Public opinion in the EU15 about enlargement

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Public opinion in the EU15 about enlargement

Progress in the enlargement negotiations will be measured once again at the Seville summit next 22-23 June. As to the 31 chapters under negotiation, the end of the Spanish presidency appears being rather successful as the last update of the temporarily closed chapters shows*. In the same way, the Commission will present its first detailed report on the administrative capacities of the applicant countries and its action plans intended to reinforce them. On the budgetary side, thefeuille de routefixed at the Nice summit is likely to suffer from a small delay. The joint positions of the 15 on enlargement costs will be adopted in autumn only, in particular because of the sensible issue of direct agricultural payments.

The relative dramatization these last weeks about the finalization of the process at the end of 2002 is quite conform to its historical, political and economic challenges. It has, at least, a double merit: first, to allow the negotiators to find the best compromises in order to ensure the durable success of a rather irreversible move which will take decades to be digested; then, to allow the public opinion of the EU15 to understand the extent of the challenge and to forge a clear opinion on costs and benefits of this new enlargement. Indeed, from the last Euro-barometer survey three main lessons clearly arise from the 50 pages devoted to the enlargement:

  • The Europeans are little informed and little involved: 83% of the EU population do not think being well informed on enlargement matters against just 1% very well informed and 12% well informed. Consequently, it is not surprising to find 1% of the people who say that they feel completely involved, against 57% not at all and 27% very little.
  • For the most part, the Europeans are rather favorable on the principle, yet quite careful on the details of the enlargement: surprisingly, only 14% declared being opposed to any enlargement against 65% favorable for certain countries only (44%) or for all the countries willing to join the Union (21%). Only 15% have no opinion.
  • The motivations are political rather than economic: only 1 polled person out of 10 thinks that he will be better off after the enlargement, primarily because of the advantages of a bigger market, and an equal proportion that life will be worse (risks of an increasing unemployment are mentioned first). On the other hand, 64% consider that the change of the EU scale will not have much impact on their life. Actually, their main motivation is a political one (unification of the European continent) whereas economic advantages seem less obvious, in particular in border countries.
  • An uneven and still loosely perceived cost/benefit assessment: see table aside that illustrates fairly well the probable debate over the next months. On average, 40% of the Europeans think that the benefits of enlargement will overcome the disadvantages, but 27% think the opposite while one third has no opinion for the moment. It has, therefore, become crucial to give further information about the expected economic benefits especially as French public opinion appears to be most divided on this point and is characterized by the smallest proportion of those who expect benefits (28%) as well as by the most negative balance (-10%, before Finland). The rate of “no opinion”, however, still being rather high and culminating around the EU15 average of 34%, here plays a decisive role.

For more analyses see the

enlargement website of DREE.  

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