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A left-right divide in European attitudes toward immigrants

- September 29, 2014

Muslims gather for Friday prayers on the street outside the Mevlana Moschee mosque on a nationwide action day to protest against the Islamic State on Sept. 19 in Berlin. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Kim Yi Dionne: The following guest post is the first in a series this week on immigrant integration in Europe. Upcoming posts will continue the conversation started this summer on The Monkey Cage about what “immigrant integration” means and some will explore in particular the challenges facing Muslim immigrants in Europe. 
The 7/7 London bombings, the French scooter shooter Mohammed Merah and, more recently, the prospect of young Muslims traveling to Syria to fight with ISIS have sharpened the debate about the relationship between immigrant integration and Muslim extremism in Europe. As Muslims have become more defined as a group, rather than as part of their respective nationalities, ethnicities or skin colors, they have become the focus of restrictive immigration policies, punitive integration measures and citizenship tests designed to find “anti-liberal” values. Looking across the European Union, the pattern suggests that integration policy failure is not sufficient to generate terrorist attacks but that, perhaps, they may be triggered by the combination of failed integration policy with militaristic foreign policy commitments in the Middle East.
The “failure” of integration policy itself has become an important component of the integration policy debate, particularly for the Netherlands and Sweden, which were considered fairly successful in their multicultural approach to immigrants. Only part of this has to do with the rise in Islamic radicalism and violence in Europe; it also has to do with the divide between left and right parties. Pro-immigrant discourses on the left tend to emphasize the rights of immigrants (to work, to be free from discrimination, to family reunification, to participation in politics and so on), while anti-immigrant discourses found on the right tend to emphasize their responsibilities (to enter legally, to learn the local language and customs, to be exclusively loyal to the host country). In European policy circles, there is an emphasis on “integration” as opposed to “assimilation” because the former is meant to connote a two-way process, whereby both natives and immigrants adapt to one another.  The policy gridlock occurs when actors on the left and the right each demand a one-way street, just not the same one.
Among the many projects that look at integration policy toward immigrants, the Migrant Integration Policy Index is one of the most ambitious. The index breaks integration policy into six “strands.” The map shows an overall metric of the extent to which countries guarantee access to the labor market, secure residence status, ensure family reunion, enable political participation (which in some European countries includes the right to vote in local elections even before citizenship is attained), encourage acquisition of nationality, and prohibit discrimination. Based on the types of policy coded, MIPEX scores emphasizes the positive side of integration. Overall, Sweden has the highest score while Austria is an example of an older E.U. member state that scores poorly.

Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) scores in the European Union

Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) scores in the European Union

Public opinion tells a different story. The German Marshall Fund (GMF) has conducted a regular survey of public opinion on immigration in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and the United Kingdom, and the survey results from 2010 to 2011 suggest that, holding other relevant factors constant, people in countries with higher MIPEX scores think that Muslims are integrating more poorly than in countries with low scores. This is a strong indicator of a disconnect between policy and integration outcomes.
Incidentally, scholars in this area are coming to the consensus that cultural factors are more important than economic ones for understanding immigration attitudes. Our analysis of the GMF data only concurs with this in part. Respondents are asked whether their household is worse off than it was last year. In Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, this response is not a statistically significant predictor; in Spain, by contrast, it is the strongest determinant: People who think their household situation is worse than last year report that Muslims are integrating up to 18.4 percent more poorly than those whose household is not. That said, the most pronounced difference in the countries studied is between left and right.
Ideology works consistently across countries – in all six countries, those on the right are more likely to think that Muslims are integrating poorly. Interestingly, those on the French left are inclined to think that Muslims are integrating well (with only those who are at least center-right thinking that Muslims are integrating more poorly than not), but in Germany the entire spectrum thinks that Muslims are integrating poorly (the ideological difference is a matter of degree). Perhaps the negative perception sheds some light as to why German Social Democrats have struggled to articulate an electorally viable alternative to Angela Merkel, who famously declared a multicultural approach had “utterly failed.
Attitudes on Muslim integration on the left-right spectrum, by country

Attitudes on Muslim integration on the left-right spectrum, by country. Data: GMF; Figure: Pete Mohanty

Immigrant integration, particularly for Muslim immigrants, will continue to be an important issue, and high levels of unemployment, along with fears about the loss of cultural homogeneity, will play into the way politicians approach these issues. It is clear that politics plays an important role in policy outcomes, and measures such as the MIPEX are only part of the story. These issues will continue to be an important area for research as Europe faces new challenges.
Terri E. Givens is an associate professor in the Department of Government at the University of Texas at Austin. Her recent book, written with Rhonda Evans Case, is Legislating Equality: The Politics of Antidiscrimination Policy in Europe,”  which was published this year by Oxford University Press.
Pete Mohanty is a Thinking Matters Fellow at Stanford University who recently completed his PhD at the University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Government.