Britons oppose bigger EU after migrant influx
By Bruno Waterfield in Brussels
Last Updated: 7:11am GMT 19/12/2006
More than half of Britons are opposed to EU enlargement after the latest round of expansion triggered a massive influx of migrant workers, according to a new poll.
The European Commission's Eurobarometer shows that for the first time a majority of the British people, 51 per cent, is against the EU's eastwards expansion. The number of opponents has jumped by nine points over the last six months. Only 36 per cent now support enlargement and 13 per cent are undecided.
Commission officials blame public alarm over immigration as 437,000 migrants flocked to Britain after Eastern European countries such as Poland joined the EU in May 2004. Initial British government estimates had put the total of expected migrants at 13,000.
“It is understandable that people may have anxieties related to the fact that so many citizens from new member states have arrived in the UK since 2004,” said a commission spokesman. Only 36 per cent of Britons were against enlargement in autumn 2004 and the change of opinion is embarrassing for Tony Blair as he steps up support for Turkey's entry application.
The poll also showed that public opinion in Spain, Turkey's other main backer, had cooled on enlargement, although one in two Spaniards still supported the project.
In the light of its recent experience, Britain has imposed restrictions on workers from Bulgaria and Romania, when both countries join the EU on January 1 2007. EU officials are dismayed by the survey results because London's open stance to European migrants had been spun as a good news story in contrast to protectionist measures introduced by governments in Berlin or Paris.
Only four of the EU's 25 nations are now less enthusiastic than Britons about enlargement. In Germany only 30 per cent support it, in Austria 31 per cent, Luxembourg 32 per cent and France 34 per cent.
Paris, Berlin, Luxembourg and Vienna were key players behind moves to impose tougher conditions on applicant members at a summit of Europe's leaders last week.
New and old Europe are deeply divided over the benefits of enlargement. Support runs at 72 per cent in the 10 new EU countries but has dropped to an average 41 per cent in the other 15.
The enlargement issue has damaged Europe in the eyes of the British, with opposition to EU membership up three points and negative perceptions of Brussels rising seven points. The decline in British support appears linked to general public disenchantment with the EU since the failure of the constitution, which was endorsed by all 25 EU leaders, ratified by 16 countries but rejected in French and Dutch referendums last year.
Muslims must “do more to engage with wider society and take greater responsibility for integration”, according to the European Union's Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia.
In a study involving some 58 representatives of Muslim groups in 10 EU countries, including Belgium, Denmark, Germany, France and Britain, the EU body also found that insistence on Islamic dress had fuelled conflict. A young British female Muslim expressed discouragement at a retreat from broader ideas of British citizenship to narrower questions of Islamic identity. British Muslims were particularly worried about recent security measures. “What is clear for us is that the situation in this country is actually regressing and that is extremely scary,” said one man.