by Sara Gobetti
Immigration in Europe has increased dramatically in the last decade, reaching peaks never seen in the last century. The most dramatic year was 2015, when the so called European Migrant Crisis hit EU countries with immigrants arrivals from across all the Mediterranean Sea. In October 2015, more than 200,000 immigrants landed in Europe (mainly in Greece and Italy), an outstanding number that was going to decrease in 2016 due to the EU-Turkey Refugee Agreement.
That year, Europe received more than a million asylum applications, the highest number since 1992. The countries with the highest applications were Germany, Hungary and Sweden. In 2017 the trend was again decreasing, with around 170,000 less persons acquiring citizenship of a member state of EU than there were in 2016. In the last two years, a decreasing trend has been observed both in terms of arrivals and in terms of asylum applications all over Europe.
The causes of this outstanding phenomenon were addressed to be mainly war, persecution and violence. Because of these circumstances, many right-wing anti-immigration parties have grown in consensus in the last decade, in a very wide group of different European countries. Some examples are Alternative for Germany, Sweden Democrats, The League in Italy, the Austria’s Freedom Party, the Danish People’s Party, the National Rally in France and others.
In this political context, it would be interesting to look at some data to investigate if there has been any change in voters’ values with respect to immigration. For this purpose, it is useful to look at the Eurobarometer surveys of 2009, 2014 and 2019, based on face-to-face interviews carried out in all 28 Member States. The surveys interesting in this context are those asking people which are the themes they concern most when thinking about the upcoming European elections.
The data shows that in the pre-election survey of 2009 voters ranked first the concern of economic growth, while unemployment ranks second, and inflation and purchasing power third. Immigration took seventh place, following crime, pensions and climate change. This order of priority is very much plausible when thinking of the economic crisis that had just hit the global scenario.
By observing the data from the 2014 survey, it is immediately evident how immigration has shifted up to the third position, overcoming all other issues but unemployment and economic growth. The former ranks first, the latter second. Immigration concern had grown by 7% across Europe: a significant change with respect to 2009. Again, if we contextualize this value, it is easy to think that in 2014 the increasing number of immigrants arrivals were fostering public opinion reaction to the phenomenon.
Something that was of marginal importance in 2009, ranking worse than climate change issues (which in that year was not as an important topic as it is now), had by 2014 become a matter of priority for European voters. This could be strictly connected to the raise in populist right-wing parties across all over Europe, and their increased consensus. People express their worries and concern in voting behaviour, and this is the reason why it is of major importance to try to understand what are the subjects they care most about in one particular electoral period.
To conclude this brief analysis, it is interesting to look at data from the 2019 survey. As we may have expected, immigration is still a crucial issue, but it has lost some importance: minus 6% with respect to 2014.
This can be justified by two main trends. Firstly, the fact that immigration has decreased; secondly, some other issues have acquired importance, such as the concerns about environment and climate. Indeed, in the current year Combating climate change and protecting the environment gained 31% with respect to 2014.
To conclude, it is plausible that immigration will still be a pivotal concern for voters, until we no longer see so many arrivals in Europe. Still, this does not seem to be the case in the near future. However, there are some matters that increase in importance for people and that may reach immigration or even overcome it in some particular electoral periods.