Xenophobia and European cities: Foreigners are not welcome everywhere

22 November 2017 – Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (Trento)

Despite the growing influence of racist movements and political parties in Europe, xenophobia isn’t generally on the increase in European cities.

Despite the growing influence of racist movements and political parties in Europe, xenophobia isn’t generally on the increase in European cities. Between 2009 and 2015 the attitudes that citizens hold towards foreigners have become more positive overall — even if there are exceptions and noteworthy counter-trends (and it shouldn’t be forgotten that urban areas are often the most tolerant).

Every three years, Eurobarometer studies the opinions of the inhabitants of around eighty cities across Europe: in the last survey, conducted in 2015, more than 76 percent of those interviewed thought that the presence of foreigners was good for the city in which they lived.

The term "foreigners" is used here in a broad sense, ranging from Erasmus students to refugees coming from Asia or Africa: the origins and breakdown of the foreign population in a given place are probably mirrored in the citizens' attitude towards it – it is thus necessary to put in context the measured levels of xenophobia. For instance, it is possible that the very positive attitude of Cluj people towards foreigners is influenced by the high number of European students in town.

Xenophobia in European cities

Attitude of citizens towards foreigners: the map shows the level of agreement with the phrase “The presence of foreigners is good for my city” (Eurobarometer, 2015). The colours indicate variations from the European average and the findings in each city.

The countries which clearly showed higher than average xenophobic values were Italy, Turkey and Greece. In the first two countries, the opinions of the citizens have clearly become more negative since the previous survey, with a growing diffusion of more hostile attitudes towards foreigners: 5 of the 10 most xenophobic cities surveyed are in Italy.

In contrast, xenophobia in Greece has decreased since previous years. It is probably connected to the country’s partial economic recovery, since a similar change in opinion can be seen in Spain, Ireland and Portugal.

Evolution of the phenomenon

The arrows show the evolution of attitudes towards foreigners in 75 European cities, according to 2009-2015 Eurobarometer data.

Overall, central and south eastern Europe appear to be more tolerant than they are usually given credit for. If it’s true that xenophobia is on the rise in Poland and Slovakia, it is also true that 5 of the 10 least xenophobic cities are in this region – starting with Cluj Napoca, where 95 percent of citizens claimed to appreciate the presence of foreigners (but cities like Burgas, Piatra Neamț or Gdańsk are also much more tolerant than average).

The most xenophobic cities in Europe: Athens, Istanbul, Turin, Ankara, Rome, Bologna, Palermo, Naples, Liège, Ostrava

The least xenophobic cities in Europe: Cluj Napoca, Reykjavik, Copenhagen, Piatra Neamț, Zurich, Lisbon, Vilnius, Dublin, Burgas, Gdańsk

This article is published in association with the European Data Journalism Network – CC/BY/NC.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.