Tuesday

22nd Aug 2017

Europeans more optimistic about EU since Brexit vote

  • Optimism about the EU's future has increased, especially in France. (Photo: Reuters)

A year ago, just after UK voters had chosen to leave the EU, and with the increasingly popular far-right populist parties in France, the Netherlands and Germany, it seemed that the European project could be fatally wounded.

But in 2017, the perception of the EU is changing tangibly for the better, according to the latest European Commission's Eurobarometer survey, which was published on Wednesday (2 August).

Optimism for the future of the EU has improved significantly, with 56 percent of respondents saying they are optimistic - a six point increase since autumn 2016, after the UK had voted to leave the EU.

The change is especially dramatic in France, where 55 percent of respondents said they are now optimistic about the EU's future, marking a 14 point increase since last autumn.

That is a significant increase for a country where far-right, anti-EU candidate Marine Le Pen received around 11 million votes in the presidential election earlier this year.

But it seems that the election of the youthful French president, Emmanuel Macron - who marched in to make his election night speech to Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, the EU’s unofficial anthem - has helped galvanise optimism about the EU among French people.

Denmark and Portugal have also seen a double-digit increase in optimism about the EU’s future since last autumn.

Ireland and Luxembourg are the most optimistic, whereas the UK and Greece are the most pessimistic about the fate of the bloc.

Yet, 38 percent of Europeans still feel pessimistic about the EU's future.

Trust in the EU has also increased, although the majority is still not convinced. The level of trust reached its highest level since 2010, at 42 percent - up from 36 percent last year.

The largest increase was polled in France, rising by 15 points to 41 percent.

Trust in the EU has also increased in Germany by 10 percent since last autumn, reaching 47 percent ahead of the German elections in September.

Lithuania and Luxembourg have the most faith in the EU, whereas respondents in Greece and the Czech Republic trust the EU the least.

The EU's image has also improved, with 40 percent of respondents overall saying that they have a positive view of the bloc. In France, 40 percent were also positive about the the bloc's image - marking an 11 point increase since last autumn.

Still, more than half of Europeans feel that their voices are not being heard in the EU. Fifty-two percent of Europeans disagree with the statement that their voices count in the EU.

Nevertheless, there has been an increase compared to previous surveys. Forty-two percent think they can make themselves heard, and that is the highest score achieved in this indicator since autumn 2004.

Respondents in Denmark and Sweden feel the most that their voices are being heard, while people in Greece and Cyprus mostly have the impression that their voices don’t count in the EU.

Popular euro

Support for the euro is greater than it has been since 2004, with 78 percent of respondents in the euro area saying they support the single currency.

Europeans are split on how they view the economic situation in their home countries, with 46 percent considering it good and 51 percent saying it is in bad shape.

Here, perceptions in France are among the lowest across the member states, with 72 percent saying the economic situation in the country is bad.

Terrorism and immigration is perceived as the most important issues facing the EU.

Fear of terrorism increased significantly, with 12-point increase in people saying that it is the top challenge for the EU. Immigration slid down to second place, as 38 percent said it is the top challenge for the EU, 7 percent fewer than last fall.

A large number of Europeans agree with some of the EU’s priorities. People feel most strongly about the free movement of EU citizens - 81 percent said they support the policy.

Some 75 percent would support a common defence and security policy, and 71 percent support a common energy policy. A common migration policy also enjoys the backing of 69 percent of Europeans.

Further enlargement, however, is only popular among 40 percent of respondents.

Positive Turkish view

Eurobarometer has also polled citizens outside the EU on their perceptions of the bloc.

According to the results, respondents in most of the surveyed countries have a positive view of the EU: 94 percent in Brazil, 84 percent in China, 83 percent in India, 76 percent in Japan, 79 percent in Canada, 75 percent in the US, and 67 percent in Australia.

Even in Turkey - where president Recep Tayyip Erdogan often uses the EU to rail against foreign intervention and double standards - 54 percent of respondents have a positive view of the EU.

Meanwhile, people in Russia, Norway and Switzerland have mixed feelings about the EU, with fewer than 50 percent having a favourable view.

Analysis

Macron faces challenges after foretold victory

French president is expected to win a three-fifths majority in parliament on Sunday, but he will have to manage an unruly group of MPs in a socially unstable country.

Macron and Merkel to 'reconstruct' the EU

The French and German leaders will present a common proposal to deepen and strengthen the EU and the eurozone. They say they are ready to change the EU treaties.

Terrorism and migration top EU public's concern

Immigration and terrorism top people's concerns in Europe - a shift since the economic crisis. But the EU commission flattered itself in its reading of the latest polls.

Opinion

Macron goes east to test appetite for EU integration

The next few months will be decisive in selecting who stays in the core of the EU and who stays behind, writes Tomas Prouza, a former state secretary for European Affairs of the Czech Republic.

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