EU responded ‘poorly’ to Coronavirus crisis, survey shows

The poll says that “majorities in all countries” complained that the EU “did not rise to the challenge” - this includes 63 percent in Italy and 61 percent in France, two of the worst-hit countries.
Photo credit: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire/PA Images

By Martin Banks

25 Jun 2020

The survey, entitled “Europe’s pandemic politics: How the virus has changed the public’s worldview,” published on Wednesday, concluded that the “majority view” from all countries surveyed is that the crisis “shows a need for more cooperation between EU Member States in the future.”

Some 63 percent of Europeans hold this view, according to the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) think tank, which commissioned the EU-wide poll.

Europeans in nine countries that make up roughly two-thirds of the EU population were surveyed, with over 11,000 people polled in Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.


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The findings come with many European governments now starting to plan for loosening lockdowns.

A report on the findings, authored by Ivan Krastev and Mark Leonard, describes the levels of “public disillusionment” as “disturbing.”

EU leaders will next month debate a recovery plan that will involve raising trillions of euros in public funding.

The €750bn recovery fund, called Next Generation EU, is designed to kick-start the virus-devastated economies across Europe, but four Member States oppose the European Commission proposals.

“The great paradox of COVID-19 is that it was the absence rather than the success of the European Union that demonstrated its relevance in the first stage of the crisis that urged European governments to opt for deeper integration” Ivan Krastev, Chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies

It is hoped that agreement on the fund, along with the MMF, can be reached at an EU summit on July 17.

The survey said that majorities said either that no one was there to help them during the pandemic, or that they didn’t know who had been their most helpful ally.

Only small minorities selected the EU, international multilateral institutions, or Europe’s biggest economic partners - the US and China - as their country’s most helpful ally.

Asked about how things should change in Europe, a majority of respondents across the surveyed countries (52 percent) want a “more unified” response to such global threats and challenges.

Krastev and Leonard said it was clear that “an overwhelming majority of Europeans want more EU-level cooperation, regardless of whether they come from the North, South, East or West.”

But the pair warn EU policymakers that this demand “should not be interpreted as a mandate for further institution-building” or as a vote of confidence in the existing EU structure.

Commenting on the findings, Krastev, chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies, said, “The COVID-19 crisis is most probably the greatest social experiment in our lives. It is still too early to predict how radically it will change our societies, but it is already obvious that the pandemic has changed the way Europeans view the world outside of Europe, and, as a result, the role of the EU in their lives.”

He adds, “The great paradox of COVID-19 is that it was the absence rather than the success of the European Union that demonstrated its relevance in the first stage of the crisis that urged European governments to opt for deeper integration.”

“The demand for more European cooperation does not come from an appetite for institution-building, but rather from a deeper anxiety of losing control in a dangerous world. This is a Europe of necessity rather than of choice” Mark Leonard, ECFR founder and director

Further comment came from Leonard, founder and director of ECFR, who added, “The demand for more European cooperation does not come from an appetite for institution-building, but rather from a deeper anxiety of losing control in a dangerous world. This is a Europe of necessity rather than of choice.”

The survey found that some 33 percent of those polled have lost confidence in the power of government and also assess their government’s performance negatively.

The figures do vary, however. At one extreme is Denmark, where 60 percent have greater confidence in the power of government and give a positive assessment of their government’s performance.

The other extreme is France, where 61 percent have less confidence in government and gave a negative perception of the French government’s performance during the health crisis.

Perhaps surprisingly, only 35 percent of respondents believe experts’ work can be beneficial to them, while 38 percent believe that both experts and the authorities have concealed information from the public.

In Germany, despite low levels of infection and fatalities from the Coronavirus, there is considerable scepticism about experts. For example, just 44 percent of Germans believe the health crisis has shown the benefit of expert opinion.

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