The 2022 Project Europe opinion poll conducted by Századvég covered not only the EU Member States and the United Kingdom but also the countries in the Balkan region and Turkey. The responses revealed that, as in recent years, an absolute majority (78 percent) are concerned about the problem of the influx of illegal immigrants, and 56 percent believe that Europe’s Christian culture and traditions should be preserved.
Since 2016, the number of illegal border crossings was the highest in 2022
According to data from the Project Europe Research, more than two-thirds (78 percent) of Europeans are clearly concerned about illegal immigration and the flow of illegal immigrants into European countries. In all countries except Albania (49 percent), even societies that are traditionally pro-migration and prefer a humanitarian approach, such as Sweden (78 percent), Germany (75 percent), France (73 percent), and the Netherlands (68 percent), the majority finds the situation increasingly worrying.
This perception reflects the intensity of illegal migration, with 2022 having the highest number of illegal border crossings since 2016. In the period from January to November 2022, according to preliminary calculations, more than 308,000 illegal entries were detected at the external borders of the European Union. This is a 68 percent increase compared to the same period last year and the highest since 2016. The Western Balkans route remains the most active, accounting for 45 percent of all detected illegal entries into the European Union since the beginning of the year. In November, EU Member States recorded around 27,000 illegal border crossings, 15 percent more than in the same month of 2021.
In the Western Balkans, more than 14,105 cases of illegal border crossings were detected in November alone, twice as many as a year earlier. This area recorded the highest number of crossings since the peak of the migration crisis in 2015. The persistent migratory pressure on the Western Balkans route can be attributed to the repeated attempts by migrants already present in the region to cross the border, as well as to the fact that some migrants abuse the visa waiver for some countries in the region to approach the EU’s external borders.1 Those arriving via the Western Balkans route were mainly Syrians, Afghans and Turkish nationals.2
The second most active route for migration to the EU is the central Mediterranean. Here, from the beginning of the year, the number of detected illegal border crossings increased by 49 percent compared to 2021, to approximately 94,000. Meanwhile, by the end of November, the Eastern Mediterranean route recorded a 116 percent increase, with about 40,000 border crossings.3 On the central Mediterranean route, migratory movements from Libya and Tunisia, directly from Lebanon to Italy, were also experienced.4
In the first seven months of the year, the number of asylum applications increased from 290,000 to almost 480,000 compared to the same period in 2021. That compares to 375,288 in the same period in 2019. Most applications were submitted by Afghan, Syrian, and Venezuelan nationals.5
According to Frontex, the highest risks for the European integrated border management are the following: illegal migration to the EU on established routes, cross-border crime and terrorism, the use of immigration as a tool for political pressure, and the growing gap between return decisions and actual returns – in 2022, actual returns accounted for only 22 percent of the decisions. All these risks are expected to be exacerbated by the multifaceted, long-term consequences of the war in Ukraine. Criminal networks engaged in migrant smuggling continue to demonstrate their agility and adaptability by reacting quickly not only to changes in demand but also to new business opportunities and law enforcement measures.6 The concern of European citizens is therefore well-founded and based on the direct experience of recent years.
The majority would preserve Europe’s Christian culture
In all regions of Europe, the majority of the population believes that Europe should rather preserve its Christian culture and traditions. The largest proportion (65 percent) of the inhabitants of the former socialist countries think so, but among those living in the founding countries of the EU (Western Europe), 54 percent also express the importance of preserving Christian foundations.
Within the framework of the Project Europe Research, we also asked whether citizens in the 38 European countries would preserve European Christian culture and traditions or move towards a secular culture. In addition to the Balkan states with a significant Muslim minority and Turkey, which is partly European, only Finland, the Netherlands, Ireland, and Spain have a minority of those who stress the importance of Christian culture, while in 29 countries there is a majority of those who advocate the preservation of Christian culture. It is noteworthy that this rate is 52 percent in France, 55 percent in the United Kingdom, and 75 percent in the typically non-religious Czechia. 57.4 percent of those surveyed expressed the importance of preserving Christian culture, while one-third (33.4 percent) of the respondents would move Europe in a secular direction. Those response rates are broadly consistent with the result obtained in the 2019-2021 opinion poll. If we only consider the results of the EU 27 and the UK, this rate was 56 percent, and the proportion of those in favour of secularisation was 34 percent in 2022.
The functioning of the EU is usually explained by economic interests, strategic motivations, or the strength of institutions, and the role of religion and religious culture tends to be undervalued. The data from the survey of the Századvég Foundation clearly indicate that preserving Christian culture and roots is important for the majority of Europeans, regardless of where they live.
The data from the Századvég Foundation survey published in 2018 also shed new light on the analysis of the Pew Research Center of the relationship between Western Europeans and religion. Western Europe has become one of the most secularized regions in the world. A 2018 Pew survey points out that there is a significant decline in Christian religious affiliation across Western Europe, while this trend cannot be observed in Central and Eastern Europe. However, the majority of the adults interviewed in Pew’s 2018 survey still consider themselves Christians, even if they rarely attend church. The survey shows that non-practicing Christians make up the largest part of the population in the entire region. According to Pew research, Christian identity remains an important marker in Western Europe, even among those who rarely go to church. This is not merely a “nominal” identity devoid of practical significance, since, as the answers to the questions have pointed out, the religious, political, and cultural views of non-practicing Christians often differ from those of church-going Christians and religiously non-committed adults.7
Based on the data of the 2022 opinion poll conducted by the Századvég Foundation, we can say that the decline in traditional religiosity does not imply that religion and the values it represents are no longer important to Europeans. Religion has a profound and long-lasting impact on our culture, even if traditions are upheld by taking on a more secular guise. Religion, as a social marker, continues to shape identity and form a religious culture that, regardless of the intensity of religious practice, shapes the majority of Europeans’ thinking.
In the first half of 2016, the Századvég Foundation conducted a public opinion poll survey covering all 28 European Union Member States, with the aim to analyse the opinions of EU citizens regarding the issues that most affect the future of the EU. In a unique way, Project 28 conducted the widest possible survey of 1000, that is a total of 28,000 randomly selected adults in each country. Gaining an understanding of society’s sense of prosperity and mapping the population’s attitudes towards the performance of the European Union, the migration crisis and the increasing terrorism were among the most important goals of the analysis. Following the surveys in 2017, 2018 and 2019, on behalf of the government, the Századvég Foundation has been conducting the research under the name of Project Europe since 2020, which continued to reflect on the topics that most dominated the European political and social discourse.
The 2022 survey was more extensive than before. Between 13 October and 7 December 2022, a total of 38,000 randomly selected adults in 38 European countries were interviewed using the CATI method. The aim of the survey was again to map the population’s attitude towards the most important public issues affecting our continent. In the framework of the 2022 research, the aggregated results are weighted by the population of the countries.