The results of this survey point to several significant tendencies in the EU, with both positive and negative messages and implications.
One of the main findings show that around six in ten respondents interact with immigrants on a weekly basis and a large minority of Europeans have close ties with third-country immigrants, in the sense that they have them either as friends or family members. A majority of Europeans think that integration measures such as the provision of language courses, integration programmes, the promotion of intermingling of the host society’s citizens and the immigrants in schools and neighbourhoods and the granting of equal rights (i.e. to healthcare, education and social security) are likely to have a positive effect on the integration of immigrants.
On the other hand, it is clear that many Europeans feel ill-informed about immigration and integration related matters; less than four in ten say that they are well-informed.
There is also a significant lack of awareness of the real extent of immigration from non-EU countries into the EU, with many Europeans overestimating how many immigrants are present in their country. On average in the EU, the proportion of immigrants is overstated by a ratio of 2.3 to 1. The largest overestimation occurs in Slovakia, where the proportion of immigrants is overstated by a ratio of around 14 to 1. On the other hand, respondents in Estonia, Croatia and Sweden the respondents’ estimates of the proportion of immigrants is accurate.
Overall in the EU, those with lower levels of education tend to give higher estimates of the proportion of immigrants in their country. There are also misconceptions regarding the number of illegally staying immigrants compared to those staying legally.
Overall, there are also significant variations across EU countries in the extent of respondents’ personal experiences with immigrants and their level of familiarity and comfort with them. The fact that Member States differ significantly in terms of the size and nature of migration flows also helps to explain why perceptions of the issues of migration and integration also vary across countries.
With respect to general perceptions of and attitudes towards immigrants, these findings show that Europeans are significantly divided on the issue of whether immigration presents an opportunity or a problem. Europeans are around twice as likely to see immigration as a problem as they are to see it as an opportunity, while nearly a third see it as both of these things. There is a clear country divide on this issue, with over half of the respondents in Hungary, Malta, Greece, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Italy seeing immigration as more of a problem, while significant minorities of respondents in Sweden, Ireland and the United Kingdom view it as mainly an opportunity. There are also significant differences between age and education cohorts. Younger respondents, and those who are better educated, are more likely to see immigration as more of an opportunity, while older respondents and those with lower levels of education are more likely to see it as more of a problem.
The overall picture is therefore an ambiguous one: seeing immigration as a problem may not mean hostility against migrants, but rather reflect a perception that governments are not managing the issue of immigrant integration in an adequate way. Indeed, significant proportions of respondents in all countries see immigration as both a problem and an opportunity. In addition, although large majorities think the role of the national governments are important for the successful integration of immigrants, they are somewhat sceptical about the extent to which their own governments have been able to foster it: in Estonia, Romania, the Netherlands, Spain, Lithuania, Poland, Danemark, Latvia, Sweden and the United Kingdom less than half of the respondents think that their government is doing enough to foster immigrants’ integration.
This is all the more important given that a majority of Europeans agree that the integration of immigrants is a necessary investment in the long run for their country. There is also a clear majority who see the EU’s role as important and have a positive view of the actions that could be undertaken by the EU to support the integration of immigrants.
The aforementioned divides are also in evidence when we consider personal experiences and attitudes towards immigrants. Over half of Europeans say they feel comfortable with immigrants as friends, neighbours, work colleagues or in other social roles. However respondents in some countries (Poland, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Hungary) are much less likely to feel totally comfortable in these situations. Respondents in these countries are less likely to have direct experience of immigrants: indeed, many respondents in Central and Eastern Europe report low levels of contact with immigrants in any circumstances. This is understandable in light of the fact that there are significantly fewer third-country immigrants living in these countries. Moreover, older respondents, those who have lower levels of education and respondents living in rural areas and in small or midsized towns are less likely than younger, better educated respondents and those living in large towns to report higher levels of contact with immigrants, or to feel comfortable around them.
There are also significant differences when it comes to whether integration of immigrants into European countries is seen as a success, and the perceptions of whether immigrants have had a positive or a negative impact on their host countries. For example, while in Ireland more than three quarters of respondents see the integration of immigrants as a success, in Bulgaria only around a fifth of respondents do so. In Sweden and the Netherlands, there is an overall positive view of the impact of immigrants, while in Hungary and Bulgaria immigrants are generally felt to have had a negative impact. Importantly, in countries which have a low proportion of non-EU immigrants in their population, respondents are less likely to see integration as a success or feel that immigrants have had a positive impact. Younger respondents and those with higher levels of education are more likely to feel that integration has been a success and that immigrants have had a positive impact on their country, while respondents who are vulnerable economically are more likely to say their impact has been negative.
Europeans’ perceptions of the potential obstacles to integration faced by immigrants were explored in this study as well as the measures that can be taken to facilitate this integration. On the one hand, a large majority of Europeans think that if limited efforts to integrate are made by immigrants, it represents a major obstacle. On the other hand, they also recognise that if immigrants face significant difficulties in finding jobs and also experience discrimination and redtape, it makes integration more difficult. Younger and better educated respondents are more likely to recognise the barriers to integration that immigrants face. These results go in line with the finding that most Europeans see the integration of immigrants as a two-way process, where both the immigrants and the host society have a role to play.
Indeed, the majority of Europeans think that the responsibility of integration is on both immigrants themselves and the host society. However, this opinion is less common among respondents in Central and Eastern Europe. Those in the oldest age cohort or with lower levels of education are less likely to think integration is a two-way process between the host society and the immigrant, and are more likely to think that immigrants themselves should be mostly responsible for their integration.
Finally, there is a general consensus on the most important factors contributing to successful integration. Europeans think it is particularly important that immigrants are able to speak the language of the country they have immigrated to. Over nine in ten respondents hold this view.
Respondents also think that both economic and cultural factors are important for successful integration: a majority agree that making contributions to the welfare systems of the host countries is important for integration, as is the acceptance of the values and norms of the societies. While there is widespread agreement on the importance of these issues, the extent to which they are regarded as important varies, with fewer respondents in Central and Eastern European countries tending to regard them as very important.
A large minority of respondents say that the media presents immigrants objectively, but a similar proportion say that the media portrayal of immigrants is too negative. Significantly fewer say that the media presents immigrants too positively. Again, these aggregate figures conceal significant country-level differences. In Greece, Slovakia and the Czech Republic nearly a quarter think that the media portrays immigrants too positively. On the other hand, in the United Kingdom, Denmark and the Netherlands over half of respondents say that the media presents immigrants too negatively, as do significant minorities of respondents in Hungary, Sweden, Belgium and France. The established socio-demographic divides are also in evidence, albeit to a lesser extent: older people and those with lower levels of education are somewhat more likely to say that immigrants are presented too positively by the media.
The responses on the underlying issue of attitudes to immigrants point to two broad divides which recur to some extent in a number of the findings of this survey. One is a regional divide which runs approximately between countries of Northern Europe and Portugal and countries of Central and Eastern Europe plus several Mediterranean countries, notably those most strongly affected by the recent migration flows (Greece and Italy). The second is a socio-demographic divide between, on the one hand, respondents who are young, who are well educated, and who are economically secure, and on the other those who are older, less well educated, and more economically vulnerable. These divides are not always in evidence, nor do they always exactly correspond to the distribution of responses, but it is clear from the analysis that many of the aggregate-level divides we observe on these questions at the European level can be explained by persistent regional and sociodemographic differences.
Overall, the results of this survey point to two conclusions, both of which give grounds for optimism as to the potential for integrating third-country migrants into EU countries. Firstly, the majority of Europeans have direct contact with or regular interaction with non-EU immigrants and a significant minority have close ties with them and interact with them at least weekly. Secondly, Europeans are broadly tolerant and accepting of immigrants and positively inclined towards the initiatives being undertaken to ensure that the integration of immigrants is successful. While this overall picture conceals a significant set of differences between countries, it is clear that the more exposed respondents are to migrants, the more favourably inclined they are towards them. It is therefore likely that in those countries where the proportion of non-EU immigrants is currently significantly lower, attitudes to immigrants and positive assessments of the prospects for their integration will improve as citizens of these countries become more accustomed to their presence. This conclusion is supported by the fact that the younger generation, and those with higher levels of education, are more likely to welcome immigrants, see their impact as positive, and more willing to consider integrating them into their lives as friends, colleagues and peers.