Wednesday, 20 September 2017

State of the Union: public opinion

After checking the European Commission’s State of the Union 2017 web page, we turn to the State of the Union 2017 brochure, where the next section is called The state of public opinion in the EU (from page 69).

The UK’s Brexit mess, terrorist attacks, economic progress, together with election results in member states and abroad have contributed to stronger feelings about the need for the European Union among citizens.

Eurobarometer 87
The SOTEU 2017 brochure presents five graphs based on the latest Eurobarometer survey, but those interested can go to further downloadable reading: Standard Eurobarometer 87 - Spring 2017 (EB87; the field work was done in May and the first results were published in August 2017).


Terrorism and immigration

Terrorism has passed immigration as the greatest European level concern among EU citizens, both worries well ahead of the economic situation, the public finances of the respondent’s own country and unemployment (when each respondent named two).

At national level unemployment, immigration, health and social security, plus terrorism are the four main concerns, but here as on other issues those interested can study the differences between member states.


EU support and reform

More than half of the population (56%) is now optimistic about the future of the European Union (EB87 page 21). There is support for EU action and reform (page 31):

EU citizens support the EU priorities and common policies tested in the survey. Though varying in intensity from one statement to another, more than half of Europeans approve of all these policies, with the exception of further enlargement of the EU.

More than eight in ten Europeans support “the free movement of EU citizens who can live, work, study and do business anywhere in the EU” (81%, unchanged since autumn 2016). Three-quarters support “a common defence and security policy among EU Member States” (75%, unchanged), and 72% are for “a common energy policy among EU Member States” (72%, -1 percentage point). Around two-thirds of Europeans support “a common European policy on migration“ (68%, -1) and “a common foreign policy of the 28 Member States of the EU” (66%, unchanged). Around six Europeans in ten are in favour of “a digital single market within the EU” (61%, +2) and “a European economic and monetary union with one single currency, the euro” (60%, +2). More than half of respondents support “a free trade and investment agreement between the EU and the USA” (54%, +1). “Further
enlargement of the EU to include other countries in future years” is the single statement that is supported by only a minority of respondents: 40% are “for” (+1), while 49% are “against” (-2).

Even if they approve of current policies and potentially support more unitary policies, except for EU enlargement, sadly these Eurobarometer questions are too blunt to show how receptive citizens are to more detailed proposals for real EU reform.


Free movement of EU citizens

The EU27 and Michel Barnier get backing, by the overwhelming support for the free movement of people (EU citizens). Brexit tabloids and crusaders have something to think about, or do the British support free movement only for themselves? See EB87 page 32:

A large majority of Europeans in all 28 EU Member States continue to support “the free movement of EU citizens who can live, work, study and do business anywhere in the EU” (81%, unchanged since autumn 2016); majorities support free movement in proportions varying from 94% in the three Baltic States, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, to 69% in Italy and 70% in the United Kingdom. Opposition to the free movement of EU citizens remains limited: it reaches or exceeds 20% in four countries: Austria (22%), Italy (22%), the United Kingdom (21%) and Denmark (20%).


Euro area

Creating a real economic and monetary union (EMU) is on the EU reform agenda, as is the invitation to non-euro countries to join the euro area. The common currency is becoming more attractive in the euro countries, but people in the countries outside are still reticent (page 33):

In the euro area, close to three-quarters of respondents support the euro (73%, +3 percentage points, vs. 22%, -3), which has reached its highest score since autumn 2004. Outside the euro area, a majority of respondents continue to oppose the single currency (58% “against”, -1, vs. 33% “for”, unchanged).

Six in ten EU citizens are in favour of  “a European economic and monetary union with one single currency, the euro” (60% “for”, +2 percentage points since autumn 2016), whereas 34% say they are against (-2). This is the first time since autumn 2009 that support for the euro has reached the 60% threshold in the whole European Union.


Designing Europe’s future

The title of the Special Eurobarometer 461 ‘Designing Europe’s future’ sounds promising, but how much wiser do we get regarding the EU reform agenda, if we read the three reports reflecting field work in April 2017?

The first report, which included questions on trust in various institutions, opinions about globalisation and its impact, and opinions about support for the euro, free-trade and solidarity, did not seem to ask or get clear responses about support for EU reform, but perhaps for existing policies with or without a demand for reform.

The second report, on security and defence, is perhaps somewhat clearer. Even if the EU supposedly has a common foreign and security policy and a common security and defence policy, the support for an EU army clearly goes beyond the current treaties (text picked from page 21):

Almost two-thirds of Europeans continue to support a common foreign policy of the 28 EU Member States. In all countries except Sweden, at least half of respondents are for a common foreign policy of the 28 EU Member states of the EU.

Three-quarters of EU citizens are for a common defence and security policy among EU Member States, and this proportion has remained above the 70% threshold since 2004. A clear majority of respondents in all EU Member States support a common defence and security policy among EU Member States.

More than half of Europeans are in favour of creating an EU army; conversely, almost four in ten are opposed to it. In 23 Member States, a majority of respondents are in favour of the creation of an EU army. The exceptions are the United Kingdom, Sweden, Finland, Austria and Ireland.

Logically, an EU army presupposes a unitary foreign, security and defence policy, which in turn require democratic government according to European values.

The third report, about the EU budget, could be said to be an extremely early bird for the EU citizens to design the future of the union. The Monti report on the EU budget (own resources) was new and far from widely known, and the Commission’s reflection paper on the future of EU finances was still about two and a half months into the future.

The Special Eurobarometer 461 survey shows that a growing proportion wants to increase the EU budget (by now, as many as those against), but the respondents know little about how EU resources are spent. They want to spend more in areas where the EU lacks real powers. Since respondents do not know even the basics about the EU budget, the opinion poll demonstrates a clear need for civic education.

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Better and more enlightening political leadership is needed for a higher level of public discussion about the EU reform agenda, but where would that come from?

Ownership is probably the best teacher. Since 68% of Europeans already feel they are citizens of the EU, how about giving them full political rights as part of the EU reform agenda?



Ralf Grahn