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Study says Europeans fear migration more than climate change

May 8, 2024

Europeans — especially Germans — are increasingly keen on curbing immigration and are less focused on climate change, according to a study by a Danish-based think tank.

Refugees and migrants gathered from all over Greece at Diavata to begin their journey to northern Europe
An increasing number of Europeans say their government should prioritize reducing immigrationImage: picture-alliance/NurPhoto/N. Economou

Europe has seen a sharp rise in the share of people who say that reducing immigration should be a top government priority, according to a study published Wednesday. Germany is topping the list.

At the same time, there was less desire to prioritize fighting climate change in the same countries, according to the survey commissioned by the Denmark-based Alliance of Democracies Foundation think tank.

Nearly half of German respondents put focus on migration

Since 2022, an increasing number of Europeans say their government should prioritize "reducing immigration," rising from just under 20% to a quarter.

Meanwhile, concern about climate change was on the slide across the continent.

"In 2024, for the first time, reducing immigration is a greater priority for most Europeans than fighting climate change," the report said.

"Nowhere is this reversal more striking than in Germany, which now leads the world with the highest share of people who want their government to focus on reducing immigration — topping all other priorities — and now nearly twice as high as fighting climate change," the report read.

Fears of populist surge ahead of 2024 EU elections

 About a quarter of Germans cited immigration as their main priority in 2022, which rose to 44% in the 2024 survey. About a third were most concerned about climate change two years ago, falling below the 25% mark this time.

The survey was carried out in 53 countries, including democracies and autocracies, that represent over 75% of the world's population. It examined attitudes to democracy, government priorities and international relations.

War seen as the biggest threat

The authors found that the greatest perceived threat globally was war and violent conflict, followed by poverty and hunger, and then climate change.

About half of the people around the world, in both democratic and non-democratic countries, felt that their government was acting only in the interest of a small group of people. Again, Germany experienced a marked shift in that area as well.

"In the past four years, this perception has remained highest in Latin America, lowest in Asia and has steadily increased in Europe since 2020 — particularly in Germany, the report said. 

Disaffection with the state of democracy was seen as "very prevalent in the US, Europe, and in other countries with a long democratic tradition."

'Wake-up call' for democracies

Meanwhile, autocracies Vietnam and China were among the countries considered as the most democratic by their citizens.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, chair of the Alliance of Democracies Foundation, said the figures were "a wake-up call for all democratic governments."

"Defending democracy means advancing freedom around the world, but it also means listening to voters' concerns at home," said former NATO chief and Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen.

"The trend shows we risk losing the Global South to the autocracies. We are witnessing an axis of autocracies forming from China to Russia to Iran."

This article was written using material from the DPA news agency.

While you're here: Every Tuesday, DW editors round up what is happening in German politics and society. You can sign up here for the weekly email newsletter Berlin Briefing.

Richard Connor Reporting on stories from around the world, with a particular focus on Europe — especially Germany.