Migration has turned into a highly contentious issue in Europe. While in North America migration has turned into an engine of growth and social prosperity, in Europe it has become a red line between opposing political forces. This tension feeds, in many cases, an ideological approach that has little to do with a balanced assessment of costs and benefits of any legal – and I underscore legal – intake of new migrants. As evidence of this increasingly widespread ideological approach, there is hardly any discussion aimed at considering how to improve migrants’ integration into our societies or to better equip them to join the labor market.
Against this backdrop, ECR commissioned a survey that summarizes the perceptions of a representative sample from Italy, France, Germany, and Spain on selected aspects of migration. The survey is helpful in so far as it provides a cross-section of varying perceptions across those countries.
To start, interviewees from Italy and Germany – 37% and 33%, respectively – think that migrants should be assisted to better integrate into society, while in Spain the emphasis is on helping them enter the labor market (31%). It is noteworthy that in Italy this aspect is considered relevant by only 13% of the respondents. Far fewer respondents, on the other hand, feel that no steps to assist them should be taken, namely French (21%) and Spaniards (16%).
All in all, in the surveyed countries a generally positive attitude towards migration prevails, with German respondents topping the list (54%), followed by Italy and Spain (50%). France comes in last, with only 41% of interviewees showing openness towards migration. Consistent with this broad positive attitude, respondents are also in favor of strengthening legal flows of migrants to address domestic labor market shortages, although there is, again, some country variation. Specifically, Spaniards are mostly in favor (59%), followed by Italians (56%), French (50%), and lastly, Germans (24%). Broadly speaking, youths tend to be the most lukewarm among those in favor of increasing legal migration flows, with the exception of Germany.
As for illegal immigration, among interviewees prevailed the view that a naval blockade should be established to stop migrants landing on the Southern European shores. This view resonated with 54% of German respondents; it was equally strong among French and Spanish interviewees (52%) and still quite widespread in Italy (46%). The latter is not surprising as the issue of a naval blockade has been fiercely opposed by those parties in Italy that do not contrast illegal immigration. Unsurprisingly, when it comes to the attitude towards the aid that the EU provides Turkey to keep refugees in its territory, respondents disagree with that policy with the exception of Spaniards.
Most respondents, with the noteworthy exception of French interviewees, support more investments in Africa aimed at promoting local development and thereby mitigating emigration flows to Europe. Among those favoring this policy were mostly elderly respondents, with relatively little variation across countries. Among those against, there are youth who perhaps fear potential redistributive implications.
On the whole, the broad picture emerging from this survey is one that is quite constrictive: Europeans from the four surveyed countries emphasize the need to make migrants citizens of their societies; this is quite in contrast, for instance, with the stance of the last several governments in Italy. Too often it has prevailed a simplistic attitude, namely that new migrants should be welcomed – irrespective of the law and the needs of the recipient societies – with, however, subsequently little effort or investment dedicated to empowering them as citizens. Along similar lines, Europeans tend to favor a naval blockade as a way of opposing illegal migration flows. Indeed, this is a proposal for which Fratelli d’Italia – the Italian Conservative Party – has long advocated for.