22nd Oct 2016

Terrorism and migration top EU public's concern

Immigration and terrorism are Europeans' two main concerns, far ahead of the economic situation and unemployment, according to a new survey by the European Commission.

More than 31,000 people in 34 European countries and regions were interviewed for the spring 2016 Eurobarometer.

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  • France has suffered the deadliest terrorist attacks (Photo: Reuters)

Some 48 percent cited immigration as one of the two most important issues facing the EU at the moment.

That was down from 10 percent compared to the previous Eurobarometer, which was published last December at the height of the refugee crisis.

Immigration was cited as the most important issue in 20 member states. The percentage was the highest in Estonia (73%), Denmark (71%), and the Czech Republic, Latvia and Hungary (67% each).

Terrorism was the other top issue, cited by 39 percent of respondents.

It was up 14 percent compared to the earlier survey, which was carried out at the time of the Paris attacks in November.

Terrprism was cited as one of the most important issues in all member states except Greece, with the highest figures in Ireland and Cyprus (50%), Romania (49%), Croatia (48%), and Luxembourg (47%).

In France, the country that has suffered the most attacks in recent months, 39 percent of respondents said terrorism was the most important issue. The number was 35 percent in Belgium, where the Brussels attacks took place in March.

In Turkey, where a series of attacks also took place, 70 percent of respondents cited terrorism as one of the main issues of their country. They were not asked about the main issues for the EU.

Unloved EU

The Eurobarometer results indicated a lasting shift in public opinion.

Immigration and terrorism already topped the winter 2015 survey.

But a year ago, in the spring 2015 survey , immigration was the top concern ahead of the economic situation, unemployment and the state of member states' public finances.

Terrorism was far behind, cited by just 17 percent of people.

Going further back to the winter 2014 Eurobarometer, unemployment was the main concern for 45 percent of respondents, before the economic situation more broadly speaking, as well as immigration, health and social securi, and government debt.

The image of the EU has remained weak throughout.

Thirty four percent of respondents said in spring 2016 that they had a positive image - down 3 percent. Twenty seven percent said they had a negative image - up 4 percent. An unchanged 38 percent had a neutral image of the EU.

Only 33 percent said they trusted the EU. Trust was up one percent since the previous survey, but still seven percent lower than one year ago.

Rosy view

The press release published by the European Commission saw the situation through rose tinted spectacles.

It said the 33-percent figure for EU trust meant that "trust in the EU is higher than trust in national governments”. Trust in national governments was 27 percent.

The press release was entitled "Spring 2016 Standard Eurobarometer: Strong public support for Commission's political priorities".

The EU executive said that "as in the previous survey of November 2015, there was positive endorsement of the priority topics set by the European Commission".

A closer look at the questions and answers gave a different picture, however.

The Commission claimed that "regarding the issue of migration, 67 percent of Europeans say they are in favour of a common European policy on migration".

That titled was based on fuzzy thinking.

The Commission did not ask any questions on its specific policies, such as the relocation of asylum seekers or the creation of an EU border and coast guard.

The survey took place before the failed coup and subsequent crackdown in Turkey in mid-July, but amid NGO alerts on Turkish human rights abuses.

The Commission did not ask people whether they supported the EU-Turkey deal on sending back irregular migrants from Greece to Turkey.

Support for TTIP

The Commission also said that "56 percent of Europeans are … in favour of a digital single market within the EU" and that "70 percent of Europeans are in favour of a common energy policy among EU member states".

But again, the questions asked were limited to whether respondents were for or against a single digital market or energy union, not about specific Commission proposals.

EU officials could legitimately boast of one victory on a current controversy.

Fifty-one percent of respondents said they were in favour of TTIP, the EU-US free trade and investment agreement that the Commission is negotiating with Washington.

Support for TTIP had a majority in 24 member states. The highest support was in Lithuania (77%), Ireland (70%), Romania and Sweden (68%), as well as Denmark (67%).

A majority was against TTIP in four countries, including in Austria (70%) and in Germany (59%), however.

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