Immigration tops the list of challenges of greatest concern to European Union citizens and Europeans are more negative about immigration than people on other continents, as we analyse in a report to be launched on Wednesday. But beyond these generally disapproving views on overall immigration, Europeans’ enthusiasm for intra-EU mobility of people is relatively high and is on the rise (Figure 1) – a development which has not featured much in policy discussion.
In May 2015, the first time the Eurobarometer survey included a related question, 51% of respondents were very or fairly positive about immigration from other EU countries, 40% were very or fairly negative, while 9% of respondents did not give an answer. Since then, the support for intra-EU immigration has risen steadily, reaching 63% in support, 30% against and 7% do not know, by May 2017. If we disregard those who did not answer, we find that more than two-third of EU citizens had positive views about intra-EU movement of people in May 2017.
While there is some country-specific heterogeneity, support for intra-EU mobility has increased from May 2015 to May 2017 in each EU member state except Romania (see the country-specific charts in the annexe). Support has increased even in the United Kingdom, even though immigration from other EU countries was a key topic of the campaign preceding the referendum on EU membership in June 2016.
At the same time, support for immigration from outside the EU is generally lower, yet it is also notable that this support has not deteriorated during the recent refugee crisis, but remained more or less the same.
Figure 2 compares the support for immigration from other EU countries (horizontal axis) and from outside the EU (vertical axis) for each EU country in May 2017. The 45-degree line would correspond to equal support for the two sources of immigration, but all data points are below this line, highlighting that support for immigration from other EU countries is stronger than support for immigration from outside the EU in each country. People in Luxembourg, Ireland and Sweden are most supportive of intra-EU migration and they have a rather high level of support for extra-EU immigration too. More than half of the citizens of Spain, Portugal and the United Kingdom also support extra-EU immigration.
Support for extra-EU immigration was very low – down to just 15% – in a number of central and eastern European countries (the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Latvia, Hungary and Estonia), while the lowest support for intra-EU migration, just slightly below 50%, was in the Czech Republic and Cyprus.
Figure 2: Support for immigration from inside the EU vs. immigration from outside the EU, percent of respondents, May 2017
Source: Eurobarometer, spring 2017. Note: respondents were asked: “Please tell me whether each of the following statements evokes a positive or negative feeling for you – Immigration of people from other EU Member States; Immigration of people from outside the EU”. Share of respondents responding ‘very positive’ and ‘fairly positive’ are added together and shown as a share of those who responded to this question.
What reasons could explain the high and even increasing support for intra-EU mobility of people? This will be certainly an important topic that we’ll discuss at the launch event on Wednesday.
Annexe: Country-specific charts on the support for immigration from inside the EU: