Saturday 28 August 2010

From Paint It Black to Moses? UK public opinion on EU

Yesterday’s blog post, UK Eurobarometer score: Euromyths 68 - Trust 20, discussed the media climate and public opinion in the United Kingdom with regard to the European Union. The Eurobarometer findings are in line with what we have reported many times before, for instance the Angus Reid poll published in June 2010.

If we turn from the UK country factsheet of the Spring 2010 Standard Eurobarometer 73, which compares the country only with EU averages, to the full first results, we see the uniqueness of public opinion in Britain.

In May 2010, the general level of trust in the European Union had plummeted from 48 to 42 per cent. Estonia reported the highest trust score, 68 per cent, with 22 per cent tending to be distrustful of the European Union (pages 15 and 16).

Not only did the United Kingdom report almost the reverse numbers – 68 per cent distrusting and 20 per cent trustful – but the second lowest trust score among all 27 member states was the 37 per cent reported from Germany, almost twice the proportion in Britain.

The negativism of the political atmosphere, media climate and public opinion in the United Kingdom are truly exceptional, almost four decades after accession.

The view of European integration and the European Union in the UK is not bleak – it is tainted uniquely black.

Should the UK government (Pharaoh) listen to what the voters (Moses) have to say in “Go Down Moses”?

Namely: Let my people go.

Withdrawal or secession in Eurospeak.

Ralf Grahn

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It is easier to understand a language than to use it correctly. As Eurobloggers we could and should promote interaction among Europeans across borders and between linguistic communities. Grahnlaw has adopted a multilingual comment policy:

I do my best to read comments in Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish or Swedish, even if the Grahnlaw blog and my possible replies are in English.

Antonia on the Euonym blog (Talking about the EU) tells us that the European Commission in the UK arranges a Day of Multilingual Blogging on 26 September 2010, and the UK Representation has been joined by the multilingual aggregator and individual Eurobloggers. Join the event page on Facebook, spread the word through social media and personal contacts, begin preparing your blog posts and start learning a new language.


  1. Please let us leave. Then we can be friends again. If not, the EU is storing up one hell of a problem. The British people are slow to anger, but even we have a breaking point.

  2. Trooper Thompson,

    The media climate, political atmosphere and public opinion in the United Kingdom are so uniquely ill adapted to constructive engagement to develop the European Union that secession might be a blessing for the rest of the European Union.

    However, the EU has no powers to exclude member states, so you name the wrong addressee 'storing up' problems.

    Withdrawal, or an 'in or out' referendum, is an internal British matter, as the Treaty on European Union (Article 50) explicitly states.

    Just a small note of caution:

    The institutional, legal, budgetary ties and financial streams between a member state and the European Union are complex matters.

    Although somewhat easier, severing the ties is like reverse engineering the accession process, which usually stretches over many years.

    An agreement is needed on the modalities, although failing that, withdrawal would take effect two years from notification.

    I imagine that any member state leaving the European Union would want to reach an agreement on the future relationship, so sensibly this would have to be part of the domestic decision to withdraw (at least in outline form).

    The European Economic Area (EEA) is one option for states which want access to EU markets without deeper integration (or voice) in EU affairs.

  3. I know that the problem is the British political establishment which is 100% pro-EU, contrary to the public.

    In reality, if there was a referendum, the pro-EU side may well win. By denying the people a say in the matter, the politicians are allowing a head of steam build up, and if it blows, who knows where it'll lead?

    I would think if we do leave, we will seek some kind of EFTA-style arrangement.

  4. Trooper Thompson,

    I have little to add to your comment, except a question nagging my mind.

    Why is the British political establishment pro EU membership despite popular sentiment against?

    (I would not call the UK's record and opt-outs anywhere near 100 % pro-EU.)

  5. "Why is the British political establishment pro EU membership despite popular sentiment against?"

    Interesting question. I will have to think about that and get back to you.

  6. Okay, the answer is:

    Lust for money.
    Lust for power.
    Feeling part of the inside crowd.
    Disdain for the common people, who they believe are ignorant, ungrateful untermensch.
    Vague, half-remembered utopianism from their student days.

    I think that covers most of it.

  7. Trooper Thompson,

    Thank you for your reply.

    Don't you think that successive UK governments have assessed that membership in the European Communities, now the EU and Euratom, lies in the national interest?

  8. @Trooper Thompson, 31 August 2010 18:25,

    Thanks for your post. You almost nailed it. I think you should add as a corollary to "feeling part of the inside crowd":

    "Fear of not being with the "in" crowd"

    And, please, please, please, may Britain leave the EU. I'm sure Sweden would follow soon after, and together with Norway, Iceland and Switzerland we would be able to resurrect the EFTA.

  9. ProfessorPelotard,

    Each of us is free to speculate, but I would not count on Sweden leaving the European Union, even if the UK withdrew.

    UK membership would naturally strengthen what is left of EFTA, although it is now weaker than 1961 when Britain first applied for membership in the European Communities, largely because the diversionary EFTA tactics had failed.

    Iceland and Norway manage their EU relations through the European Economic Area (EEA). Switzerland remains in EFTA only, but with about 120 bilateral treaties with the EU (something the EU has signaled as being too cumbersome).

    Perhaps these remarks help you to devise the credible alternative for a UK outside the European Union.

  10. Dear Mr Grahn,

    If you don't understand what a political earth-quake it would be if any country, let alone a major country like Britain, would withdraw from the EU, you certainly have a surprise or two waiting for you.

    As for Switzerland, they still have their referendums. The Swiss politicians may place themselves supine in front of major statesmen (giggle...) like H v Rompuy, but the Swiss people will not give in, and nor do they have to. The EU will need Switzerland more than Switzerland will need the EU.

  11. ProfessorPelotard,

    Allow me to disagree. The 'earthquake' of leaving the EU would, in due course, be felt more in the United Kingdom than by the European Union.

    Given Britain's record in EU affairs, not all the consequences would be negative for the cohesiveness of the European Union.

    Switzerland is another prosperous and highly developed country, but it is much smaller than the UK.

    Consequently, landlocked Switzerland needs the EU more than vice versa (although good relations benefit both).

    The era of separately administered bilateral treaties is approaching its end.

    However, I do not expect the Swiss to join the European Union, nor do I wish them to, under current rules.

    Norway seems to stay outside, and I do not expect Iceland to join in a near future either, regardless of if the accession negotiations lead to an agreement or if they break down before that.

    In good conscience, every serious proposal for UK withdrawal must include a clear road map for future EU relations.

    This is where British anti-EU campaigners should concentrate their energies, if they want to devise a winning proposition.


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