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Spain tops destination list for EU migrants

Spain’s transformation from an impoverished southern European backwater into one of Europe’s most vibrant economies is confirmed by an opinion poll published on Monday that shows it is the most popular destination for Europeans thinking of working abroad.

The FT/Harris poll portrays Spain as a country at ease with itself: its citizens are relaxed about immigration and are the most optimistic citizens of any major European country that their lives are getting better. The poll on attitudes to migration also confirms the gloom hanging over France, with 73% of its people convinced life in their country is getting worse. In spite of this Gallic grief, the survey suggests the French would rather wait at home for the mood to pass. Only 23% of citizens would consider working in another European country, by the far the lowest. The poll of 6,561 adults in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the US offers an insight into the factors pushing and pulling migration in Europe, and the extent to which it is seen as a political problem. The survey found that while the UK is second only to Spain as a preferred work destination, British citizens have become more hostile than anyone else in western Europe to immigration from the EU. Almost half – 47% – of Britons said immigration was having a “negative impact” on their economy.

Britain was one of three western European countries fully to open its doors to migrant workers from eight new EU members in 2004, a policy business leaders claim boosted the economy and filled skills shortages. But negative media coverage of the issue has helped create a climate where two-thirds of ÙK citizens say there are “too many foreigners” in the country, the highest ratio of any major European nation. Perhaps the most striking finding is the extent to which Spain has emerged as an inwardly confident and outwardly attractive country, 21 years after joining the EU as one of its poorest member states. It found 17% of those polled put Spain as the country in which they would most like to work, ahead of Britain on 15% and France on 11%.

French and Italian citizens were the most likely to want to emigrate there. Spain had the lowest number of people who considered life was getting worse (50%) and its citizens were by far the most positive about the economic benefits of immigration. A total of 42% of Spaniards believed immigration was good for the economy, compared with 19% in Britain and France. However, a large majority of Spanish respondents (71%) still wanted tighter border controls, a reflection of illegal immigration from Africa. Last Friday Joaquín Almunia, the EU monetary affairs commissioner, upgraded his growth forecasts for Spain in 2007 from 3.4% to 3.7%, making it one of the bloc’s most dynamic economies. (