Just 42% of Europeans say they trust the European Union, according to a new opinion poll, down six percentage points in just six months.
The survey also found that fewer than half of Europe's citizens see their country's membership of the EU as a positive thing, but the European Commission is clinging to the positive elements of the report, particularly on economic governance.
Officials are presenting the new Eurobarometer as an endorsement of greater budget oversight from Brussels, pointing to the 75% of Europeans who said stronger coordination between member states will help weather the economic storm.
The research was done in May at the peak of negotiations on the €720 billion eurozone rescue fund (EURACTIV 10/05/10). Ironically, it reveals that Slovaks (89%) are the most positively disposed towards an EU solution to the crisis – despite Slovakia's parliament recently pulling out of the EU-IMF bailout fund for Greece.
Citizens clamouring for 'more Europe'?
A Commission spokesperson said the results show that citizens are asking for "more Europe", adding that the news comes as a boost ahead of next month's informal EU summit, which will focus on economic governance.
Notwithstanding the positive spin from Brussels, a deeper analysis of the report shows a crisis of faith in the Union.
Just 49% of citizens view membership of the European Union as a good thing, while 47% said they do not trust the EU. Even prospective members have gone cold on the European project, with just 27% of Turks saying they trust Brussels.
For the first time, the Eurobarometer included Iceland, which is currently in talks to join the EU. A startling 35% said they trusted the Union, while only 29% thought that Iceland would benefit from becoming a member.
Eurosceptic think-tank OpenEurope said it was a major stretch to interpret the survey positively. In particular, the Commission has come in for criticism for suggesting that citizens back European economic governance.
"The question doesn't even mention the EU institutions or even 'governance', only a vague reference to stronger coordination among member states, which is something different," said Mats Persson, director of OpenEurope.
Europeans fear for their future
The future, according to Europeans, is bleak. Most (55%) believe the worst of the economic crisis is yet to come, although there is an acceptance that deficit-reduction measures cannot wait.
Rising prices are a major worry for a large chunk of European society, the survey found. 36% admit they have difficulties paying bills, a problem that could be exacerbated by inflation and interest rate hikes.
A strong 71% of those surveyed agreed that reforms which benefit future generations should be pursued even if it means sacrifices for the present generation. However, just 46% say they are personally willing to reduce their living standards in order to guarantee the future of the next generations.