At the end of 2015, migration topped the list of concerns in all but one member state of the European Union, according to a white paper by the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Europe.
Terrorism, the economic situation, unemployment and public finances were the next four topics of greatest concern, with inflation, climate change and the EU’s influence in the world languishing at the bottom of the list.
Rising anxiety about migration comes at the same time as the idea of European integration is beginning to lose its popular appeal, according to the paper. Six in 10 Europeans did not bother to vote in the 2014 European elections. Only four in 10 had a positive opinion of the EU in 2015.
Levels of confidence in the EU are taking a hit: having risen after the region emerged from the Eurozone crisis, the refugee issue is casting fresh doubt on the region's economic outlook.
And yet, says the Global Agenda Council, the thing Europeans are most worried about – migration – is the one thing that could help solve their economic woes. “Faced with stagnating or shrinking working-age populations, European countries simply must fix their productivity problem to generate long-term growth,” explains the paper's authors.
“The arrival of millions of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees is a great opportunity for an ageing Europe, but only if governments, together with the private sector, act swiftly to help the new arrivals find jobs,” they continue.
Speaking to Financial Times Editor Lionel Barber at Davos, Mario Draghi, Chief of the European Central Bank, explained that refugees are both a challenge and an opportunity for Europe.
He said: “It’s a challenge for sure; it would be foolish to ignore the size and extent of the challenge. Our society will be changed by this – in which direction we can only guess. It’s also premature to know how long it will take to transform this challenge into an opportunity.”
Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, argues that the influx of refugees could, if managed correctly, bring benefits to Europe as a whole, boosting GDP by a "positive but small" amount, with only a temporary negative effect on wages.
“The study indicates that, with appropriate policies – especially effective integration into the labour market – the potential from refugees can be harnessed for the benefit of all,” she told reporters at the launch of an IMF study on the subject.
In 2015 more than a million migrants came to Europe, and that figure could rise by 3 million by the end of next year. Speaking in a Europe-focused session at Davos, Lyse Doucet, the BBC's Chief International Correspondent, posed the question: is the great European project at risk?
President and CEO of the International Rescue Mission, David Miliband, said Europe had a choice between "disorganized, disordered chaotic arrivals, and an organized system of, in the first place, trying to stem the flow with much more humanitarian action in the region, and secondly, an organized attempt to implement the policies that Europe has announced".
"The challenge for 2016 is to make sure they’re implemented in the correct way,” he said.
In an article for the World Economic Forum on the future of Europe, President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz, stated: “It would seem ironic for Europeans to throw away 60 years of deep cooperation at a moment in history when such cooperation is going to be needed as never before.”
The issue, he contends, is that “Europe's political class needs to sort its house out, begin to look at the big picture once again rather than only manage crises, and then inspire its people.”
The Annual Meeting took place in Davos from 20 to 23 January, under the theme Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution.