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Defending democracy a top choice for a third of Europeans

  • In October 2019, 49 percent of people felt that their voices count in the EU - now only 43 percent agree that their voices are heard (Photo: EC - Audiovisual Service)
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A third of EU citizens have put democracy as the top European value to be defended by the European Parliament at a time when fewer feel things are going in the right direction, according to a survey published on Tuesday (8 February) by Eurobarometer.

Democracy was the top choice of 32 percent of respondents followed by freedom of speech, with 27 percent, and protection of human rights in the EU and globally with 25 percent, in the poll commissioned by the European Parliament.

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  • The survey by Eurobarometer, the EU's opinion polling service, registered a new sense of pessimism in Europe (Photo: European Parliament)

Across 11 countries, the defence of democracy was first: Sweden, Germany, Finland, Italy, Denmark, Austria, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary.

"We cannot take democracy for granted; extremism, authoritarianism and nationalism are today rising threats for our common European project," European Parliament president Roberta Metsola said in a statement.

It was the first time Eurobarometer has measured democracy as a value to be defended.

But the findings broadly mirror the Eurobarometer on the future of Europe from earlier this year, which found that 27 percent of Europeans consider the EU's respect for democracy, human rights and the rule of law as the EU's best asset.

Another Eurobarometer survey from last year showed that 65 percent of Europeans that the core values of the EU, including democracy, are well protected.

The survey by Eurobarometer, the EU's opinion polling service, also registered a new sense of pessimism in Europe.

While 2019-2020 saw the biggest increase since 2007 in people thinking things were heading in the right direction, that wave of optimism has now declined by four percentage points.

In the latest poll only 35 percent of the people think things are going in the right direction, compared to 39 percent last year, while 44 percent think things are going in the wrong direction.

On a national level, a third of EU citizens say that things are going in the right direction, while just over half of the citizens (52 percent, down 4 points from 2020) think that things are going in the wrong direction in their specific country.

Citizens also feel less heard at the EU level.

The share of respondents saying that their voices do not count in the EU has risen to 52 percent since 2019.

The pollsters said that this two-point increase on last year could be a normal dip between EU elections, which last took place in 2019.

"While this trend may be partly seen as a sign of disenchantment, the patterns for this indicator can be better understood when examined over time alongside the timing of legislative life cycles," the report said.

There were also very large discrepancies in how people in different member states feel about how well their voices are heard in the bloc.

Respondents in Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands were most likely to think their voices matter in EU affairs, with each registering solid majorities.

Countries with young democracies in central and eastern Europe showed far less positive results.

In Latvia only 15 percent of the respondents thought their voices were heard. In Estonia that rate is 16 percent while in the Czech Republic, it's 21 percent.

A previous report by European Democracy, a consultancy, indicated that central and eastern Europeans are continuously underrepresented in the EU's leadership.

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