Despite the rise of populism in Europe, most EU citizens broadly reject the idea of national preference for employment, according to a survey carried out in five European countries. EurActiv France reports.
The EU is home to some 30 million foreign residents, who account for 6% of the bloc’s population.
According to a study conducted by Harris Interactive for the Maison des Potes, a federation of anti-racist organisations, a majority a French, British, German, Spanish and Italian citizens are in favour of equality for non-EU citizens on wages, pensions, access to public office and recourse to the legal system in case of discrimination.
Most of the survey’s proposals on strengthening the rights of non-EU citizens were accepted by a majority of the population, with one exception. The right of foreign residents to vote in local and European elections, currently enjoyed by EU citizens, was supported by less than half of the French respondents (47% in 2015, 48% in 2016).
In his 2012 election campaign, François Hollande promised to extend the right to vote in local elections to all foreign residents, a decision he later backtracked on. The measure would have little chance of passing today.
The two most popular proposals among survey respondents across all countries were a guarantee of pay and pensions equality for all workers, whatever their nationality.
A proposal to strengthen legal sanctions against employers guilty of discrimination based on nationality, skin colour or religion was also supported by 82% of French respondents, as well as 77% of German and 87% of Italian respondents.
“This survey supports our views and tells us that the cultural war has not, in fact, been won by the extreme right on these issues,” said Samuel Thomas from the Maison des Potes.
“The fact that 80% of people support wage equality is completely contrary to the idea of national preference in France, Italy and Germany,” he added.
European anti-racist organisations had already examined the question of equality between European citizens and foreign residents, following the results of the 2014 European elections.
For Jean Lambert, a British Green MEP, the EU’s priority should be to finalise its anti-discrimination law, which has been under discussion for years, while the fight against prejudice and nationalist rhetoric should be led at national level.
“What we have seen in the United Kingdom post-referendum is very worrying and people feel more and more uncomfortable in my country,” she said. “The referendum campaign was fuelled by anti-immigrant propaganda and has caused deep divisions.”
She believes that nationalism can be defeated by policies that guarantee a decent quality of life and good working conditions for all. “But instead of that, austerity policies have been used to lower standards and divide societies,” she said.
“The EU needs to stop seeing migration as a problem to be solved and recognise that it is a reality we must all face up to.”
Since Brexit, many of the candidates for the 2017 French presidential election have been campaigning to leave the EU or renegotiate the treaties. Some hope to validate these positions with referendums.