Sunday

20th Aug 2017

Brexit vote prompted rebound in pro-EU feeling

  • Europeans wanted to stay part of the EU, but to have more say on their own affairs (Photo: Paul Lloyd)

Europeans appreciate the EU more than they did before Brexit, but want more say over their own affairs, including in referendums on EU membership.

A new survey by US pollster Pew, out on Thursday (15 June), showed that pro-EU feeling rose by 18 points in Germany and France and by some 15 and 13 points in the Netherlands and Spain, respectively, in the year after the Brexit vote.

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  • Merkel is seen as becoming too powerful (Photo: elysee.fr)

It went up 10 points in the UK itself and also climbed in Greece, Hungary, Poland, and Sweden, but went down slightly in Italy.

The rebound coincided with increased confidence in national economies, Pew said, even though almost half of Europeans disapproved of the EU’s economic policies - a disapproval rating that reached sky-high levels in southern Europe, where the EU has become associated with heartless austerity.

The general pro-EU rebound also coincided with most people’s thoughts that Brexit would be a “bad thing” for the UK.

The Brexit schadenfreude hit 80 percent in Germany and over 60 percent in France, the Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden.

It was blunted by equally high levels of people who felt that Brexit would also be bad for the EU.

But in the UK itself, Brexit remorse was voiced by 48 percent of people, compared to just 44 percent who believed that it would end well.

Pew’s findings were matched at the ballot box in recent months, with victory denied to anti-EU parties in The Netherlands and France. Similarly, in the UK, the ruling Conservative party, which had called for a hard Brexit, almost lost their power in the general election on 8 June.

But for any European Commission spokespersons who might like to use the findings in their press conferences, the survey also said that most Europeans would like to have their own say on the EU in UK-type referendums.

Very few people actually wanted their country to leave the bloc - just 18 percent overall.

But 65 percent of Spanish people and 61 percent of French people said they wanted a Brexit-type referendum, as did more than 50 percent of respondents in Germany, Poland, Sweden, and Italy.

The survey also found that the EU had misjudged the public mood by imposing migrant relocation quotas on its member states and by pushing to negotiate trade deals en bloc.

Sixty-six percent of people overall disapproved of the EU’s handling of the refugee crisis.

The feeling was the strongest in Greece (91%) and Italy (81%), which both faced migrant bottlenecks due to lack of EU solidarity on migrant sharing, but it was also high in Germany (59%) and Sweden (78%), which took in the most refugees, as well as in Hungary (66%) and Poland (65%), which have boycotted the commissions’ migrant quotas.

The vast majority (74%) said they wanted their own governments to decide on who gets to reside in their countries.

A smaller majority (51%) also said their own leaders should negotiate trade deals instead of leaving the matter up to the EU - sentiments that were reflected in this year’s near rupture of an EU-Canada trade deal (Ceta) and in long-standing protests against a planned EU-US trade accord (TTIP).

Pew noted that with the UK set to leave the bloc, Germany would become even more powerful in the EU.

Most Europeans (71%), with the exception of Greece, had a favourable view of Berlin and of German leader chancellor Angela Merkel (52%).

But almost half of people overall said Germany had too much sway over EU decisions, in sentiments that hit the highest levels in Greece, Italy, and Spain, which were the principal targets of German-led austerity policies, as well as in Hungary and Poland, which dislike Merkel's open-door policy on migrants.

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