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Europe: Immigration now public's top priority at EU and national level

Immigration is now considered by the public to be by far the most important issue facing the EU and national governments, according to the Autumn 2015 Standard Eurobarometer 84 published this December. Already in spring 2015, economic issues were for the first time displaced by immigration as the public's top issue for the European Union. Immigration continues to skyrocket up the public agenda, rising 20-points since spring 2015 to become the top issue for 58% of the European public. In comparison, the second most important issue was terrorism (25%) and the economic situation (21%). The increase was the greatest (up 28-43%) in Central European countries, where governments largely opposed the adoption of the EU's relocation scheme currently used for asylum-seekers from Syria, Iraq and Eritrea. Immigration was named as the EU's most important issue by people in Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Malta, Netherlands, Slovenia, Slovakia and Sweden.

Now immigration is also seen as the main concern at national level. For the first time, economic issues have been displaced as the top issue for national governments, as immigration rose 13-points since spring 2015 to become the top national issue for 36% of Europeans, including the majority of people in Germany (76%), Malta (65%), Denmark (60%), the Netherland (56%), Austria (56%) and Sweden (53%).

Interestingly, immigration does not figure high as the main issue facing most people personally in their own lives. Only 9% of the European public, rising to around 15-20% for people in Austria, Denmark, Germany, Malta and Sweden are directly affected.

Immigration from outside the EU is still largely seen negatively in 25 of the 28 EU member States and by 59% of the European public. Between spring and autumn 2015, views of non-EU immigration have become very negative in several Central European countries and in Austria. While 6% of the European public hold "very positive" views about non-EU immigration, 24% (up 7%) hold "very negative" views, including nearly half the people in Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia and Slovakia. The idea that immigrants contribute  a lot to their country is disputed by 3 out of 4 people in most Central European countries and 2 out of 3 people in Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Malta.

While the public remains relatively positive about the free movement of EU citizens, views of non-EU immigration are positive for only 34% of the European public and majorities in three EU Member States: Sweden (70%), Spain (53%) and Ireland (49%). 41% of the European public believe that immigrants contribute a lot to their country, with half or more positive in 9 EU Member States: Denmark, Ireland, Finland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and UK. 2 out of 3 people in Europe think that their country should help refugees, while 1 in 4 disagree, in particular most people in Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia and Slovakia.