How can we reduce Muslim immigration?

Two thirds are calling for immigration from Muslim countries to be stopped

Twenty years ago everything was better. At least that's what a majority of EU citizens say in interviews in a study by the London think tank Chatham House, which inquired about the mood among EU citizens and elites and which STANDARD in Austria has exclusive access to in advance. A pessimistic basic attitude of the population has been observed for decades, as measured for example in the Eurobarometer study of 1997.

In 2017, the European Union and its people were of course completely different. The citizens are concerned about a diffuse terrorist threat, and the refugee movements dominate the headlines like regulars' tables. Added to this are the unclear effects of Great Britain leaving the Union. The ruling politicians, on the other hand, are suffering from a massive credibility crisis from which populist anti-EU parties tend to benefit. On the other hand, there is also a pro-EU mood, which embodies the "Pulse of Europe" movement, which considers a united Europe to be a good idea.

Europe-wide study

Following on from this complex initial situation, Chatham House conducted a large-scale study to examine how the EU project and its future stand in the eyes of the so-called elites on the one hand and the EU population on the other. Business, media and civil society - as well as citizens from ten countries (Belgium, Germany, France, Greece, Italy, Austria, Poland, Spain, Hungary and partly also Great Britain) between December 2016 and February 2017. The study shows the opposing attitudes of Elites and the rest of the population on the future of Europe, but it also points to surprising unity - for example in matters of European solidarity.

Although the majority of the two groups say they are proud to be Europeans, the elite and citizens no longer agree on even the greatest achievements. While the elites see lasting peace as the EU's greatest achievement, the population values ​​the free movement of people the most. 14 percent of the non-elites even say that the EU has no success at all. For citizens, dealing with the refugee crisis is the area in which the EU has failed the most (say 22 percent), while the elites cite the excessive bureaucracy as the greatest failure (36 percent). Overall, 71 percent of the elites surveyed feel that they will benefit from EU integration, while only 34 percent of citizens think so.

Issues of immigration and Islam

Immigration, especially attitudes towards Islam, is a highly controversial topic among the respondents. A clear majority of the elite consider immigration to be a recipe for success (57 percent) that has enriched cultural diversity in Europe (58 percent). In contrast to this, there is a tendency in the population to view immigration as negative. A majority of 55 percent of those surveyed consider immigrants to be a burden for the welfare state, in Austria it is as much as 69 percent - the highest figure among citizens in the countries surveyed. When asked whether immigrants increase crime, 66 percent of Austrian citizens agree, while on average it is only slightly more than half of the population. Paul Schmidt, General Secretary of the Austrian Society for European Policy, explains this with a vague concern in Austria, in which the issues of immigration and the refugee crisis are mixed up. For example, Germany was also disproportionately affected by the refugee movements, but political communication in the neighboring country was clearer.

Regarding the refugee issue, almost half of the population surveyed and 63 percent of the elites across Europe support a distribution of refugees using quotas, while 24 percent of the population and 10 percent of the elites do not want to accept any refugees at all.

In the shadow of the discussions about US President Donald Trump's entry ban for Muslims, the study authors also asked about attitudes towards Islam. 55 percent of the citizens surveyed consider the European and Muslim way of life to be incompatible (35 percent of the elite). 56 percent of the population agreed with the statement "Any further immigration from predominantly Muslim countries should be stopped" (32 percent of the elite). Here, too, the approval rate among the Austrian citizens surveyed was 65 percent, well above the average. Particularly among the more authoritarian respondents - those who also support the introduction of the death penalty - there was also a clear tendency for a ban across Europe (84 percent). However, it cannot be deduced from the question whether one would be just as negative about the admission of Muslim refugees.

Trump's decree that would refuse entry to citizens from six Muslim-majority countries is currently being hotly debated, especially in the United States. There, however, several court decisions have shown that it would not be legally tenable.

A majority of those questioned are more open about marriage for all. 56 percent of EU citizens (64 percent in Austria) and 70 percent of the elite think this is a good idea.

No clear line on the future of the EU

Thomas Raines, one of the authors of the study, describes the fact that neither elites nor citizens have a clear idea of ​​how the EU should proceed as particularly significant. It is true that there is broad consensus that solidarity plays a major role within the Union - 77 percent of the elite and 50 percent of the citizens support the statement that rich member states should help poorer ones. Of the elites, however, 41 percent said that enlargement was going too far for them, while 44 percent said it was not going far enough. For the citizens, enlargement is clearly going too fast (47 percent versus 22 percent who could imagine more).

36 percent are against further accessions, 34 percent are in favor, and 31 percent are neutral towards new accessions. With 58 percent of the elite, a clear majority is in favor of new members. Turkey is apparently not meant by this: The approval of Turkey accession is similarly low among both elite and citizens - only at six and five percent respectively.

Five future scenarios rated differently

Opinions are also divided on the specific future shape of EU policy. In March, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker presented the "White Paper on the Future of Europe", in which five scenarios are drawn as to how the EU with 27 members could develop after Brexit by 2025 - the study that has now been published partly shows how Elites and citizens from the surveyed member states stand for the different variants.

Scenario 1 would be the continuation of step-by-step reforms as before, for example in the energy and digital sectors, without big leaps. However, the study shows that there is no majority in any of the countries, neither among elites nor among citizens, in favor of maintaining the status quo.

In Scenario 2 one would rely on the EU-27 reducing itself to the single market without further deepening. In other areas, such as foreign and security policy, it would be more in the direction of bilateral cooperation. In the scenario it is not explicitly referred to as that, but de facto it would mean a reduction in EU powers - which the majority of the citizens surveyed would support. 48 percent were in favor of giving the member states more power again. In the case of the elite, it is 31 percent.

Reinforced integration

Scenario 3 describes a Europe of different speeds. The states of a "core Europe" could participate in significantly more political integration, but do not have to. Any EU country could later join the "core group". This is entirely in line with the opinion of the majority of the elites surveyed, who plead for European integration to progress. With this variant, however, it is assumed that the desire for more integration differs from country to country - and not from population group to population group, as the study makes clear.

In Scenario 4 EU competence would be reduced to a few areas (such as migration, trade, security and defense), with clearer demarcations from national rules. In the areas concerned, cooperation would become closer - in the others, however, it would be severely restricted, such as health and social policy. The study authors describe this variant as the most innovative, as it would not be about more or less Europe. However, no tendency among the population and elites can be derived from the surveys.

Scenario 5 would mean the realization of the "old" goals of Rome: Integration that goes far beyond the economy, i.e. EU-wide regulations and rights for citizens that can be enforced in EU institutions. However, 41 percent of the citizens surveyed expressed their disapproval of the idea of ​​a "United States of Europe" with a central government, 47 percent of the elites rejected it - the Austrian citizens surveyed showed an even more pronounced rejection of 65 percent. 30 percent of the EU population and 40 percent of the elite indicated their approval of the question. In addition, this variant would probably mean an expansion of EU powers, which 37 percent of the elites surveyed support this, but only 24 percent of the citizens.

"Knowing about this disagreement, specifying the future strategy is a great challenge for the politicians involved," is the conclusion of the author of the study, Raines: The EU must therefore urgently regain its political legitimacy. (Manuela Honsig-Erlenburg, Noura Maan, Markus Hametner, June 20, 2017)

Background: About the data

For this study in ten EU countries (Belgium, Germany, France, Greece, Italy, Austria, Poland, Spain, Hungary and Great Britain) on the one hand online surveys with at least 1,000 respondents ("citizens") and on the other hand 160 to 205 Interviews with politicians, journalists, economists and NGO representatives ("elites"). The online survey was carried out in such a way that the age, gender and religious affiliation of the population correspond to the population. According to the authors, the result is therefore representative of the population as a whole.

The survey took place between December 2016 and January 2017, the elite interviews between January 2017 and February 2017. Unless otherwise stated in the text, the results from Great Britain were not taken into account as this part of the population was used in decisions about the future the EU does not matter.

The Chatham House study was funded by the Mercator Foundation, the Robert Bosch Foundation, the King Baudouin Foundation and the Erste Foundation. (fin)

Quiz: In which country is the population most likely to share your opinion?