From the TUC

European attitudes to diversity & migration: room for improvement

14 Jul 2016, by in International

A new analysis of European views on migration demonstrates that diversity is not as unpopular as the referendum result and right-wing populism in France, Germany and Italy might suggest. But it also reveals that British views are in some ways more like Eastern European views than those in northern Europe generally, and that while in some ways Britain is very divided over migration, in others it is remarkably united.

The global Pew Research Center conducted a major survey of public opinion across Europe in early June, looking at attitudes in 10 countries. The overall headline findings are not so surprising – Greeks, Hungarians and Poles are less keen on migrants than Swedes and Germans; left-wingers are more positive than right-wingers about diversity; and ability to speak the local language is very or somewhat important to more than 93% of the people everywhere in Europe.

But the interest is in the detail.

For example, while in every country studied people who considered themselves right-wing were more negative about diversity than the left, in some countries the entire political spectrum is more positive or negative than in other countries. When asked whether sharing our national customs and traditions is very important, 37% of left-wingers in Britain agreed – more than the proportion of right-wingers in Germany or Sweden.

Germans were massively divided over whether their country was a worse place to live because of an increasing number of people of many different races, ethnic groups and nationalities (14% of left-wingers agreed with this, but 50% of right-wingers: the biggest gap in the ten countries studied.) The smallest gap between left and right was in Britain, where 24% of left-wingers and 36% of right-wingers agreed with the negative view of diversity.

However, on a positive note, only in Greece did more than 51% of people in the centre think that diversity made the country a worse place to live. In France (34%), Sweden (31%) and the UK (36%) only a third of right-wingers considered diversity made the country worse.

That suggests quite liberal views about diversity even among the right, and that’s backed up by looking at people as a whole. Significant numbers across the 10 countries (from 25% in Italy to 46% in the Netherlands) felt that diversity made no difference, and in France, Spain, Sweden and the UK, more people felt that diversity was a positive than a negative influence.

On the other hand, as shown by other questions, attitudes to diversity are overwhelmingly negative in Greece, Hungary and Poland, with 63% of Greeks maintaining diversity makes the country worse, and only 10% better. And on the critical question of where people were born, around four-fifths of Greeks, Hungarians, Italians and Poles think that’s an important issue (although the proportion drops to one in five in Sweden and one in three in Germany.)

UK views on the importance of national customs and traditions are really quite Eastern European. 88% of Britons think that sharing them was very or somewhat important, only just exceeded by Greece, Hungary and Poland (compared with Sweden where the proportion is 64%.) I was surprised that being Christian was considered so important in the UK (37% said it was very or somewhat important, only just below the 38% who think it doesn’t matter at all.) Again, this was in between Greece, Hungary, Italy and Poland on the one hand, and France, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain (with Swedes least bothered – just 7% think religion is very important.)

Overall, then, diversity is least popular in Eastern Europe and there are some very negative attitudes towards migrants. But across most of Europe, only a minority think diversity makes their country worse.