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Poll: Migration not a burning issue for voters in EU parliament elections

Jill Petzinger
Jill Petzinger, Germany Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
European Union flags fly outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels. Photo:Reuters/Yves Herman

Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany (Afd) is teaming up with Italy’s right-wing League (Liga) to form a euro-sceptic, anti-immigrant coalition ahead of the European parliamentary elections in May, the groups announced at a press conference in Milan on Monday.

Leaders of Danish and Finish right-wing parties backed the new group, called the European Alliance of Peoples and Nations. Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in France have also voiced their support.

“The idea is to no longer have a centralised, one-size-fits-all Europe, but to give back the power to national parliaments to create an honest cooperation between equal states and abandon the dangerous utopia of a united states of Europe,” Marco Zanni, from Italy’s League, said.

Voters will go to the ballots in the EU parliamentary elections between 23 May and 26 May, with 751 seats up for grabs. The structure of the parliament, which has the power to reject or pass laws drafted by the European Commission, is more important than ever, as the EU battles waves of uncertainty, from Brexit, to anti-EU rhetoric from right-wing leaders like Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, to the ongoing Yellow Vest riots in France.

A European parliament poll in February predicted that Europe’s right-wing parties stand to make advances in the May elections, estimating that anti-EU groups could win more than 14% of seats. These disparate populist and right-wing groups have often struggled to unite on ideas beyond nationalism and opposition to immigration.

However,  immigration is not necessarily the number one issue for the majority of European voters, according to a major poll carried out by YouGov for the European Council of Foreign Relations (ECFR).

Canvassing 14 member states that cover 80% of the seats in the EU parliament, the poll found that while majorities favour protecting Europe’s borders and believe Islamic radicalism is the single biggest threat to Europe, immigration did not always rank in the top two concerns for voters.

Domestic worries like health, housing, unemployment, and cost of living are the dominant issues, especially for people in the Netherlands, Austria, Hungary, Poland, Spain, France, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, and Romania.

People in Italy and Spain said they are mainly worried about unemployment — and more concerned with emigration than immigration. 

The survey also found that in 13 of the 14 countries polled, climate change is considered a major threat that should take priority over other issues.

“The EU elections have been sold as a battleground over the heart of Europe. Viktor Orban, Matteo Salvini, and Steve Bannon have tried to turn the election into a referendum on migration,” ECFR director Mark Leonard said. “The findings from this poll should give heart to pro-Europeans, and show that there are still votes to be won on major issues such as climate change, healthcare, housing, and living standards.”