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Did you know that highly-efficient local governments have witnessed fewer attacks on refugees during the so-called refugee crisis in Germany?

November 2018

In 2015, over 1 million asylum seekers came to Germany, the single largest intake by any European country since World War II. Germany proved an attractive destination because of its robust labor market, but also because of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s unilateral suspension of European Union rules that require states to send refugees back to their country of entry (Dublin Convention). This open door was initially supported by an explicit welcome culture ("We can do it"). At the same time, there are signs of increasing xenophobia, such as the rallies of PEGIDA and the popularity and electoral success of the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD). In addition, violence against refugees and Muslims in the wake of the so-called refugee crisis increased sharply. These attacks occur with significant spatial clustering which points to a critical role of regional and local factors.

In a study, ISS researcher Conrad Ziller (together with Sara Goodman of UC Irvine, USA) investigates the extent to which local government efficiency influences violence against immigrants. The argument states that efficient administrations, on the one hand, are better able to cope with the integration of immigrants and, on the other hand, mitigate political deprivation of citizens. Political deprivation refers to the perception that people have no influence on politics and that politicians and public officials are not sufficiently responsive to citizens’ concerns and needs—motives that were quite salient during the refugee crisis and are related to frustration, negative sentiments toward outgroups and even violence.

The empirical analysis uses data on violent attacks on refugees in Germany in 2015, which are available for all 402 German districts. Local government efficiency was measured using a novel indicator that relates expenditures of municipalities with specific characteristics about service provision, such as accessibility of public transport, schools, and doctors. The results show a robust negative correlation between local government efficiency and violence, which could also be confirmed in another empirical study using corresponding data from the Netherlands. By improving the efficiency of the public services local governments provide, they not only improve the quality of cities and communities (and thus the satisfaction of their residents), but also the native-immigrant relations.