Immigration is the top challenge facing the EU currently according to a new survey of European citizens while the image of, and trust in, the EU itself has increased, according to the latest Eurobarometer study of the attitudes of citizens across the EU.
Vice-President of the European Parliament and Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness says the changes in the course of the year since the last survey reflect more positivity around the economic situation and jobs.
“Immigration at 38% is the top issue, up 14 points since last year with the economic situation at 27%, down 6 points in the year and unemployment at 24%, down 5 points. Public finances were next at 23%, down 2 points.
“Confidence around the growing Irish economy is reflected in the figure of 74pc of Irish people believing that the jobs crisis had already reached a peak while the figure across the EU was much lower at 48pc.
“While most Europeans, 51%, are positive about migration of people from other EU Member States, 56% are negative about immigration of people from outside the EU.”
Ms McGuinness said the survey undertaken in May and involving of over 1,000 people in each Member State, throws up one of the most sharp contrasts in attitudes between Irish citizens and their UK counterparts.
“While 66pc of Irish people see the free movement of people, goods and services as the most positive aspect of the EU, only 44pc of UK citizens do. However, when it comes to attitudes to the euro itself 52pc of Irish people rate it as the most positive aspect of the EU but only 7pc of our UK neighbours do.
“At one level this may not be all that surprising since the UK never joined the euro currency. Nonetheless, it does point to the challenge now facing British Prime Minister David Cameron in the run up to the in-out referendum on EU membership.
“We have a vested interest in the UK referendum since the country is our closest neighbour and remains our most important trading partner. It is particularly so for border counties,” she said.
“There is an onus on all of us to contribute to that debate in an open and frank manner and seek to enlighten rather than feed into any prejudices that may exist around issues like immigration.
“In an increasingly globalised world we must recognise that no one country will succeed by adopting a narrow inward focus but rather must look outwardly towards finding bigger picture solutions to modern challenges.
“Nowhere is better placed to do that than the European Parliament which is the most democratic of all EU institutions, being directly elected by the people of Europe,” she said.