, and shared expertise. This is particularly notable since the implication of civil society actors appears to be a critical factor underpinning membership dynamism. Finally, the declining investment in TCNs coincides with an increased visibility and activism of the French national state regarding newcomers' integration, notably in terms of strengthening local integration policies via access to healthcare, housing, language training, and employment.


Citation: Aude-Claire Fourot, Aisling Healy & Anouk Flamant (2021) French participation in transnational migration networks: understanding city (dis) involvement and “passivism”, Local Government Studies, doi: 10.1080/03003930.2020.1857246