Public confidence in the European Union has plummeted due in large part to the bloc’s handling of the pandemic and its difficulties in sourcing coronavirus vaccines, according to an investigation for the European Council on Foreign Relations of several Member States. The survey also reveals that dismay over the EU is spreading from peripheral countries in the south and east to France and Germany.
And doubts about the EU extend beyond just Eurosceptic voters, warn think tank researchers.
Europeans still believe in the importance of multilateral cooperation between their states and a majority want the EU to become a more important global player, but other failures and incidents could jeopardize the European project because the support is fragile, they say.
“The fact that two of the largest and most influential states in the EU – France and Germany – are the least convinced of the need for European cooperation underlines the urgency with which the EU must improve its game “, according to Susi Dennison, project manager at ECFR. and Jana Puglierin.
“Both countries have important national elections coming up next year, which could present a challenge for EU leaders. The data from our polls indicate that the EU has exhausted its second chances, ”they add. The election results should be a wake-up call for Brussels.
ECFR is a pan-European policy research institution headquartered in Berlin, but has offices across the continent. Its board of directors includes former foreign ministers, former European and national lawmakers as well as former European commissioners and former NATO secretaries general.
In half of the states surveyed, most respondents said they had little trust in the EU or said their trust had declined, with majorities in France (62%), Italy (57%), Germany (55%), Spain (52%) and Austria (51%) said the EU project was “broken”.
“The growing distrust of the European project extends beyond Eurosceptic voters and has seeped into the mainstream. As our data show, belief in the need for European cooperation is lowest among citizens of the Franco-German engine, ”Dennison said in a statement.
Not that Europeans are satisfied with the status of politics in their own states with 80% of Italians and Spaniards, 66% of French, 60% of Portuguese, 55% of Poles and 54% of Hungarians stating that their own political systems internals are “broken” too.
But it is sentiments about the EU that are likely to attract the most media attention for the inquiry, which was released on Wednesday. According to Dennison, the main lesson to be learned from the poll is: “The EU urgently needs to improve its game if it is to survive.” She added that EU leaders have had the opportunity at upcoming G-7, NATO and EU-US summits to “restart”, but must avoid “too much scope institutional or excessive promises ”.
Termination of solidarity
European solidarity broke at various points in the pandemic with feuds between member states and Brussels over vaccine purchase and distribution as well as travel and sharing restrictions at the onset of the health crisis public protective medical equipment and rare ventilators.
Much of the frustration among member states has been directed at European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who was the driving force in persuading member states to sign a vaccine procurement and distribution program run by the Brussels authorities.
She and the EC commissioners argued that a bloc-wide approach would reduce the risk of vaccine rivalry between member states as they scramble to place orders and raise awareness of EU forces, which in turn would help garner more public support for greater political integration. But it didn’t turn out that way and Europe fell behind Britain and the United States as a third wave of the pandemic hit the continent earlier this year.
“With citizens particularly disappointed with the EU’s struggling COVID vaccine program, [European] The Commission cannot afford to make the same mistakes as it orchestrates the bloc’s economic recovery, ”Dennison said.
“If the EU is to overcome the next stage of the pandemic, and any other challenge to its legitimacy, it is imperative that it listens to its citizens,” added Puglierin. More than 17,000 Europeans were interviewed online for the survey in April in Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.
A majority of respondents in all but one of the surveyed countries still agreed that EU membership was “a good thing” for their country. The exception was France, where the largest number of respondents said membership was “neither good nor bad”. This, analysts said, could sound the alarm bells at the Elysee Palace.
French President Emmanuel Macron faces a tough campaign to try to be re-elected next year and populist nationalist leader Marine Len Pen has won in opinion polls.
The survey also suggests that citizens of the European Union have adjusted their attitude towards Britain since Brexit, identifying the country no longer as an ally but as a “necessary partner” and sometimes a rival. A similar sentiment seems to prevail towards the post-Trump United States and is seen as a country to be “strategically co-operated” with rather than an ally. One in four Germans and one in five French and Spanish consider the United States to be a rival or an adversary.