In this years’ European election, there is no doubt that migration will be one of the most dominant and probably also crucial topics – often accompanied with a bitter dispute over political actions. While some, led by often right-wing populists, are calling for a stronger focus on security issues, e.g. protecting borders and stricter deportations, others stress the humanitarian obligation towards people in need. Both attitudes, however, have in common that they contribute to an image of a divided continent between pro- and anti-migration supporters – a situation that seems to be present since the so-called migration crisis in 2015/16. But has this crisis really changed the Europeans' attitude to migration? And did it contribute to the fact that Europe is really more divided than before?
The on European Social Survey (ESS) data-based study “Still divided but more open” by Vera Messing and Bence Ságvári, both researchers at the Centre for Social Sciences (HAS), deals exactly with these questions. The analysis explores cross-national differences in perceptions of migration, and discovers factors that may lie behind the immense differences in the acceptance versus rejection of migrants across European countries. The results show how attitudes have changed from before to after the 2015 migration ‘crisis’, and also draw a wider picture of attitude shifts in 15 European countries between 2002 and 2016/17.
One important conclusion of the analysis is that attitudes towards migration in Europe have generally become more positive in most countries since the 2015 refugee crisis. The level of rejection between 2014/15 (before the flow of mass migration to Europe occurred) and 2016/17 (after the migration shock) has decreased from 15% to 10%. Thus, in general, popular attitudes do not support the flourishing anti-migrant populist political discourse, and by the same token, increasingly loud anti-migrant populist narratives have not boosted the rejection of migrants. People on the continent have not become more fearful of migrants; on the contrary, in most countries they have become slightly more positive about them. Outliers include Portugal, Belgium, the UK and Ireland, where people have become significantly more open and positive about migrants compared to the pre-migration crisis period, and Hungary, where general attitudes towards migrants have significantly deteriorated.
Read the full report for more insights and recommendations.