Rosa BalfourSenior fellow in the Europe Program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States

The untold story is of the part of Europe that is not afraid of migration. Thousands mobilized to support refugees when conflict brought them to risk their lives to reach European shores, and thousands continue to do so through their daily work in offering international protection and prospects of integration. Countless episodes of goodwill are backed by opinion polls, which show that Europeans’ attitudes toward migration have not changed significantly before and after the refugee influx. It is not just about altruism; it is an investment on our future as migration is a historical and global fact of life. A stable 3 percent of the global population moves—a declining proportion of it towards Europe.

What has changed is the perception of the salience of migration, thanks to a few ruthless politicians who bank on stoking fears to get or stay in power. Reckless are also those who pander to such antics by pretending to respond to those fears. Member states have tasked the EU to invent policies—such as return irregular migrants to their far away countries of origin—which it cannot implement, while refusing to agree to harmonize European asylum policy which is the only sensible step towards a more humane and modern migration policy. Migration has become an absurd blame game of smoke and mirrors, concealing the unpreparedness for the next humanitarian crisis.

Tony BarberEurope editor of the Financial Times

Ban Ki-moon, the former United Nations Secretary General, once defined migration as “part of the social fabric, part of our very make-up as a human family.” But when he made these generous remarks, he wasn’t running for election.

By contrast, Horst Seehofer, Germany’s interior minister, last week called migration “the mother of all problems.” But he leads the conservative, Bavaria-based Christian Social Union. The CSU wants to lure voters from anti-immigrant, right-wing populists in a state election on October 14.

Most center-right European political parties, and some on the center-left, are playing the same game as the CSU. Their worst nightmare is that the radical right will deprive them of power by exploiting racial prejudice, cultural resentment, and economic insecurity.

The traditional parties can and should do better than this. One social survey after another shows that a majority of Europeans—especially, but not only, those living in large metropolitan areas—are not afraid of migration.

The fiercest hostility is often found in places where the actual number of migrants is low. In the same way, anti-Muslim sentiment is highest in areas with small or nonexistent Muslim communities.

More honesty from politicians about migration, please—and less devious, shabby hunting for votes.

Annalisa CamilliJournalist at Internazionale

According to the latest Eurobarometer poll, nearly four in ten Europeans think that migration is more of a problem than an opportunity. Some countries are particularly hostile toward this issue, including in Italy, where one in every two perceive migration a problem.

It is also interesting to underline that countries where intolerance toward migrants is very high are also countries where a false perception of the presence of migrants is prevalent. Italians, for example, think that migrants make up 26 percent of the national population, but in reality this figure is 9.5 percent. These data can in part explain why Italians are so scared about migration.

The media has a role in this misperception. According to the latest Notizie da paura report, published every year by the Italian Journalists Association, in 2017 media reports about migration were numerous, especially regarding incoming migration flows, which accounted for 44 percent of news; cases of crimes committed by migrants of asylum seekers totaled 16 percent of news.

That helped to spread a sense of insecurity. According to the study, four newspaper headlines in every ten in 2017 had an alarmist tone. The electoral campaign in 2017 and first months of 2018 played another important role, exacerbating and polarizing positions about migration. The good news is that European public opinion still thinks that investing in the integration process could have a good outcome in the long term.

Koert DebeufDirector of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy Europe

No, I don’t believe Europe is afraid of migration. A part of the European population is afraid of it, and this part has been very vocal. They demonstrate in the streets of Europe’s big cities and support far-right parties. But if a majority of the people were really afraid of migration, these parties would have gained much more than the 10-to-20 percent of the vote they are getting now.

However, the fear of migration is growing. The main reason is a lack of European migration policy. Instead, many of Europe’s politicians are only talking about keeping and kicking migrants out. They are criminalizing these people, as if migrants will turn our otherwise peaceful societies into a Wild West. This rhetoric is dangerous and wrong because it is endangering Europe’s future.

Aging Europe needs migration in order to keep its social security and its pensions safe for the future. Hundreds of thousands of vacancies are not being filled, slowing down Europe’s economy and prosperity. It’s time for Europe to learn some lessons from the past. The EU urgently needs a serious migration plan, together with a serious integration plan for migrant workers. The EU also needs a strategy to stop those anti-migration populists—because they are the real danger for Europe.

István HegedűsChairman of the Hungarian Europe Society

We should not have fears of migration. Experts argue that migration is good for the economy, for growth, and especially for the labor market. It makes societies more vibrant, flexible, and colorful. Still, this is not a question of rationality. Historically viewed, problems of coexistence and failures of integration might be temporary side effect—besides real success stories—but a big part of the population in the Old West has lost its temper and tolerance toward differences. Meanwhile, in East-Central Europe the fear of the unknown strangers has grown. In Hungary, any comparison to the suffering of Hungarian refugees after the 1956 revolution does not help make angry people less inhuman toward Muslims. Hatred, namely, has an ethnic and racist element inside the chain of exclusion.

Political confrontations seem to be inevitable at the European level between the protagonists of open societies and the populists, who use xenophobic rhetoric against migrants and refugees á la Viktor Orbán and Matteo Salvini. We have to speak about fundamental rights, the rule of law, and liberal democracy to fight back. In many member states, however, competing democratic parties can avoid accepting the dominance of identity politics and might rather bring back rational debates about policy issues, as happened during the election campaign in Sweden on Sunday. 

Jacek KucharczykPresident of the Institute of Public Affairs, Warsaw

The fear of migration is driving the current upsurge of authoritarian populism in Europe. More precisely, research across Europe shows that negative attitudes towards migration and multiculturalism better predict voting for populist parties and causes (such as Brexit) then more traditional socioeconomic indicators. The big question is why this is the case and what should be done about it.

My native Poland provides some insights into the politics of fear of migration. Prior to 2015 migration was almost entirely absent from political debate and party competition. The Civic Platform government opened up the labor market to Ukrainians without any political backlash. It is estimated that today around one million Ukrainian economic migrants live and work in Poland. However, when the European Commission proposed the relocation scheme for Syrians and other refugees, right-wing politicians and media waged a fear campaign that paved Mr. Kaczyński’s road to power. The negative attitudes toward Middle Eastern refugees jumped within just few months.

Conventional wisdom has it that Europe’s fear of migration is a result of politician’s neglect of ordinary people’s concerns. This is not exactly the case. Fear of migration is the result of amplifying and mainstreaming the xenophobia of a loud minority by media and unscrupulous politicians. Migration is Europe’s future. Pandering to xenophobes, as so many pundits advise, is not a way forward. Working out a comprehensive European migration and integration policy—and then its consistent implementation—is the only way to reduce the public’s fear of migration and to push the populists back to the political wilderness where they belong.

Miriam LexmannMember of the Advisory Board, COMPASS project on capacity-building and governance at the University of Kent

Yes, the fear of migration has many dimensions. I will touch upon two of them—one political and one cultural/moral. From the EU perspective, the migration crisis has unveiled an Achilles heel of the EU structure and policymaking. The lack of communication channels between EU policymakers and citizens was taken hostage by populist leaders across Europe and turned the migration crisis into their political capital. As a result, anti-EU, anti-democratic, and populist leaders set the tone of the public debate. And the tone spurs fear, as fearing societies are easy to manipulate.

A lot has been written to capture the fear of the unknown that lies behind the fear of immigrants. I would like to point out to the fear of the Other, which stems from the fear of the Self. The Self that goes through an identity crisis feels vulnerable vis-à-vis the Other. According to public surveys in Central Europe, up to 40 percent of the population feels that the EU is pushing them to abandon their traditional values. Unless EU policymakers reflect on these sentiments and strictly adhere to the subsidiarity principle in related policies, EU citizens will not fear the Other in the form of immigration but will continue to be vulnerable to the Other in the form of totalitarian regimes and external actors, such as Russia, China, and the Islamic State.

Camino Mortera-MartinezSenior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform

Yes, Europe is afraid of migration. But then, who isn’t? Experts (we have had enough of them already!) know that migration is good for the economy and that, properly managed, can help create jobs and enrich the host country’s culture and society. And yet, it is not always the economy, stupid. The French neatly summarize this conundrum: in French, étranger means both “stranger” and “foreigner.” As kids, we were told to stay clear from strangers. As adults, foreigners both entice and scare us—mostly depending on how much of a threat we think they are to our jobs, our values, and our culture.

Eating Indian food, drinking South African wine, and wearing Lebanese clothes are all very well. The occasional trip abroad is fun too—the more exotic, the better. But many European citizens grew up in places where black people could only be seen in films and Islam was background noise in evening news reports about some distant conflict in the Middle East. The Brussels bubble itself is not particularly diverse.

Europe is not necessarily afraid of migration; it is afraid of the other. The only way to solve the continent’s migration woes is to accept this simple fact and find ways to deal with it.

Gianni RiottaMember of the Council on Foreign Relations

Europe is terrified by migration, not just afraid of it. It is not a matter of losing jobs, or having menacing-looking young men carousing downtown, as the populist websites keep yelling. It is not a philosophical angst about losing ancestral “Judeo-Christian” roots, or forever refighting the Battle of Lepanto, when the Holy Fleet of Don Juan of Austria defeated the Ottomans, led by Admiral Müezzinzade Ali Pasha, in 1571. While many pundits keep hammering the religious issue, churches in Europe are half empty. The backlash against immigrants, from Sweden to Germany to Italy, now percolates from the Right to the Left—where it actually all started in the early 1970’s, when the George Marchais’ French communist militants led the charge against Algerians in the Parisian banlieues. Europe has lost her soul and pretends to find it closing up the borders. In three decades, Africa will have 2.5 billion citizens, Europe 716 million—about 26 million less than today. The debate, then, will be very interesting to follow.

Daniel SchwammenthalDirector of the AJC Transatlantic Institute

Political correctness has long prevented an honest debate about migration. Predictably, instead of preventing populism, this strategy has helped strengthen it across Europe. It is an old political dictum that when mainstream parties fail to address real issues, more radical groups will gladly set the tone. It remains particularly difficult to discuss Muslim migration from nondemocratic societies whose norms and laws—such as about gender equality, LGBT rights, or anti-Semitism—clash with our values. Migrants raised in this environment will likely carry with them at least some of this cultural baggage. Combined with their often lower education, this hinders their socioeconomic and value integration. These are facts, not anti-Muslim resentments. For a quick fact-check, just talk to teachers or social workers in any of the expanding parallel societies in our cities. How do you even begin to integrate kids if their classrooms don’t reflect the host but parallel society? Why do we allow funding from nondemocratic countries for schools and mosques that indoctrinate European Muslims? Many Europeans are worried that their leaders, who tend to live in neighborhoods insulated from the consequences of their migration policies, have long failed to acknowledge these problems, let alone present realistic solutions. These worries will likely continue to have electoral consequences.

Pierre Vimont Senior fellow at Carnegie Europe

There is not much doubt about the increasing fear hitting Europe out of concern for the current migrant inflow. Yet the reasons behind this fear deserve more serious consideration than simply incriminating xenophobia or unduly concern about job competition. The problem with migration today is one of managing a complex integration process when the fabric of our societies is perceived—rightly or wrongly—to be strained by the growing number of foreign-born citizens settling in Europe with their families.

As they face a deep social transformation of their close neighborhood, European populations are genuinely preoccupied by the message of division and lack of control their own governments are sending when dealing with migration. However accurate it may be, the repetitious claim that the number of migrants landing on European shores is steadily falling is no comfort for those experiencing in the impact of migration their daily life, with no improvement so far.

Fear is about change. When change looks out of control, it stirs social tension and political polarization. What European citizens are expecting is a comprehensive policy that can master the long-term consequences of migration. With no clear public action in sight, fear remains and the populist wave can grow.