Migration: how relevant is the topic?

According to the most recent Eurobarometer polls the topic of migration is less important that it has been in recent years. Europeans have other topics are on their minds.

A man is seen holding a sign reading "EU: Stop War not People" during the "Don't let refugees drown" demonstration on April 21st 2019 in Amsterdam. (© picture-alliance, NurPhoto)

For a long time it seemed as if there were no more than one topic in Europe: migration. Everything pointed to the 2015 refugee crisis and the resulting discussions about migration policy tearing Europe apart. To take the pressure off countries such as Greece and Italy, which were the worst hit by migration, the EU Commission sought to introduce mandatory distribution quotas – incensing countries like Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania … and Britain. They refused to take in the stipulated number of refugees – or sometimes any at all.

But if migration has placed highly or even taken top spot in public opinion since 2015 according to Eurobarometer, other topics have gained in importance since 2017. In the most recent Eurobarometersurvey of March 2019, 50 percent of EU citizens were most concerned about the Union’s economic development, while 49 percent put youth unemployment at top spot. Migration came third at 44 percent. Climate protection is also increasingly important: in seven EU countries respondents gave climate issues highest priority.

Emigration a huge concern for some countries

A study put out by the think tank European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) at the start of 2019 indicates that still other topics are of high concern for EU citizens – often outstripping migration. Countries in Central Eastern and Southern Europe have been particularly hard hit in recent years by mass exodus, a phenomenon that has also taken its0 toll on those who stay behind.

Emigration and immigration in the European Union (PDF-Icon download illustration). Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/

In Hungary, Romania, Poland, Greece, Spain and Italy more people are worried about emigration by their own population than about the arrival of immigrants from other countries, according to findings by the ECFR together with the polling institute YouGov. Research for the study was carried out in the 14 most populous countries of the EU excepting Britain.

In the Bulgarian daily Trud demographer Petar Ivanov explains how difficult the situation is in his country: "It sounds terrible but in Bulgaria the death bells are ringing. The country is currently experiencing the worst demographic crisis in its entire history. It is already dead from a demographic point of view. We are disappearing at a faster rate than in any other country in the world. We have the highest mortality rate. In the last nine years we have moved up from 19th place to first place, ahead of countries like Syria and Afghanistan where wars are raging.”

Hungary trying to up its birthrate

Meanwhile the Hungarian government has now also recognised the problem. In answer to emigration and the decline in the birth rate, however, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has chosen to focus less on immigration than on incentives encouraging the local population to have more children. Every woman under 40 who marries for the first time is to receive a loan of ten million forints (roughly 30,000 euros), according to the plan.

While pro-government media back the policy, critics see it as an attempt to keep women in the kitchen. For the Swedish daily Aftonbladet: "Hungary is already known for its brutal refugee policy, its Islamophobia and the open anti-Semitism of its leading politicians. Gender studies have been banned there, and the media are controlled. Now comes the next step: the role of women is being changed and the clocks are being turned back.” By contrast Hungarian daily Magyar Hírlap is delighted: "Today already five percent of the GDP is spent on the nation's main objective - family support. That's more than anywhere else in Europe. The result: the birth rate is rising once more, as is the number of marriages, while the mortality rate remains stable."

Migration problem still unsolved

But even if the topic of migration is now less important for EU citizens than it once was politicians should not lose sight of it altogether, the daily Die Welt insists: "A huge number of people are irate at the EU’s inability to reach a joint solution to immigration and asylum. The old Dublin Procedure is dead. The EU needs a stable, standardised procedure for legal immigration. It’s been talking about it for 25 years. Who now hast he strength to slice this knot?"
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Ulrike Christl

Ulrike Christl

is editor for euro|topics.

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