Jérôme Fourquet (Foundation for European Progressive Studies)
The migration crisis is one of the most hotly contested topics today. However, how is this issue perceived by the people in Western Europe? What do Europeans think about the solutions proposed by the governments of the EU Member States? The Foundation for European Progressive Studies and Foundation Jean-Jaurès have tried to find answers to such questions. In August this year, the two organizations conducted a survey in seven European countries, namely in France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Denmark, the Netherlands and the UK. Researchers interviewed about 1000 to 1100 respondents in each of the target countries. They sought to find out, for example, how the EU should act after migrants have arrived in Europe. In the first place, the respondents proposed to support the development and stability of the countries in the Mediterranean – here Germans were the biggest proponents (55 percent) of this strategy, which was, however, backed by only 29 percent of Britons.
When it comes to opinions on the redistribution of immigrants, there was no such consensus. For example, about 79 percent of Italians supported this policy while 46 percent of Spaniards were against it. Furthermore, the survey sought to establish whether respondents think that their country was receiving more refugees than other countries. 86 percent of the German respondents thought that this was the case, compared to 23 percent of both the Danes and Spaniards who though that their respective countries received more refugees than the other fellow EU Member States. The survey also found that public opinion in Western Europe was affected by the photograph of the dead Syrian boy, Aylan, who drowned while trying to cross the Mediterranean. After the European public learned about this tragedy, the number of people who tend to think positively about accepting refugees has risen. Analysts working on the research were also interested to find out whether political affiliation plays a role in the respondents’ opinion on the migration crisis. It seems that the supporters of the Left are more open to accepting refugees. An exception to this rule is, however, Germany, where the percentage difference between those voters of the Left and the Right who would open borders to refugees is smaller than elsewhere in Western Europe.
This survey of public opinion shows that the acceptance of refugees evokes fear among some people. For example, 80 percent of Britons fear that if they allow migrants to enter the UK, it will trigger an even greater influx of people from Africa, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Another thing that EU citizens lose sleep over is the threat of terrorism and the Islamic State. Overall, it is estimated that 85 percent of the Dutch fear these threats. Although a significant portion of the Europeans fear immigration, an even larger part of the population of Western Europe leans towards the notion that it is our duty to accept refugees. Here they refer to the principles and values of ethics and humanity while religion most probably plays a role there too. Christians seem to be, by and large, more tolerant on this issue. Finally, it was also studied whether unemployment affects the opinion of a respondent in that his or her homeland, as a result, cannot accept immigrants due to economic reasons. In this case, the results showed that this is indeed the case but only in the southern EU Member States.
(The study can be downloaded here: http://www.feps-europe.eu/en/publications/details/348)