Less than 50 percent of EU citizens ‘in favour’ of EU as currently realised

Two new surveys paint alarming picture of declining levels of public confidence in the EU.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

11 Jun 2021

The independent surveys come in the wake of the UK’s exit from the EU and continued popularity of Eurosceptic political parties in different parts of Europe.

The EU has, most recently, also come under attack over its perceived slow response to the Coronavirus outbreak.

In one survey, less than a quarter of Europeans said they were in favour of the EU ‘as it has been realised so far’ a decrease of four points on a similar poll conducted last November.

Also, on average, only 48% of citizens claimed to be satisfied with the EU’s response to the ongoing health pandemic.

The Eurobarometer survey was commissioned by the European Parliament and was conducted between March and April 2021.

A separate poll, commissioned by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) think tank, found that EU citizens had lost considerable trust in the Union’s ability to handle important issues during the pandemic.

"The report’s authors argue that unless immediate action is taken to arrest Brussels’ perceived ineffectiveness, particularly among the bloc’s founding members, the EU could face renewed questions about its purpose and legitimacy"

In countries such as Germany, France, Spain and Italy, most citizens now see the European project as “broken”.

However, the polling detected some positive sentiment towards continued EU membership - with respondents in 11 of the 12 surveyed Member States believing that EU membership was a “good thing” for their country. The exception to this was France, where the largest answer was that membership was considered neither good nor bad.

The ECFR findings, released on Wednesday, come ahead of key discussions at this week’s G7, NATO and US-EU summits, and suggest that Europeans want to see greater action in building up the EU’s global role.

The report’s authors argue that unless immediate action is taken to arrest Brussels’ perceived ineffectiveness, particularly among the bloc’s founding members, the EU could face renewed questions about its purpose and legitimacy.

For example, in France, where citizens will go to the polls in 2022 to elect a new president, two thirds of those surveyed now hold the view that their national political system is “broken”.

Elsewhere, in Italy (80%), Spain (80%), Bulgaria (63%), Portugal (55%), Poland (60%) and Hungary (54%), significant majorities share this view.

In the Eurobarometer survey only 44% of EU citizens said they were satisfied with the degree of internal solidarity between Member States in combatting the pandemic.

“Increasingly, more people across Europe are starting to feel that the EU represents Big Business more than it represents it's citizens and resembles a Neoliberal club for vested interests. It must change if it is to survive in the long term” Mick Wallace MEP

When asked about what the EU should prioritise in tackling the pandemic, Europeans identified rapid access to safe and effective vaccines as most important (39%). This was followed by investment in the development of treatments and vaccines (29%).

Most respondents believed that the health benefits of restriction measures in their country outweighed the economic damage they might have caused.

Reacting to the findings, Irish MEP Mick Wallace, a member of the European Parliament’s left-wing GUE/NGL Group, told this website, “In Ireland, a large majority would still say they like the idea of the EU, but just what that really means, varies a lot.”

“Increasingly, more people across Europe are starting to feel that the EU represents Big Business more than it represents it's citizens and resembles a Neoliberal club for vested interests. It must change if it is to survive in the long term.”

Further reaction to the surveys came from Irish centre-right EPP Group member Deirdre Clune who told the Parliament Magazine, “The pandemic has exposed a weakness in terms of preparedness when it comes to major threats to our public health systems in the EU.”

“Citizens are aware of this, and the message has been received. Actions are now being taken to strengthen the role of the EU in public health matters and this will help to rebuild confidence.”

A European Parliament spokesman said that despite the mixed findings, the survey “shows robust support for the European Union as well as broad consensus that global challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic are best tackled at EU level.”

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