Saturday, July 26, 2014
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Do Europeans Really Fear Migrants?

LONDON – Far-right parties are set to make substantial gains in the upcoming European Parliament election. Though analysts differ on whether this populist wave is fleeting, whether it will seriously harm European Union policymaking, and whether it will be sustained in national elections, they tend to agree on at least one thing: support for such parties is often grounded in anti-migrant sentiment. Appearances and received wisdom, however, can deceive.

Populism takes many forms, and the logic of its success varies from place to place. But economic discontent (often associated with the euro), anger at the political establishment, the resurgent appeal of nationalism, and negative sentiment toward the EU are all recurring themes, whether it be in the United Kingdom, France, Hungary, Italy, Greece, the Netherlands, or Denmark.

It is also true that migrants figure prominently in populist rhetoric throughout the EU. But it would be dangerously mistaken to conclude that the mere presence of migrants in Europe fuels support for extremists. A much stronger case could be made that it is the absence of effective policies to manage migration that has alienated European voters.

Strikingly, the far right only has a faint heartbeat in those EU member states that have been the most proactive in managing migration and immigrant integration. Germany, Spain, Sweden, and Portugal, for example, have done more than most others to open legal channels for migration and invest in migrants’ integration.

In these countries, populism is not fundamentally changing the contours of the political debate. In Spain and Portugal, for example, where unemployment is very high, populist parties barely have a foothold.

In fact, these countries’ citizens generally support legal migration and perceive integration efforts as being successful. In Germany, 62% of those surveyed by the German Marshall Fund view immigration as more of an opportunity than a problem; that number reaches 68% in Sweden. In Portugal, when asked if first-generation immigrants are well integrated, 79% of respondents said yes, as did 63% of those surveyed in Spain.

By speaking openly about migration and addressing voters’ legitimate concerns, politicians in these countries also have helped to ground public debate in reality. They frame immigration as a generally positive development that helps to mitigate the problems of aging populations and labor-market gaps. As a result, fear is muted: asked whether immigrants take away jobs from native-born citizens, 80% of Germans and 77% of Swedes said that they do not.

In places where the rhetoric surrounding immigration flies off the handle, as in the UK, perceptions are sometimes grossly distorted. The average Briton, for example, believes that 31% of the UK population was born abroad, whereas the actual number is 13%. Compare that to Sweden, where the difference between perception and reality is just three percentage points. Reality-based debate and policymaking can fundamentally transform the negative dynamics surrounding migration.

Europeans also have far fewer cultural concerns about migrants than media coverage might lead one to believe: 69% of Europeans believe that migrants do not pose a cultural threat. In fact, almost two-thirds – including 82% in Sweden and 71% in Germany – say that immigrants enrich their national culture.

By contrast, government parties that have failed to think progressively about migration or that do not contest populist rhetoric adequately (or at all) are suffering the most ahead of the European Parliament election. Indeed, by doing too little to manage migration and integration, some governments have ceded control to smugglers, traffickers, and exploitative employers, thereby contributing to social division and hampering economic growth. Not only are they empowering populists; they are becoming more and more like them.

There is still time to move in a more sensible direction. Continent-wide, Europeans remain levelheaded about migration. Overall, according to the Germany Marshall Fund, 62% of Europeans are not worried about legal migration. Large majorities, meanwhile, agree that “migrants generally help address labor-market shortages.” Such grounded beliefs prove that there is space for an honest debate about the role of migration in Europe’s future.

The scale of migration should be a matter of enlightened public debate, one that balances economic, humanitarian, and social considerations. Politicians who have the courage to lead such a conversation in a constructive manner might be surprised by the public’s response.

Read more from "Europe's Ever-Closer Disunion"

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  1. Commentedj. von Hettlingen

    Mr. Sutherland asks: "Do Europeans really fear migrants"? No! But the graphic images of drowned and stranded migrants off the Mediterranean coast have put pressure on the EU to find a solution. In times of economic downturn, many Europeans are unwilling to bear the financial burden of taking care of refugees.
    Since the start of the Arab Spring in 2011, Europe has been seeing waves of migration from countries embroiled in armed conflict. People of all ages flee war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East, risking their lives by crossing the Mediterranean in rickety, overcrowded boats.
    It is true that "migrants figure prominently in populist rhetoric throughout the EU". It's not that "the mere presence of migrants in Europe fuels support for extremists", but "the absence of effective policies to manage migration that has alienated European voters".
    Greece, Italy and Malta had appealed for more help from the EU many times. Reception centres in these countries are overcrowded and under-resourced. They have been criticised by the UNHCR and human rights groups for violating migrants' rights.
    Mr. Sutherland says: "Europeans also have far fewer cultural concerns about migrants than media coverage might lead one to believe". It depends! EU citizens themselves are also "migrants". Protected by EU law, they are free to move from one country to another. However in some EU countries, they have become an issue because of their entitlement to social benefits and competition for jobs. Inevitably refugees and asylum-seekers, being non-EU migrants are the first ones to be discriminated by resentful citizens, when they fear a spending cut by their governments.
    For years the EU has been struggling to harmonise asylum policy. This is difficult with 28 member states, each with their own police force and judiciary. Despite detailed joint rules with the Common European Asylum System, it proves to be a challenge to put them into practice EU-wide.
    The Dublin Regulation, that deals with asylum seekers in the EU, is not ideal. It says responsibility for examining an application lies primarily with the first member state that the migrant has reached. There are tensions in the EU over the Dublin Regulation. The littoral countries of the Mediterranean say they are inundated with applications. The Eurodac system - a common database of asylum seekers' fingerprints - helps to intercept false or multiple applications.
    The European Commission has urged national governments of EU countries to expand the Mediterranean surveillance operation "from Spain to Cyprus", to prevent more boat tragedies. Unfortunately their resources are limited. Frontex has only a few aircraft and boats off Italy. The agency's entire annual budget is 86m euros ($118m). Yet Eurosceptics believe, the EU has failed to rein in the waves of refugees and have shown their disgruntlement in this election.

  2. CommentedMK Anon

    Quote:
    " they tend to agree on at least one thing: support for such parties is often grounded in anti-migrant sentiment. "

    I think this is this is the core of the article here, but little ground and references back it. In truth, migration is only a little part of far-right vote. I don't believe that a third or more of the Brits, Frenchs, Deutsch population is racist or just misguided in their perception of migration.

    I think it's more of a discontent with liberal elites the the way europe is heading. For example,
    - TRADE: if you are against the TTIP, what are the options you can vote? All traditional parties voted for that. Which party proposes tariff policy based on environmental and social rights, to create a fair economic environment.

    - INTERNAL MARKET: if you stand against the bolkenstein law, what traditional party will defend you? if you stand against the new "detached worker" rule, what party will defend you?

    - ECONOMIC POLICY: if you are against austerity, what party really defends you?
    if you are to change the ECB policy to have higher monetary inflation, instead of nominal wage deflation, what party stands for you?

    - MIGRATION: if you want enlargement of europe to be subject to referendum, as should be, what party proposes that ?

    - INSITUTIONAL: if you want to limit the number of lobbyist in the EU, what party proposes that? If you want to reform pension system for EU MPs, which party proposes that? If you want to forbid revolving doors between executive functions in the EU “technocracy” (commission, ECB, ..) and the industry? (e.g. Draghi, ex-goldman sachs president of the ECB)

    To me, the real problem is there: there is no democracy. Even after failed referendum, our "elite" still passed 99% of the content of the rejected EU constitution text.
    I am sorry to say that there is just no alternative: most of my legitimate non racist demands are excluded from all traditional parties and proposed only by “far right” parties. My disgust for the economic and institutional policies of the EU now outweighs my disgust for anti-migration policies.

    And to be honest, I think it is disinformation to focus on migration and to use people's pro migration feelings to prevent them from voting for their area of concerns: economics and politics. But the author, ex goldman-sachs, WTO and EU commissioner, is part of that elite: scaring us with the ghost of far right is part of his job, to ensure status-quo. Let me tell the voters: if the far right wins a large part of the EU, nothing will happen except an electro-shock for the European “elite”. And it is to be hoped that the message will be listen to: not the one about migration, the one about the TIPP, the revolving doors and 0% inflation monetary policy

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