Seven out of 10 Europeans believe their country takes in too many immigrants

More than 60% say the EU should strengthen its support for Ukraine and favor a ceasefire with Moscow, according to a survey in all 27 member states

Siete de cada 10 europeos creen que su país acoge a demasiados inmigrantes
A protester holds a sign that says 'Let's be human' during a demonstration in Paris on January 21 against tighter immigration laws.SOPA Images (SOPA Images/LightRocket via Gett)
Francisco Peregil

Europeans view immigration with increasing suspicion. Seven out of 10 Europeans believe that their country takes in too many migrants, according to a survey carried out by BVA Xsight for ARTE Europe Weekly, a project led by the French-German TV channel ARTE GEIE and which EL PAÍS has participated in, as part of the countdown to the European elections in June.

The survey shows that 85% of respondents feel the European Union needs to take more action to combat irregular migration. And only 39% believe that Europe needs immigration today.

The countries where most people consider immigration a problem are Bulgaria (74% of respondents), the Czech Republic (73%), Hungary and Cyprus (68% in both cases). Paradoxically, in Italy, the European country where the largest number of immigrants entered irregularly last year (157,652), only 44% of respondents viewed it as a problem and only 14% saw it as the main problem. In Greece and Spain, the second and third countries with the most irregular arrivals in 2023, respectively, only 11% of respondents considered it the issue of most concern to them, below the European average of 17%. However, Greece is the country where the most people (90%) believe their country takes in too many migrants.

These are some of the conclusions from a survey carried out online between March 27 and April 9 in the 27 member states, where 22,726 people over 15 years of age were interviewed, with a representative sample from each country. In addition to El PAÍS, the media organizations Gazeta Wyborcza, Internazionale, Ir, Kathimerini, Le Soir and Telex collaborated in the survey.

Beyond the data on migration, health is the biggest concern for Europeans (41%), followed by the war in Ukraine (38%). The environment and inflation are tied in third place at 24%. Each country also presents some unique features when it comes to the order of priorities. In France, purchasing power is a top concern; in Poland people are particularly focused on security; the Irish are notably preoccupied with housing and Spaniards are very worried about unemployment.

This picture of Europeans’ concerns emerges one month before more than 400 million people from to the 27 countries of the European Union are called to vote in the elections to the European Parliament, which will be held between June 6 and 9. Voters will elect 705 MEPs in a chamber whose composition will be key to deciding issues such as pushing or stopping a policy of self-defense, and the promotion of measures for the green transition — under threat by the far right, which is forecast to perform well at the polls.

On the economic front, 73% of those surveyed feel optimistic about their personal future, although 57% believe that the economic situation in the EU has worsened and 63% feel the same way about their own country.

Only a third of respondents believe that EU decisions have a positive impact on their lives. And there is only one country, Portugal, where the majority (51%) highlighted the positive influence of the EU on their lives. Portugal is followed by Spain, Luxembourg, Malta and Romania, all of them with 43% positive responses. At the opposite pole, France and the Czech Republic (21% in both cases) are where the smallest number of people believe that the EU affects their lives favorably, followed by Hungary (24%) and the Netherlands (26%).

In the population as a whole, only 9% admit to feeling more European than their own nationality. In several of the member states that joined the EU most recently, citizens recognize that, when they vote, they prioritize their national needs over European ones: Romania (82%), Bulgaria (81%), Greece and Latvia (79% in both cases). However, the majority of countries would like to see the common European policy strengthened, especially in defense (72%) and immigration (70%).

Pollsters believe the survey paints a portrait of a Europe divided between those who worry more about the “end of the world” — security and the war between Russia and Ukraine — and those who focus more on “end of the month” issues. The first group includes Estonia, Finland and Poland, who are closer to the Russian borders. The second group, more concerned about the loss of purchasing power, encompasses France, Belgium, Spain and Portugal.

The war that began with Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022 might have served to reinforce the feeling of belonging to the EU. But it did not turn out that way. Only 14% of citizens say they feel more European now than before the invasion of Ukraine. And 15% of those surveyed consider themselves less European since the beginning of the conflict.

Fear of an imminent war

The survey shows that 62% of Europeans fear an imminent war with Russia, a fear that is felt most strongly in the countries geographically closest to the invading country, such as Poland, the Baltic States, Finland and Romania. Only 30% think that Europe has enough military resources to respond to a possible attack. Although 61% believe that the EU should strengthen its support for Ukraine, a similar majority (63%) believe that a ceasefire should be negotiated.

Fully 63% of Europeans are in favor of Ukraine’s accession to the EU. However, the countries most favorable to negotiations with Vladimir Putin (Hungary, Czech Republic, Austria, Bulgaria) are also the most reluctant to the admission of Ukrainians into the European club.

Climate change, important for 82%

The environment occupies, along with the loss of purchasing power, the third place among the top concerns of Europeans. Last year was the warmest on Earth since records began in the 19th century. For 82% of respondents, this is an important problem. And for 43%, the fight against global warming is a priority, especially in southern Europe — Malta, Italy, Portugal, Cyprus and Spain — where droughts and heat waves are felt most keenly.

The measures that generate the most support to combat climate change are those decided by governments and the European Parliament, such as the reduction of pesticides (60%) or massive investment in public transportation (57%). However, decisions that involve changes in individual behavior, such as increasing taxes to reduce personal vehicle use, are well received in only 21% of cases.

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