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28th May 2022

World citizens favour stronger EU global role

  • The EU seems to have a good reputation worldwide (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Citizens worldwide prefer "soft power" in international affairs rather than military might, and the EU appears to be the political actor whose role is most respected, a new survey suggests.

In the poll, released by new think tank the European Council on Foreign Relations, more than one third of the respondents (35 percent) said they see an increased EU power as a central element needed to develop a better world.

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In comparison, 26 percent of respondents would like to see US influence grow, while 23% would like Russia to be more important and 24% say the same thing about China.

On top of that, 37% estimate the world would be better off if US influence in the world declined, and 29% and 32% believe this is true about Russia and China respectively.

A less powerful EU on the other hand is desired by 20% of those surveyed.

The poll was conducted among 57,000 respondents in 52 countries around the globe.

According to analysts from the think-thank, negative perceptions of Russia and China – or Iran – "seem to be connected with the fact that they are perceived not so much as rising economic or political powers as military powers".

"The European Union is unique among the big four powers (the other three being the US, China and Russia) in that no one wants to balance its rise", the think-tank's executive director Mark Leonard and board member Ivan Krastev commented.

"It is striking that a continent with a military budget second only to the United States, and the biggest number of peace-keeping forces serving in the world seems to be perceived as a non-military power", they added.

Support for the EU at home and abroad

Unlike the US, the EU seems to have a good reputation worldwide and is also "highly appreciated" in its neighbourhood, the analysts write.

Most European citizens do prefer a bigger role for the EU, while respondents in third countries such as Albania or Moldova also give a high approval rating to the EU.

A notable exception, Ukraine would rather see an increased role for Russia (45 percent) than the EU (41 percent).

Also in candidate country Turkey enthusiasm about a greater EU role is not high. However, Turkey's case is particular as "it demonstrates the instincts of an unrecognised world power", Mr Leonard and Mr Krastev stated.

"Turkish public opinion resists the influence of any of the rising powers and (…) expressed rejection of both EU and US leadership of world affairs", they add.

Enlargement perspective is key

Results of the survey show two important trends particularly as regards neighbouring countries, according to the think-thank analysts.

First, it suggests that there is a close link between the "EU's soft power" and the possible prospects of enlargement in the EU neighbourhood.

For example, "the stark rise in the attractiveness of Russia in some parts of the former Eastern Bloc and the ex-USSR - particularly in Ukraine – is linked to European foot-dragging on enlargement, which is having a negative impact on its reputation in the European neighbourhood".

Secondly, the results also indicate that in places where the bloc acts as "a quasi-colonial power" – such as Bosnia and Herzegovina – enthusiasm about EU influence in the world is much less pronounced.

"This makes clear that the EU faces a choice in the Balkans either to press ahead with enlargement so as to normalise relations with these countries, or to face further hostility if it continues behaving like an imperial power", the analysts conclude.

This year's Voice of the People annual survey has been carried out by Gallup International in collaboration with the European Council on Foreign Relations.

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