The EU’s migration crisis has been elicited by the protest of anti-immigration parties against the existing permissive policy of the European governments towards irregular immigrants. In the common view, the largest number of the European citizens shares the anti-immigration stance of these parties, perceives migrants as a threat, and asks the political leaders to fast develop consistent response measures. The EU leaders lived up to such expectation by a tortuous decision-making process that ended up with choosing a management policy aimed at avoiding immigration. A sequence of four management scenarios has been uncovered in a research that has highlighted the process toward the present situation (Attinà, 2016).
- 2011 – 2013: Conventional Response
- October 2013 – October 2014: Mare Nostrum scenario.
- November 2014–September 2015: EU-Turn scenario.
- October 2015 – on: Fencing-the-EU
To shed light on the citizens’ feedback to the EU management of the migration crisis, the research on ‘The EU citizens and the migration crisis’ explores the concern of the European citizens with the immigration issue, and the citizens’ feedback to the EU leaders’ migration crisis management. The Standard Euro Barometer (from here on ‘EB’) from 2010 – 2016 is the source of the data. The present paper is the preview of the early results of this research project.
The EU citizens’ concern with immigration
At the time of the Conventional Response scenario, only a few citizens of the EU countries perceived the immigration issue as an important and pressing issue at the European and national level. An even minor number of the citizens considered immigration as an issue of concern to their life as individuals.
The concern with immigration has been growing since the Italian government chose to carry out the SAR operation Mare Nostrum, and continued growing during the EU-Turn scenario. The May 2016 data signal a relaxation of the concern and, arguably, a returning trust in the leaders’ management decisions. A number of citizens were assured by the deal with Turkey.
All over the period of time under observation and all around EU, immigration is a salient issue at the EU level more than at the national and personal level. The EB survey helps to identify the salience of an issue by asking to the interviewed person to pick two issues from a list. Predictably, the economic issues have been the most important issues of concern at the level of the citizen’s personal affairs. Immigration scored high in salience only as late as in 2015. The data support the sociotropic explanation of the perceived threat. In other terms, the EU citizens perceive immigration as a problem affecting the whole society rather than individuals and single groups.
The EU citizens’ assessment of the common migration policy and the EU leaders’ crisis management
In the last years, the EU citizens have expressed a favorable opinion towards a common European policy on migration. A quite large portion, a little more than the 60%, has been ‘for’ a common European policy on migration.
Support has not been the same in the 28 countries. Since 2010, the number of the citizens favorable to a common migration policy has been decreasing in 7 countries, the 4 Visegrad countries and Bulgaria, Estonia, and Latvia. In the remaining countries, support was either stable or increasing. Since, in the time period of the crisis, the citizens recognize the need for a common European policy on migration, one can say that they also approve the management efforts that have been made by the EU leaders. Additionally, survey data (not presented in the present paper) do not show any change of the feeling of the citizens toward the immigration of people from outside the EU but a slight increase of the positive feeling towards the immigration of people from other EU MSs. The citizens of Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Italy, Slovakia, and Latvia are the less favorable towards the immigration of people from other EU countries. The citizens of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, and Slovakia are the less favorable to immigration from outside the EU.
The perception of the immigrants as a threat turns up also with the responses to other EB survey questions like the question about who (the EU, the states, the EU and the states jointly) should take additional measures against illegal immigrant, and the question about the contribution of the immigrants to the receiving country.
The citizens that prefer the EU takes further measures against the illegal immigrants are more numerous in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Denmark. On the opposite, the United Kingdom, Greece, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia are the countries with the largest group of citizens that expect the national leaders act against illegal immigrants. The opinion that the EU and the national governments have to take additional measures against illegal immigrants from outside the EU is mainly the opinion of the citizens of small EU countries like Estonia, Luxembourg, Malta, Cyprus, and also Bulgaria and Portugal.
In general, the group of the citizens that views the immigrants as an opportunity and the group of the citizens that disagree with this view have not been very different from one another in size until 2015. In the past two years, instead, the group of the citizens that perceive the immigrants as a burden grew a lot. Consequently, the gap between the two groups widened.
The concern of the citizens grew at the time the EU leaders argued about how to respond to the crisis, namely at the time of the Mare Nostrum scenario, and grew further upward when in great disharmony they chose a comprehensive approach, namely at the time of EU-Turn scenario. Last, the concern of the citizens appears to bend downward at the time of the unanimous decision to fence the EU and all out avoid immigration. One cannot but remind that the member governments have implemented that management choice by tailoring it on national standards and the preferences of the citizens. Does this condition explain the favourable opinion of the citizens towards a common migration policy and their expectation that either a common or joint management of the crisis will halt the entry of illegal immigrants?
The next EB surveys will tell to us whether the concern downward turn, which showed up after the signature of the deal with Turkey, is there to stay as an implicit approval of the EU leaders’ management choices.
 Attinà Fulvio (2016), Migration drivers, the EU external migration policy and crisis management, in “Romanian Journal of European Affairs”, 2016, 16, 4, 15-31.