Despite a decline since the 2008 global financial crisis, the level of public support for the EU today is not at its lowest when examined over a longer time period, according to the study, which analyses successive Eurobarometer opinion polls.
Four big shifts in public opinion have marked the last 25 years of European integration, according to the 60-page report released on 15 June:
- The first period was marked by strong public trust in the Union, with record-level heights of more than 70% registered in the spring of 1991 after the fall of the Berlin wall.
- The second period was marked by a strong decline of public support, up to a record low of under 50% in the spring of 1997.
- The third period, up to 2008, is marked by ups and downs. And since 2008, public opinion has been on a steep decline, with the curve hitting 50% line today.
'Calvinist puritanism' in the Netherlands
The study shows that among the “old members”, the Benelux countries, Ireland and Denmark are the most euro-enthusiastic while the least pro-Europeans are in Greece, Portugal, Italy and France.
While Belgium is singled out as “pro-European” without ambiguity, the analysis sounds more nuanced on the Netherlands, a country which has recently been putting tough conditions on the EU's enlargement and extension of the Schengen passport-free area to Romania and Bulgaria.
The authors speak of a “new Calvinist Puritanism” in the Netherlands, which appears as “a central question mark for the years to come”.
Germany appears as a special case where shifts in public opinion are only recent.
Historically, the Germans have been very keen to “substitute” their national identity with their European identity, because of the trauma caused during Nazi period, according to the authors of the study.
More recently the Germans have appeared somewhat relieved from the burden of the past, and have tended to leverage their weight to impose their values on other European nations which they see as profligate.
Amongst the countries that joined the EU in 1995, the mood has evolved positively in Sweden and rather negatively in Austria, the study notes.
For the countries that joined in 2004, optimism has been on the decline in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Slovenia and Cyprus. In contrast, public opinion has become even more optimistic in Poland, Slovakia and Estonia. In Lithuania and Malta, the mood has remained unchanged.
In Bulgaria and Romania, which joined the EU in 2007, pro-European sentiment remains strong, although they no longer reach the record peaks recorded a few years ago.
"The Europe to which its citizens aspire remains a Europe inspired by the value of solidarity. But it has lost some of its visibility; it must reaffirm itself as such, without which the present 'Eurogloom' could transform into strong and long-lasting disillusionment," the report concludes.