eupinions echo 27 Aug, 2020

Europeans See Immigration as Biggest Security Threat Ahead of Climate Change and Terrorism

EU citizens show greater trust in their own governments than in EU to secure and improve military defence.

eupinions echo Europeans See Immigration as Biggest Security Threat Ahead of Climate Change and Terrorism

Every week, surveys from all across the EU tell us what Europeans are thinking, feeling and talking about. In our segment, eupinions echo, we collect these voices and play them back to you. Each week, we highlight one survey of particular interest in a short blogpost and share daily new survey results via our website and our twitter channel.


Times of crisis often bring with them high levels of insecurity and anxiety amongst populations. It should come as no surprise then that many Europeans currently are particularly wary of potential threats. However, while rising COVID-19 case numbers boost fears of a second infection wave or a second lockdown, health-related and economic consequences of the pandemic are not the only issues EU citizens are worried about. A recent survey, carried out in the second half of April 2020 by the European University Institute and YouGov, has asked people from 13 EU Member States as well as the UK, what they perceive as the biggest current security threats to their respective countries.

The answer given most frequently by this set of EU citizens turns out to be immigration, with 21% of respondents perceiving this as the biggest current national security threat to their country. Climate change, which has been a constant issue of concern for many Europeans, was only the second most mentioned threat with 17%, while terrorism came third with 13%. Immigration was perceived most negatively in Greece where a full 64% of people ranked it as their biggest security concern, but it also topped the threat ranking in other countries such as Germany, where 1 in 4 respondents (24%) are concerned about the issue, too. The results from Greece may come with little surprise. The country shares a land border with Turkey and has open access to the Mediterranean Sea, both of which are common migration routes into Europe. In the past, Greece has repeatedly complained about having to shoulder an overproportionate part of migration into Europe. German respondents’ attitude, on the other hand, might be somewhat less intuitive given the country’s very liberal open border policy in the past. However, as we mentioned in an earlier blogpost, the German mindset of today can hardly be compared to that in 2015. The Issue of climate change, meanwhile, was most often mentioned by respondents from Poland (24%) and Denmark (21%)

Asked about military defence, Europeans appeared unsure about whom to put their trust in. Only half of EU citizens (50%) trusted their own national governments to improve their respective country's defence. While on one end of the spectrum 61% of Greeks and 64% of Dutch people trusted their governments' capabilities in this regard, German (34%) and Swedish (36%) respondents showed the least trust in this regard.

Still, even less people seemed to place trust in the European Union when it comes to matters of defence. Only 40% of EU citizens stated their confidence in the institution with regards to military defence, while 46% of respondents said they had no such trust. Trust in the EU’s defence and border protection capacity was lowest in Greece, underlining once again that many Greeks feel left alone by the European Union in this regard. A total of 67% of Greeks stated that they do not believe the European Union could secure and improve military defence for their country.

Finally, respondents were also asked about their perception of NATO when it comes to issues of national security and defence. Overall, NATO seems to be held in slightly higher regards than the EU in this particular area with 59% of EU citizens stating that the institution was important for their own country's national defence. And yet, results varied between individual EU member states, with only 9% of Danes and 43% of Greeks considering NATO as important.

It will be interesting to see how these opinions evolve with the uncertainty caused by the ongoing pandemic. One thing, however, is clear already. The ongoing crisis shows us yet again how intertwined some of the major challenges of our times – whether that’s the global pandemic, climate change or matters of migration – really are. This realization alone won’t do much in and of itself, but fully embracing it might help to formulate comprehensive policy frameworks as well strengthen citizens’ conviction that drastic changes might be in order.


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About the surveys: The Survey was conducted by YouGov with interviews of 21.779 respondents from 13 EU member states and the UK. All Results were weighted and are representative for their respective populations above 18 years of age.