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11th Nov 2019

EU popularity plunges right across the bloc

  • EU dragging its feet: Citizens expected more action against the euro-crisis (Photo: EUobserver)

People's confidence in the the European Union has dropped to record lows in most countries amid a placid response to the rising unemployment and the troubles of the eurozone, a Eurobarometer published on Thursday (26 August) shows.

Fewer than half of Europe's citizens (49 percent) think that their country's membership of the EU is a "good thing" – a seven-year low - while trust in the bloc's institutions has dropped to 42 percent, six points down compared to autumn 2009.

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The survey was carried out in May, at the peak of the sovereign debt crisis affecting Greece and the whole eurozone and amid hikes in unemployment all across the continent.

The EU's image worsened dramatically in Greece, Cyprus, Portugal, Spain, Romania, Italy and Luxembourg – where confidence in EU institutions fell by 10 to 18 percent compared to the previous year. Only Hungarians and Danes had a slightly better impression of the Brussels apparatus, while Belgians remained unchanged in the level of their opinion.

Unemployment remains the biggest concern of EU citizens (48 percent), along with the economic situation in general (40 percent).

EU commission spokespeople on Thursday presented the results in a favourable light, stressing that the confidence levels in EU institutions are still higher than that of national governments and parliaments.

"I'm not sure we can make a link between the negative perception of citizens about the benefit of accession and criticism of EU institutions. The disappointment about accession could be linked to EU institutions, but also the way national governments have participated in the EU debate, influenced decisions, or the lack of information about the EU," commission spokesman Olivier Bailly said during a press briefing.

When asked what they associate the EU with – most of them responded free travel and the euro. Peace was the third most popular answer, closely followed by "waste of money" (23 percent). Austrians were the most upset about Brussels' way of spending funds – 52 percent – followed by Germans (45 percent) and Swedes (36 percent).

Only 19 percent of respondents felt that the EU stands for democracy, a drop of seven points compared to 2009. Just ten percent of the Finns, Brits and Latvians ticked the "democracy" box. A more idealistic view on the democratic standards upheld by the EU can be observed in Romania (33 percent), Bulgaria (32 percent) and Cyprus (30 percent).

"It's a clear sign that citizens were expecting Europe to come up with answers to problems which have a European dimension – and they still do," said Amadeu Altafaj Tardio, spokesman for economy and monetary affairs.

Indeed, 75 percent of the respondents all across the EU said that stronger co-ordination of economic and financial policies among member states would be effective in fighting the economic crisis.

A majority of Europeans, 72 percent, said they would back a stronger supervision by the EU of the activities of the most important international financial groups, an increase of four percentage points in 2009.

But knowledge about what the term "European economic governance" actually means – a term which is still matter of dispute among member states, notably the UK and France - or which national reforms are best equipped to steer the country out of the crisis were not part of the questionnaire.

For the first time since this Eurobarometer has been carried out, the survey also included Iceland, now a candidate country for EU accession. The results show that public support for EU membership is low: only 19 percent of respondents in Iceland believe it would be a good thing and 29 percent believe their country would benefit from EU membership.

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