Wednesday

31st Aug 2016

Most Europeans want Ukraine to join the EU

  • Street sign in central Kiev, the scene of a pro-EU revolution in February (Photo: Marco Fieber)

Most Europeans say Ukraine should be invited to join the EU and want tougher sanctions on Russia.

The narrow majority (52 percent) in favour of Ukraine’s EU accession emerged in a survey by the US think tank, the German Marshall Fund (GMF), carried out in June and published on Wednesday (10 September).

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The biggest supporters of membership were in Poland (69%), but also in Spain (62%) and Italy (58%). The biggest opponents were in Germany (63% against) and France (52%).

Two-thirds of Europeans overall said there should be stronger EU sanctions on Russia.

Around two-thirds also said the EU should provide economic and political support for Ukraine even if it causes a confrontation with Russia.

Europeans were split on whether Ukraine should join Nato, however: Forty six percent were in favour and 47 percent against. The majority (71%) were also against sending military supplies to Ukraine.

Presenting the survey in Brussels, the GMF’s Ian Lesser noted that pro-Ukraine feeling was already strong before pro-Russia rebels shot down MH17 and before Russia invaded mainland Ukraine.

He added the results show a disjoint between public feeling and EU policy, where several countries, including France and Germany, have systematically blocked Ukraine's EU membership perspective.

“I suspect that if you asked elite responders, experts and policymakers, you would not find the same view and I find that quite striking”, he noted.

For her part, Italian foreign minister and new EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who also spoke at the GMF event, did not mention EU accession.

But she defended the EU’s decision to suspend a new round of Russia economic sanctions this week.

She noted that while Ukraine’s EU ambassador had urged speedy implementation, its foreign minister told her Russia is taking steps to comply with a new peace plan.

She praised EU and US action on Russia, saying: “The mixture of diplomacy, economic sanctions, and the dialogue between Kiev and Moscow, with the mediation of the US, the EU, and the OSCE [a European multilateral body] is finally having some positive effect”.

She added that “the way we react in the coming days … will largely depend on Russia’s choices”.

“The sanctions were suspended because there is a debate within European countries on what time of entry into force … would be effective and not interfere, not get in the way of, but give an opportunity for [Ukrainian] president Poroshenko to make the Minsk agreement [the new peace plan] into reality”.

“Some [EU] countries are asking for political leaders at the highest level to have a chance to take this decision”, she noted, raising the prospect of no implementation until the next EU summit.

In a worrying result, the GMF survey found that Russians are turning away from the EU.

Four out of five said they supported their leader Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy. But their approval of the EU dropped more than 20 points, to 41 percent, compared to two years ago.

A majority said Russia should exert influence on Ukraine even if it harms EU ties. A majority also said Russia should look to partnerships with emerging Asian powers, such as China or India, instead of Europe or the US.

The GMF study was carried out in 13 countries, including Turkey, between 2 and 25 June.

In another surprise finding it noted that, for the first time since 2006, a majority of Turkish people want to join the European Union.

It also looked at EU-US ties and at internal EU feeling after the financial crisis.

It said most Europeans still approve of US president Barack Obama, despite his popularity slump at home, and still want the US to play a leading role in world affairs.

But one exception was Germany, where the US snooping scandal harmed relations, and where there was a steep fall in pro-US sentiment.

Despite the gains made by anti-EU populists in May’s European elections, GMF noted that 65 percent of Europeans believe EU membership is good for their country and fewer people than in 2011 think the euro made the crisis worse.

Europeans were also less worried about economic migration inside the bloc than about African migrants on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.

The surveyed registered a north-south divide in feeling on the crisis.

Most people in southern states, such as Greece (95%), Spain (81%) and Italy (72%), said they are still personally affected by the economic downturn, while a feel-good factor returned in the north.

Most southern Europeans also said the EU is not doing enough to improve the situation, while 60 percent of Germans said it is.

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