A large majority of Europeans approve of the EU’s regional policy focus on helping the bloc’s poorest regions catch up with the rest of the EU, although citizens in the eastern and central European member states are more aware of the policy’s benefits, according to a recent poll.
According to the Eurobarometer survey, published on 7 March, 60% of the population in the countries that joined the EU after 2004 are aware of the support received in the framework of the regional policy.
This trend is only contradicted in Bulgaria and Hungary, where just 35% and 43% of citizens know about the subsidies. Identifying a general pattern, the Eurobarometer report stresses that “the greater the number of regions eligible for receiving support from the EU’s structural funds over the past years were, in a particular country, then the higher was the awareness level among that country’s respondents of EU regional support”.
The most notable exception is Austria. The relatively wealthy central European country does not benefit directly from the EU regional funds, but two thirds of its citizens know about them.
The Eurobarometer also indicates that most Europeans approve of the way EU funds are managed. Eight out of ten respondents said it was a good thing that regional policy gives member states and regions the right to decide their own strategies. They also welcomed the implication of local business associations and trade unions.
According to the survey, citizens almost unanimously believe that educational, health and social issues, as well as the protection of the environment, should be the top priorities of EU regional policy, followed by business development and infrastructure improvement. Information and communication technologies were seen as the least-pressing policy area.
As for the future, a majority of respondents expected climate change to be the top priority for the years to come, saying regional policy funds should go towards helping regions adapt to this new challenge. Globalisation and the demographic challenge were also frequently mentioned as areas for for future action by the EU as part of its regional policy.