Sunday

22nd Oct 2017

Opinion

Euroscepticism: The EU's new normal

  • The euro is among the projects that may have to be abandoned (Photo: Images_of_Money)

If euroscepticism was just a British disease and the UK voting to leave the Union on 23 June was the solution – as Liberation correspondent Jean Quatremer suggested in a recent article – then the EU’s dwindling band of cheerleaders could sleep comfortably in the knowledge that the anti-European contagion was containable.

Unfortunately for them, British hostility towards the EU has already spread across a continent where euroscepticism is now the new normal.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

A survey of 10 EU states by the Pew Research Centre published on Tuesday (7 June) suggests 51 percent of EU citizens hold a favourable view of the Union, with 47% unfavourable. This shows that almost 70 years after its creation, many Europeans have huge doubts about whether the EU is capable of delivering the peace and prosperity it promised.

Instead of dismissing these doubts – as European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker did last month when he said “whoever does not believe in Europe, who doubts Europe, whoever despairs of Europe, should visit the military cemeteries in Europe” – EU leaders should listen to the cry of despair from the people they are supposed to represent.

When it comes to individual countries, Greece – perhaps unsurprisingly given the squalid way it has been treated by its EU partners – is by far the most hostile country, with 71 percent holding an unfavourable view of the Union.

The next most eurosceptic state of the 10 nations polled – which together account for over four-fifths of the EU’s population and GDP – is none other than France, a founding member of the EU and “motor” of EU integration so lauded by Quatremer in his article urging Brits to leave the European club. Some 61 percent of French are unhappy with the EU and just 38 percent have a positive view, down 17 percentage points since 2014.

While Brits remain more eurosceptic than most, they are not far from the average, with 44% having a favourable view of the EU and 48% holding an unfavourable one. These figures are almost identical to Germany and the Netherlands – two other founding members of the EU – and Spain, where support for the Union has dropped 15 points in the last two years.

Those railing against central and eastern European countries for their lack of European values might be interested to note that the EU appears to be most popular in the only two post-communist states polled – Poland and Hungary.

The reason the EU is so unpopular, and why it is so difficult to persuade British people to remain part of the club, is that the Union is failing on the two most important issues to Europeans – immigration and the economy.

In every country surveyed, an overwhelming majority of respondents said they were unhappy with the EU’s handling of the refugee issue – with 94 percent of Greeks, 88 percent of Swedes and 77 percent of Italians disapproving. The highest approval rating over the migration crisis was just 31 percent, in the Netherlands.

When it comes to economic issues, just 6 percent of Greeks, 22 percent of Italians and 27 percent of French approve of the EU’s handling of the economy. Germany and Poland are the only two countries where more people approve than disapprove of the EU’s economic policies.

These figures are a damning indictment of a Union that has failed its people on the issues that matter most to them. Indeed, if the EU were a government it would have been booted out of office a long time ago.

Forget reducing roaming charges and subsidising students to spend a semester abroad, European voters quite rightly feel that if the EU cannot tackle the major problems they face, then pro-European parties do not deserve their votes and the Union should not be granted more power.

Indeed, less than one in five citizens believes national governments should transfer more powers to the EU, with 42 percent believing some powers should be returned to national capitals.

This presents a Catch-22 situation for the EU – everyone agrees that for the euro to work, a real fiscal, economic and political union is needed. But this would involve a massive transfer of power from national capitals to Brussels – which Europeans are dead against.

So EU leaders have a painful choice – plough ahead with political union and risk a brutal backlash from voters and possibly a splintering of the bloc into hard and soft cores, or carry on muddling along, risking the steady disintegration of the Union’s most cherished projects like Schengen and the euro.

As the poll suggests, there is a third way – the repatriation of some powers to national governments. This could involve dismantling the euro, which has brought neither growth nor jobs and has torn European nations apart rather than bringing them together. Or it could mean handing back to capitals the right to set national budgets and police borders – two of the most basic functions of sovereign states.

In a club that has no reverse gear, whose solution to every problem is “more Europe”, and which has a decidedly deterministic view of its future progression towards an “ever closer union”, the idea of “less Europe” is anathema. But regardless of the result of the British referendum, it is an option European leaders will have to consider if the EU is to survive.

Eurosceptic MPs put Cameron under pressure

Conservative MPs have asked Cameron to let them campaign for an Out vote, with a former British defence minister saying the UK should leave the union.

Stumbling towards Brexit

When Britons enter polling booths on 23 June they will be voting as much with their hearts as with their heads, and that puts the Remain campaign in big trouble.

Cameron warns of Brexit 'madness'

In an TV debate three weeks before the EU membership referendum, the British prime minister defended his promise to curb migration and warned that leaving the EU would be "economic self-harm".

Populism is not a coherent transatlantic trend

Analysts have been keen to bundle together the election of Donald Trump in the US and the rise of right-wing populists in Europe. Pew research suggests this is premature.

EU divided on answer to Brexit 'wake up call'

The first-ever meeting of EU leaders without a British PM will on Wednesday discuss how to regain public trust. But concrete ideas on the migration crisis and EU economy are few and far between.

News in Brief

  1. Rajoy to trigger Article 155 on Saturday in Catalan crisis
  2. EU conducts unannounced inspection of German car firm
  3. Lithuania calls for new EU energy laws
  4. EU leaders aim for December for defence cooperation
  5. Juncker says hands tied on Russia pipeline
  6. Czechs set to elect billionaire Andrej Babis
  7. Italian regions hold referendums on more autonomy
  8. EU leaders refuse to mediate Catalonia conflict

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUPresident Xi Jinping Proposes Stronger Global Security Governance at Interpol Assembly
  2. European Friends of ArmeniaEU Engagement Could Contribute to Lasting Peace in Nagorno-Karabakh
  3. UNICEFViolence in Myanmar Driving 12,000 Rohingya Refugee Children Into Bangladesh Every Week
  4. European Jewish CongressBulgaria Applauded for Adopting the Working Definition of Antisemitism
  5. EU2017EENorth Korea Leaves Europe No Choice, Says Estonian Foreign Minister Sven Mikser
  6. Mission of China to the EUZhang Ming Appointed New Ambassador of the Mission of China to the EU
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Should Seek Concrete Commitments From Azerbaijan at Human Rights Dialogue
  8. European Jewish CongressEJC Calls for New Austrian Government to Exclude Extremist Freedom Party
  9. CES - Silicones EuropeIn Healthcare, Silicones Are the Frontrunner. And That's a Good Thing!
  10. EU2017EEEuropean Space Week 2017 in Tallinn from November 3-9. Register Now!
  11. European Entrepreneurs CEA-PMEMobiliseSME Exchange Programme Open Doors for 400 Companies Across Europe
  12. CECEE-Privacy Regulation – Hands off M2M Communication!

Latest News

  1. The mysterious German behind Orban's Russian deals
  2. Mogherini urged to do more on Russian propaganda
  3. Turkey funding cuts signal EU mood shift
  4. Posted workers top EU agenda This Week
  5. Leaders lobby to host EU agencies at summit's margins
  6. Legal tweak could extend EU control on Russia pipeline
  7. Ukraine language law does not harm minorities
  8. EU begins preparations for Brexit trade talks

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ILGA-EuropeHealth4LGBTI: Reducing Health Inequalities Experienced by LGBTI People
  2. EU2017EEEHealth: A Tool for More Equal Health
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism a Key Driver for Job Creation and Enhanced Competitiveness
  4. CECENon-Harmonised Homologation of Mobile Machinery Costs € 90 Million per Year
  5. ILGA-EuropeMass Detention of Azeri LGBTI People - the LGBTI Community Urgently Needs Your Support
  6. European Free AllianceCatalans Have Won the Right to Have an Independent State
  7. ECR GroupBrexit: Delaying the Start of Negotiations Is Not a Solution
  8. EU2017EEPM Ratas in Poland: "We Enjoy the Fruits of European Cooperation Thanks to Solidarity"
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina and UK Discuss Deepening of Global Comprehensive Strategic Partnership
  10. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceEHLA Joins Commissioners Navracsics, Andriukaitis and Hogan at EU Week of Sport
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Representative Office Opens in Brussels to Foster Better Cooperation
  12. UNICEFSocial Protection in the Contexts of Fragility & Forced Displacement