European identity: shaken by the economic crisis

The results of the new Eurobarometer poll, conducted in May 2011, are now available. They make for disturbing reading for those who see the European Union as a remarkable achievement in promoting economic prosperity and peaceful coexistence. The European integration project was already weakened by the protracted and unsatisfactory debate over the proposed new constitution, which resulted in the anemic Lisbon Treaty. Since then the 2008 economic recession and ongoing Greek debt crisis have fanned the flames of Euroscepticism.
Positive evaluations of trends in the EU are voiced by a majority of respondents in only five of the 27 member countries: Poland, Slovakia, Latvia, Hungary and Ireland. (Note that four of the five are recent East European entrants.)  Across the whole continent a majority – 47% to 41% – say they tend not to trust the EU. The EU takes some solace from the fact that young people are more positive: 53% of 15-24 year olds trust the EU. However, in 22 of the 27 members, a majority of the public still think that their country has benefited from EU entry, led by the Irish (78%) and Poles (73%). Britain as usual leads the Eurosceptics: 54% of British respondents believe that their country has not benefited from EU entry.
Identification with one’s nation rather than the EU seems as strong as ever. 46% of Europeans identify only with their nation-state; while 41% say they are “National and European.”  7% said they were “European and national” and a mere 3% said they were “European only.” (These figures are from 2010, the question was not asked in 2011.) There has been no trend towards closer identification with the EU over time. Back in 1992, the corresponding results were 38% national, 48% national/European, 6% European/national and 4% European.
Much of the new report examines public opinion in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash. When asked which institution was likely to be most effective in tackling the economic crisis (p. 13 in this report), the EU was selected by 22% of respondents – ahead of their national government (20%) or the IMF (15%). But that looks more like a sign of despair at the lack of effective leadership than a ringing endorsement of EU institutions.
Sixty-two percent of respondents said they sometimes see themselves as EU citizens. But what does the EU mean to them? The question of what do you associate with the EU produced the following results (p. 32 in this report): Freedom to travel and work 45%; the Euro 38%, waste of money 24%, peace 22%, a stronger say in the world 21%, bureaucracy 21%, cultural diversity 20%, and democracy 20%. Economic prosperity clocks in at a mere 14%.

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One thought on “European identity: shaken by the economic crisis

  1. While in 2009 for every European that had a negative image of the European Union, there were 3,2 who had a positive image, in 2011 this number had shrunk to 1,2 – Rather shocking!

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