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Understanding public perceptions of labour migration in Europe

  • Date(s)
    13 May 2008
  • Location
    Policy Network, London

Governments should stress the positive cultural and economic benefits of labour migration to counter growing negative public attitudes to immigration in Europe, said the UK minister for community cohesion Parmjit Dhanda at a Policy Network seminar in London on Tuesday May 13 2008.

More targeted resources to relieve the pressures on public services brought about by rapid population change were also needed, as well as more extensive analysis and understanding of the mixed map of public opinions, to counter the rise in negative attitudes, the minister said at the seminar entitled Understanding public perceptions of labour migration in Europe.

The event, part of an ongoing research project in partnership with the Barrow Cadbury Trust on disentangling the myths of labour migration in Europe, brought together a select group of thinkers and immigration experts on the European centre-left to lay the foundations for a progressive European narrative on labour migration. The seminar sought to identify the key drivers of negative public perceptions of immigration in Europe and to pose practical policy solutions that would enable governments to foster a less inflammatory public debate.

In the first session, Ben Page, director of Ipsos Mori Research Institute; Lauren McLaren, associate professor of politics at Nottingham University; and Ricard Zapata Barrero, professor of political science at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, identified a number of important factors that contribute towards public hostility to migration. These included, above all, negative or extensive press coverage; misperceptions about the scale and impact of immigration; perceived threat to cultural values and identity; and perceived mismanagement and incompetence by political leaders.

In the second session of the conference, Shamit Saggar, professor of politics at the University of Sussex, said that in order to move towards a more rational debate, the grievances of those who oppose immigration must first be acknowledged and addressed. However, political parties must endeavour to establish immigration as a neutral public policy reality to be tackled consensually rather than be used as the basis of adversarial party politics, he said.

Finally, Sukhvinder Kaur Stubbs, chief executive officer of the Barrow Cadbury Trust, reminded the audience that the voices of migrants themselves must not be lost in the quest for a more progressive approach. By forging greater understanding between migrant communities and the established population, civil society bodies can help to present a more rational case for migration that has a broad-based coalition of support and that is able to remove the populist initiative of the right.

In the run up to the event Policy Network commissioned two papers on Understanding public perceptions of labour migration in Europe, by Lauren M McLaren; and the role of politics in shaping the debate on labour migration, by Shamit Saggar. Both papers can be read online on the Policy Network website.

Having established the most pressing areas of misunderstanding in the public debate, subsequent seminars will go on to clarify the actual economic impact of migration. Such analysis will inform an evidence-based, rational public policy agenda, and work towards achieving a more inclusive immigration debate. Details of further seminars and work arising from the project will be made available on the Policy Network website soon.

For more information about the event and research project please contact Isra Jawad at ijawad@policy-network.net.

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