The last couple of posts have looked at the impact on immigration upon two of Europe’s most powerful countries: Germany and the United Kingdom.  Immigration looms large for both countries: in Germany because it needs immigrants to support its under-reproducing population and in the UK because the rise of Ukip has made it a 2015 election issue. (More bad news for David Cameron’s government on this front: the latest figures show that the promised goal of net migration below 100,000 a year by 2015 is a no-hoper. Net migration for the 12 months to June 2014 was at 260,000, higher than when the current government took office.)

It is interesting to look at the polling data for both countries to see how a sample of the German and British people view immigration. Luckily for us, on behalf of the Guardian, Ipsos Mori has conducted such a poll. The figures that the poll reveals indicate that immigration is an issue that the British are much more worried about than the Germans:

  • More Britons see immigration as the most important issue facing Britain today than see the economy as the most important issue (about 40% to 30%).
  • About twice as many Britons see immigration as the most important issue facing their country than Germans do (about 40% to 20%).
  • 25% of Britons think that their government has done a good job in managing immigration. The comparable figure is 54% in Germany.
  • The proportion of Germans who think that immigration is necessary for the national labour market has doubled since 2004, from 27 to 53%.

Immigration is perhaps more “visible” in the UK since population density is so much higher there than in Germany (262 vs 226 people per square kilometre).  Perhaps more pertinently, the fear of immigrants “stealing” native jobs is lessened in Germany since access to the labour market is more restrictive there than in the UK.  Finally, the recognition of Germany’s low birth rate is also perhaps a significant factor in German attitudes:

“But Ipsos Mori’s data also suggests that politicians and the media can play an active role in shaping changing attitudes to immigration. While the German left has traditionally supported the principle of free movement, the centre-right has only gradually been persuaded of the benefits of immigration, mainly by economic and demographic arguments.

Burdened with a low birthrate, Germany’s population has only been growing over the last three years thanks to newly arrived immigrants from the east and south of Europe. Coverage of this trend has hence been broadly positive, even in right-of-centre newspapers such as Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung or Die Welt: ‘We need a golden generation of migrants’, ran a recent op-ed in the latter.

Mekonen Mesghena, a migration expert at the Heinrich Böll Foundation, partly credits Angela Merkel’s aversion to populist gesture for the change in attitudes. ‘Refugees to Germany may not feel that they are welcomed with open arms, but they feel accepted’.”

Whether Germany’s population continues to be as sanguine in its acceptance of refugees and immigrants in the future if current immigration levels continue remains to be seen. But at the moment it seems as if the UK government’s hope that other EU members will relook at the terms of free movement after the 2015 election will not garner significant backing from the German people. 

Marcus Roberts is a Senior Researcher at the Maxim Institute in Auckland, New Zealand, and was co-editor of the former MercatorNet blog, Demography is Destiny. Marcus has a background in the law, both...