Europe isn’t really anti-migrant

Insularity and bigotry are not necessarily the future of Europe.
Sunday 06/05/2018
A pro-migrant activist holds a placard during a demonstration in Athens. (AFP)
A pro-migrant activist holds a placard during a demonstration in Athens. (AFP)

A study recently published by the European Commission titled “Integration of Immigrants in the European Union” suggests that Fortress Europe is not a construct that inhabits the minds of most Europeans.

The Eurobarometer survey suggested that, in practice, Europeans’ views of migrants remain relatively positive for all the intolerant rhetoric from the far-right. A remarkable 83% of Spaniards and 81% of Swedes said they would feel comfortable having an immigrant as a social relation. An overwhelming 87% of Swedes said they were very happy to have immigrants as friends.

The survey illustrated a crucial point: European countries that host significant numbers of immigrants are more at ease with them. Those that don’t are not.

As the Eurobarometer survey showed, the bias against immigrants is inversely proportional to the number hosted by a European country. For Central Europe, where xenophobic rhetoric has influenced recent elections, preconceived notions about migrants are used to whip up political sentiment against an imaginary bogeyman.

In Hungary and Bulgaria, for instance, there are few immigrants. The percentage of the foreign-born population in 2017 was 2% for Bulgaria and 5% in Hungary. It was 18% for Sweden.

Central Europe notwithstanding, the survey serves as a useful — and heartening — reality check. European societies are far more tolerant of migration than the daily news readout and fulminations of populist politicians would suggest.

To extrapolate, insularity feeds upon itself. Politicians with an eye on the main chance whip up anti-immigrant sentiment as an easy-fix solution to problems.

The Eurobarometer survey contains another reason for optimism: Younger respondents, especially those who are better educated and urban, are less likely to express negative opinions about migrants.

Insularity and bigotry are not necessarily the future of Europe.

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