French people convinced by EU but poorly motivated to vote

Voter turnout for European elections has been steadily declining since 1979. [Shutterstock]

Support for the EU is at its highest level for 26 years. However, this enthusiasm is not reflected in the projections for turnout at the next European elections. EURACTIV France reports.

Is this a “Brexit effect” in action? While the British are currently in the process of leaving the European Union, French people have never felt so attached to it.

According to a survey published on 17 October, 64% of the French people surveyed said they believed the EU benefits the country and 61% saw belonging to this community as a “good thing”.

The figures for across the 28 member states are similar, at 68% and 62% on average, respectively, according to the study of 27,000 Europeans aged 16 and over. Such high levels had not been recorded since the Maastricht treaty was adopted in 1992.

Brexit clearly plays a key role in this resurgence in popularity. Given the difficulties and uncertainties which the United Kingdom faces in having to leave the EU on 29 March 2019, the rest of the EU can more easily assess what member state status brings in concrete terms.

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In France, the level of positive opinions on EU membership is six points higher than the last survey conducted in April 2018. However, among the founding countries, the gap remains significant. 81% of Germans and 78% of Dutch people have positive views about EU membership.

Only Italy fares less well (42%), at a time when the standoff over its budget is on the verge of moving up a notch and immigration management is dividing opinion.

East-West disparity on climate change

Another feature of the May 2019 European elections is that the voters in the various countries will not be taking a position on the same topics as they do not have the same expectations.

While immigration is the central issue in Italy, it is only the fourth most important topic in France, far behind the fight against youth unemployment and terrorism, and particularly the issue of climate change. The latter has climbed 14 points to become French voters’ third priority concern.

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Climate change is the most important concern in the Netherlands and the second most important in Germany, while in the Eastern European countries, it lags far behind economic and security issues.

The importance attached to this fight marks a clear dividing line between, on the one hand, Northern and Western European countries, and, on the other, Southern and Eastern ones.

Abstention fears

However, low turnout remains the main concern, feared by both European and national leaders. Turnout has been steadily declining since the first election in 1979.

In 2014, only 42% of voters from the 28 member states went to the polls, a figure equal to that observed in France. According to the survey, 58% of French voters do not know when the European elections are taking place and only 42% say they are interested in the vote.

These are alarming figures with just over seven months to go until the elections. The clear lack of interest stems from the following two figures: 83% of French people do not trust the political parties and barely 20% have a “positive image” of the European Parliament, which is the lowest total in the European Union.

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