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23rd Oct 2021

Citizens: 'More EU cooperation' after lame virus response

  • Many Europeans feel the EU has been irrelevant during the crisis (Photo: European Parliament)

Europeans believe the EU responded poorly to the coronavirus pandemic - but a large majority think further EU cooperation is needed after the crisis, a new survey revealed.

In Italy, one of the countries worst-hit by the outbreak, 63 percent think the EU "did not live up to its responsibilities during the pandemic", while 61 percent of the French think the same, the report by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) think tank published on Tuesday (23 June) said.

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In Italy only four percent think that the country's greatest ally during the pandemic was the EU, and 25 percent think China has been their biggest help.

Similarly, only four percent of Germans think the EU was the country's greatest ally during the pandemic, although only two percent think China was an important ally during the crisis.

Seven percent of respondents in France, eight percent in Spain, and 17 percent in Poland think the EU was the greatest ally, with majorities thinking no one was there to help.

A poll of over 11,000 citizens from Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden, covering more than two-thirds of the EU's population/GDP, was polled by the ECFR as lockdown measures began to ease.

A report, based on the poll, by Ivan Krastev and Mark Leonard calls these figures "disturbing".

Attitudes towards EU institutions worsened during the crisis, especially in Italy, Spain and France.

The report calls it "more worrying" that not only a large numbers of European say the EU performed badly, but that an even larger number of Europeans said the EU has been irrelevant.

To some extent this was coded into the EU's DNA, as most health care and social rules are at national level, and national governments moved quickly to close borders - with coordination between member states lagging behind.

At the start of the crisis, the response to a first EU call on member states to aid Italy was muted, while China used the lull in European action to step in.

While EU response was slow at first, Italy has been among the top beneficiaries of pan-European support, another ECFR study found.

At the same time, the coronavirus crisis has dramatically damaged the reputation of the US and also China, the poll found.

The collapse of the image of the US may be "more shocking", the report says, adding that over 70 percent of Danes and Portuguese say that their perceptions have worsened, with 68 percent of French people, 65 percent of Germans, and 64 percent of Spaniards agreeing.

The perception that the EU has been useless highlights the pressure on EU leaders to bridge deep divisions and agree on the bloc's long-term budget and recovery package, totalling €1.85 trillion, this summer.

Distrust in experts

However, the poll also found that large majorities in all surveyed countries say that they are now more firmly-convinced of the need for further EU cooperation than they were before the crisis.

In a change to earlier trends, with the exception of Poland, people who expressed confidence in their governments to manage the crisis are also more supportive of closer EU cooperation than the national average.

The survey also showed that the crisis has not fundamentally changed the balance between the political mainstream and populists in party support. The crisis has also not resulted in clear support for the state or big government.

The health crisis has also not led to increased trust in experts. Many citizens view experts as bound by the political process, rather than independent and objective, the report found.

Only 35 percent of Europeans believe experts' work can be beneficial to them, while 38 percent believe politicians have "instrumentalised" experts and "concealed information from the public", the poll showed.

There are notable differences between member states, with trust in experts being the strongest in Denmark and Sweden and lowest in France, Spain, and Poland.

But trust in experts also mirrors party lines: only a small number of populist voters believe that the work of experts is beneficial.

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EU leaders to reconvene in July on budget and recovery

Most EU leaders want an agreement before the summer break, but the Dutch PM, leading the 'Frugal Four', warned there might not even be a deal then. But the ECB's Christian Lagarde has warned of a "dramatic" economic fall.

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EU health ministers will discuss on Friday plans to have the Commission negotiate with pharmaceutical companies on behalf of EU countries, make advaced payments and secure enough vaccines for Europeans.

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Baltic states lead Covid surge across east Europe

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