Europeans' Hardening Stands Following the Migrant Crisis

By Nayla Rush on April 18, 2016


Six months into the migrant crisis in Europe, French opinion poll agency IFOP – commissioned by the Jean-Jaurès Foundation and the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS) – conducted a survey of European public opinion to get their views on this new challenge. The poll was carried out in France, Germany, and Italy and follows a September 2015 large-scale survey.

For France and Italy, people's representations and opinions on migrants remain almost unchanged from one survey to the next. For Germans, on the other hand, a significant shift is registered towards a hardening of public opinion.


To put this into perspective, let us not forget that Germany received 1.1 million migrants in 2015, substantially more than Italy's 150,000 and France's 24,000. Worthy of note as well, the second poll was carried out after the November 13 Paris terrorist attacks and the New Year's Eve sexual assaults in Cologne.

Jerome Fourquet, IFOP's Department of Public Opinion Head, analyzed the survey's results.

On the risk of further influx, 77 percent of French and 78 percent of Italians fear that allowing large number of migrants into their country and Europe "will create further inflows, drawing to Europe very large numbers of people living in Africa, Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan". Similar percentages were noted previously. For Germans, the percentage reached 74 percent in the recent poll (a jump from 69 percent from September 2015).

On the duty to accept migrants, the number of people who felt their country had a "duty to welcome migrants fleeing war and poverty" are as follows:

  • Germans 72 percent (-7 points)
  • Italians 69 percent (+1 point)
  • French 56 percent (+2 points)

However, on the ability to receive migrants, most French (63 percent) and Italians (65 percent) feel – as they did in 2015 – that their "country already has a large number of foreign nationals or people of foreign origin and it is not possible to host additional immigrants."

As for Germans, only one-third considered it was not possible to welcome additional immigrants in September 2015. The ratio grew to almost one in two (47 percent) in March 2016.

This hardening in the German opinion is on a steady rise since September 2015 among supporters of the Left:

  • +18 points among supporters of the Social Democrat party SPD
  • +20 points among Grünen (The Green Party) supporters.

For the more conservative electorate, Angela Merkel's party CDU/CSU records a steady score (+1 point).

Germany nonetheless remains the most welcoming of the three countries. This could be explained by the fact that 61 percent (down from the 69 percent registered in September 2015) believe their country has sufficient economic and financial resources to welcome migrants. Less positive outlook was met by French, 28 percent, and Italians, 24 percent.

Germans may still have faith in their strong economy, but they are less certain of migrants being "an opportunity for the country because it will stimulate the economy": 48 percent today vs. 55 percent in September 2015. Only 26 percent of French and 35 percent of Italians viewed migrants to be an economic stimulus to their country (similar to the results in 2015).

On the terrorist risk, most Italians, French and Germans believe that "among the great number of migrants currently arriving in Europe there are also potential terrorists":

  • Italians 84 percent (79 percent in September 2015)
  • French 80 percent (69 percent in September 2015)
  • Germans 79 percent (64 percent in September 2015)

Also, an overwhelming majority in the three countries reject the idea of long-term settlement. All agree that migrants should stay in "the country a few months or years and then return home once this becomes possible":

  • France 88 percent (+5 points from September 2015)
  • Italy 83 percent (+1 points from September 2015)
  • Germany 81 percent (+9 points from September 2015)

Even in the socialist or social democratic electorates, wanting migrants to establish roots in Europe is "extremely infrequent": 23 percent of German SPD, 18 percent French Socialist Party and 16 percent of Partito-Democratico supporters. And this is true among senior citizens (the most opposed to this scenario) as well as the young population.

In short, the sentiment held by French, Italians, and increasingly Germans (despite everyone's sense of duty to welcome migrants fleeing war and poverty) is as follows:

  • Migrant flows will continue with the same intensity because of enacted reception policies that will "foster further influxes."
  • Migrants ought to return home quickly.
  • The capacity to host and integrate migrants has been reached.
  • Migrants do not provide the opportunity for economic stimulus and some could be potential terrorists

Germans, who were more welcoming in 2015, are having a definite change of heart. Also, it is among German voters who support the Left that opinion has hardened most.

One of the factors contributing to this hardening of German public opinion is the fact that more and more Germans feel they are dealing with "economic migrants" rather than "asylum seekers fleeing war or persecution." In September 2015, 60 percent considered migrants to be asylum seekers vs. 51 percent this March 2016.

Jerome Fourquet explains: "this change in perception is very decisive because it is highly correlated with views regarding the reception of migrants. Thus, among Germans in favor of receiving migrants, the response ratio of those viewing migrants as asylum seekers is 65 percent versus 28 percent who see them as economic migrants whereas the ratio is very different among opponents to reception where it is 18 percent versus 72 percent."

This particular climate is jeopardizing the Schengen Agreement. A very large majority of French (72 percent), Germans (66 percent), and Italians (60 percent) call for the reestablishment (even if temporary) of border checkpoints.

Under pressure, many European governments have decided to implement border controls again. This has demonstrated to European public opinion, in the words of Fourquet, "that the scenario of dismantling Schengen, an inconceivable scenario just two years ago (and was then only being called for by populist groups), carrying with it very considerable political and symbolic consequences for the European ideal, could be set in motion by completely responsible and respectable governments."

Open arms and borders do not rhyme with sustainable livelihoods. This conclusion is not exclusive to populist government and leaders; it is one the Left in Europe has come to finally realize, perhaps too late.

Let us hope the United States has a quicker awakening.