Europeans see EU going in the wrong direction: Survey

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Two weeks before EU leaders meet to discuss measures to tackle record youth unemployment, a majority of Europeans say things are going in the wrong direction. If leaders fail to restore trust in the European project, voters might slam current leadership at the next elections, a survey shows.

The concern that there is a democratic deficit in the EU and a growing disconnect between the citizens and their institutions is now widely shared across the EU, according to the poll, published by Gallup on Wednesday (5 June).

The survey, which covers only six countries – Germany, France, Poland, Denmark, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom – finds that a minority of people say things are going in the right direction (17% in France, 23% in the UK and 34% in the Netherlands).

When asked whether young people would have more or less opportunities in the future, the majority of those surveyed (52% in Poland, 55% in Germany, 72% in France) said less rather than more.

“The results of the survey show not only the democratic deficit, but the deficit of delivering on the promises,” Gallup Europe Managing Director Robert Manchin said at the presentation of the survey.

The online survey of 750 people was conducted in May.

French vs German leadership

Only a minority of people in every country survey said they approved of the performance of the French leadership in the EU. The French themselves were the most critical of their own leadership, with 51% saying they were dissatisfied.

A better score was fared by Germany, whose leadership gets a higher rate of approval, both in Germany (54%) and other countries (43-48%), except for the UK where 38% of those surveyed approved of Germany’s leadership.

Europe’s fiscal and economic crisis has however had an impact on European society and politics at all levels, experts at Gallup said. This change could influence the EU elections May 2014.

Shift in political landscape

Gallup experts say that the malêtre perceived across Europe might result on a lower turnout at the next EU elections.

The turnout for the EU election has been declining since the Parliament was first elected in 1979, and hit its lowest point in 2009, when only 43% of Europeans went to cast their ballot.

Even if European parties will nominate a candidate for European Commission president, precisely to boost the number of voters, there might be a stronger mobilisation of voters in favour of radical nationalist and anti-EU parties , which could result in a drastic change in in the landscape of European democracy, stressed Manchin.

The Gallup poll, however, shows that those approving EU’s leadership are generally more likely to express desire to vote in EU elections, if they were to be held next week. The only exception was the UK where 74% of those who disapprove and 70% of those who support EU leadership say they would vote.

Whether there is a sense among voters that they will go to vote to change the course of European politics, it’s too early to say a year before elections take place.

But experts concur that compared to the 2009 elections, the EU is now a leitmotiv in many national elections.

“Nearly every national election since the onset of the crisis in early 2010 has been fought on the issue of austerity and the consequent relations with the EU. Far from European elections being national elections these days, national elections have started to become European elections,” said experts Simon Hix and Christophe Crombez in a recent op-ed.

National elections are not the best way to change EU policies as one vote against austerity in one member states does not affect policy positions across Europe, they added.

“Voters can change EU policies though, through their votes in European Parliament elections rather than national elections. European Parliament elections matter and not only because the majority in the next House will play a key role setting the rules in the single market and the eurozone, but also as it will ‘elect’ the next Commission president,” Hix and Crombez added.

Background

The 2014 European elections will be the first to be held under the Lisbon Treaty, which sought to enhance the role of citizens as political actors in the EU.

The Lisbon Treaty also strengthens the powers of the European Parliament, consolidating its role as co-legislator and giving it additional responsibility: it elects the president of the Commission on the basis of a proposal by the European Council taking into account the results of the European elections (Article 17.7) of the Treaty on European Union.

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