Citizens’ confidence in the European Union has grown since the European elections in May 2014. The uncertain economic situation and immigration are among the main issues still causing concern for the electorate. EURACTIV France reports.
A Eurobarometer survey published on 17 December concluded that the majority of European citizens have a positive opinion of the European Union. This was the first Eurobarometer survey since the Juncker Commission took office on 1 November.
The survey, carried out on a sample of 32,598 citizens of EU member states and candidate countries, found “an improvement in key political indicators”. The number of respondents who say they have a positive image of the European Union (39%) and that they trust the European Union (37%) has risen over the last six months. Belgium, Bulgaria and Greece are the only member states where trust in the EU has dipped, while Spain (+14 points), Luxembourg (+18 points) and Slovakia (+14 points) have seen the highest gains.
Charles de Marcilly, head of the Robert Schuman Foundation’s Brussels office, said “we have observed that the recovery is gaining ground and the negative image is diminishing”. The proportion of citizens with a negative view of the EU has fallen from 25% to 22% since June, but the number who feel that their voice counts in the EU has fallen to 40%, from its ten-year high of 42% just after the May elections.
56% of those questioned said they were optimistic about the future of the EU, but this overall increase in positivity belies the reality in some member states. Currently, only one in four Portuguese citizens believes that their voice really counts at the European level, down 12 points since May, and the
Juncker Commission provides a breath of fresh air
The nomination of the new Commission appears to have released a new wave of confidence among European citizens. “Jean-Claude Juncker’s investment plan was presented less than a month after the Commission took office. That demonstrates a political change of pace. The Commission is showing willingness to take on its responsibilities. This is what we expect from such an authority,” Charles de Marcilly said.
The Schuman Foundation’s representative added that “the last six months have proved that the will exists to take the bull by the horns and identify the real levers of economic growth, like the budget, structural reform, investment and the standardisation of fiscal regulation”.
Economy and immigration priority issues
The survey shows that the European Union’s economic situation is clearly the number one worry for European citizens; 46% believe “the worst is still to come”, while only 22% are optimistic about the next year. In spite of the prevailing economic pessimism, public opinion on the future of the euro is less bleak, with 56% across the EU and 67% in the eurozone supporting the single currency. “We see that the euro escapes the worst of the criticism. People have confidence in the protective role of the single currency,” Charles de Marcilly said.
The other issue that appears to provide a rallying point for public opinion is immigration. 71% of EU citizens would be in favour of a common European migration policy. “Faced with the dramatic images of migrants in the Mediterranean, Europeans realise that we need a coordinated response to the question of migration. The response cannot be national. This is a good sign.”
The majority of EU citizens (52%) view immigration between the member states in a positive light, but this figure falls to 37% where non-EU citizens are concerned.
The European Institutions will now have to show that their policies bring concrete results if they are to retain the confidence of the citizens. “Nothing can be taken for granted. The Institutions will be judged on their ability to bring economic growth. We need to see results so that the next Eurobarometer will be even better,” Charles de Marcilly concluded.
The powers of the European Parliament have been steadily growing since the Lisbon Treaty of 2009. For the first time, the results of the European elections in May 2014 directly influenced the appointment of the European Commission, with a majority of the 751 MEPs electing Jean-Claude Juncker as head of the executive on 15 July.
Turnout in the European elections has fallen year on year since the first elections in 1979, reflecting the electorate's lack of interest in the European Union. Overall turnout stabilised at 43.1% in May 2014, with a slight increase in France.
- Eurobarometer survey - December 2014