BRIDGES Policy Brief 2

Policy brief on the impact of narratives on policymaking at the national level

Publication date:
Saskia Smellie and Christina Boswell

BRIDGES Policy Brief nº 2 (January 2024)

This policy brief was produced within the framework of the EU Horizon 2020 project BRIDGES. It focuses on how migration narratives – the stories people tell about the causes and impacts of migration – shape and are deployed in political debate and policymaking. More specifically, it considers how the narratives on migration that emerge in the mainstream media are taken up in and influence political debate and inform policy.

In order to understand these dynamics, this policy brief draws on research on migration narratives in six European countries: France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom. The research compares how migration narratives in these countries ‘travelled’ between the media, political debate, and policymaking during two periods of intense debate: first, the 2015 European ‘migration crisis’, focusing on narratives related to the EU’s proposed relocation and quota schemes, and second, narratives on the Ukrainian refugee crisis following Russia’s invasion in February 2022. The analysis draws on extensive and systematic analysis of newspaper articles, parliamentary debates, and policy documents supplemented with data from interviews with officials.

The policy brief outlines six key findings, such as the role that the media played in setting the (humanitarian) narrative agenda in both cases, the strategic deployment of narratives by politicians to strengthen political agendas, and a lack of the anticipated rhetorical ‘decoupling’ between narratives on migration in the public political debate and policymaking. Based on the findings, this brief sets out four recommendations for officials and stakeholders to encourage a calm and evidence-based debate on immigration, including i) adopting a longitudinal approach to ascertain public salience and attitudes towards immigration, ii) depoliticising discourse on migration, iii) crafting narratives early in the emergence of new policy issues, and iv) circulating balanced and evidence-based narratives in public debate.