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The Role of Discourse on Policy-Making: Immigration Debates and Policies in the UK and Italy

Elif Cetin
University of Cambridge
Elif Cetin
University of Cambridge
Open Panel

Abstract

Faced with the pressures of international population movements, the issue of immigration has turned into a highly debated topic in Europe within a relatively short time span. Immigration is often framed with reference to the protection of the external borders, welfare state, cultural and ethnic identity, and especially after the September 11 terrorist attacks, the emphasis on its security dimension has also increased. Yet, despite changing political approaches towards immigration and the exclusionary tone of immigration debates in Europe, current immigration policies still fall short of impeding the so-called ‘unwanted’ migratory flows (Boswell and Hough 2008; Geddes 2008). Drawing on the literature which points out that migration policies often ‘fail’ to achieve restrictive objectives in the face of various institutional constraints preventing governments to realise their electoral promises (Boswell 2003; Calavita 2004; Castles 2004; Freeman 1995; Geddes 2008), this paper examines how and why certain rhetorical categories of immigration become dominant in elites political discussions of the issue in Europe, and assesses how these different categories are accommodated within the policy practice. Elite political debates on immigration taking place in the UK and Italy, an older and a newer country of immigration respectively, are analysed comparatively for the period covering between 1997-2010, by drawing on qualitative data. Building on Schmidt and Radaelli’s (2004) conceptualisation of discourse both as ‘a set of policy ideas and values’, and also as ‘a process of interaction focused on policy formulation and communication’, this paper seeks to identify the general lines of political discourse adopted by elites on immigration (e.g. what discursive categories are created?; how does the mechanism work which leads to the creation of a dominant category of reference to immigration?) and assesses whether and how the general lines of elite political debates inform policy outcomes.