Half of Europeans disapprove of EU migration policy and demand stronger border controls, poll shows

In 2023, the EU received over 1.14 million asylum applications, the highest level since 2016.
In 2023, the EU received over 1.14 million asylum applications, the highest level since 2016. Copyright Markus Schreiber/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Markus Schreiber/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
By Jorge LiboreiroVincenzo Genovese
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Europeans give a thumbs down to the European Union's efforts to control irregular migration and demand stronger border controls.

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This is one of the eye-catching takeaways from an exclusive Euronews poll conducted by Ipsos among almost 26,000 respondents across 18 member states ahead of the elections to the European Parliament, which will be held between 6 and 9 June.

The first-of-its-kind survey shows that 51% of Europeans have a "negative" assessment of the bloc's impact on migration policy, while only 16% have a "positive" view. Meanwhile, 32% say the impact has been "neither positive nor negative."

The trend cuts through genders, age groups and occupations, and is consistent in most countries, where the negative side clearly outweighs the other two segments. France (62%), Austria (60%) and Hungary (58%) are the most critical nations, while Denmark (26%), Romania (27%) and Finland (32%) are the least. 

The most pronounced variations appear in voting intention: the harshest views come, as expected, from those who support the far-right Identity and Democracy (78%) and the hard-right European Conservatives and Reformists (65%) groups, followed by the Left (55%), which sits at the opposite end of the spectrum.

Voters of the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), which has been accused of embracing far-right talking points for electoral purposes, are prone to censure but in a more nuanced manner: 46% say negative, 20% say positive and 34% say neither.

Those who rally behind the centre-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group are undecided: 33% say negative, 24% say positive and 42% say neither.

All in all, the assessment of the bloc's impact on migration policy is the most disparaging of the six areas examined in the poll, including the responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The results come a month after it was confirmed the EU had recorded 1.14 million asylum applications in 2023, the largest figure since 2016. The increase, steady since the end of the lockdown restrictions, has been accompanied by media stories about overwhelmed reception facilities in countries like Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.

The narrative helped inject political momentum into the negotiations of the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, a comprehensive reform that introduces common and predictable EU rules to manage the arrival and distribution of asylum seekers.

After more than three years of back and forth, the Pact was provisionally agreed upon in December and is now in the final stages of the legislative process. But its effectiveness is still a hypothetical question that will only be answered in the next mandate.

The European Commission has already said it would not hesitate to resort to legal action against countries that fail to comply with the beefed-up rules.

'Humanist values' fail to convince

The dissatisfaction with the EU's migration policy translates into an across-the-board demand for strengthening border controls to combat irregular migration: 71% of respondents in the poll agree this should be the main focus in the coming years.

Poland (86%), Bulgaria (83%) and Finland (83%) register the highest level of support for this course of action, which is a majority opinion in all surveyed countries.

By contrast, 28% of Europeans say the bloc should instead prioritise a "policy of welcoming immigrants in the name of humanist values." Notably, two frontline countries in Southern Europe, Spain (41%) and Italy (39%), are the most receptive to this approach.

In Denmark, where the left-wing government of Mette Frederiksen is pursuing a "zero asylum" policy, one-third of respondents (34%) choose support welcoming immigrants.

Potential voters of conservative and liberal parties are the likeliest to call for stronger border controls: 91% of ID, 89% of ECR, 81% of EPP and 72% of Renew Europe.

Those who back the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group are split between stronger border controls (57%) and humanist values (43%), while supporters of the Greens (66%) and the Left (63%) lean decisively towards the latter.

But when looking at gender, age groups and occupations, the numbers leave no doubt as to the preferred option: beefing up border controls.

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The hardened attitudes suggest migration concerns will remain high as citizens cast their ballots in June. In fact, 59% of respondents say the EU should make the fight against irregular migration a priority, making it the fourth most important topic on the agenda after rising prices, social inequalities and economic growth, and ahead of unemployment, climate change, collective defence and assistance to Ukraine.

Moreover, 29% say the fight against irregular migration should be "important but not a priority." Just 12% conclude it should be "secondary."

Commenting on the results, Andrew Geddes, the director of the Migration Policy Centre at the European University Institute (EUI), said the concerns related to migration have been fuelled and politicised by far-right parties, like Alternative für Deutschland (Germany), Rassemblement National (France), Party for Freedom (the Netherlands) and Chega (Portugal), all of whom have seen a rise in opinion polls.

"We can see that migration is steadily becoming a more important issue. Its importance is growing and it's motivating the votes of sections of the electorate. So it's not the most important issue, but it's important," Geddes told Euronews.

"I think fundamentally it boils down to people wanting to see a system that works, that it functions, and that member states can agree with each other. But what they see instead is member states disagreeing with each other about what the policy should be (and) continual disputes about migration."

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