With the European elections opening next week, a new survey shows that most Europeans believe the crisis is not over yet and that “the worst is still to come”, although the trend is slightly improving.
A Eurobarometer study released by the European Commission on Monday (12 May) shows Europeans are still depressed about their future.
44% Europeans believe “the impact of the crisis has already reached its peak” while 47% believe “the worst is still to come”.
Looking on the bright side, this is the most optimistic polling result since the question was first put to citizens in May-June 2009. Optimism about the future is the highest in Romania (76%), Malta (71%), Poland (70%) and in the EU’s newest member state, Croatia (67%).
The EU has struggled with low levels of optimism with Eurobarometer polls showing record low levels of trust last year.
With trust levels still low, the upcoming European elections on 22-25 May are predicted to herald a record number of eurosceptic MEPs in the next EU Parliament. The French Front national (FN), UK Independence Party (UKIP) or Italian Five Star Movement (M5S) are three examples of eurosceptic parties which could gain more than 20 seats in next week’s vote.
In countries like Greece and Hungary, openly neo-Nazi parties such as Golden Dawn or Jobbik are also expected to win several seats.
The success of Eurosceptic parties roughly matches levels of optimism across EU member states: Greece, Italy, France, the UK and Hungary are all in the top ten of countries with the lowest levels of optimism about the EU’s future.
When asked which issues citizens consider most important for the EU to tackle, ‘unemployment’ and ‘the economic situation’ are on people’s minds most often. ‘Public finances’ is also mentioned as one of the two main challenges by over 10% of the population in every EU country.
Other issues relate to specific national sentiments, which are often reflected in election campaigns. In Malta and Bulgaria, immigration is considered a priority by 35% and 30% respectively. In the UK, 20% of respondents place immigration in their top two.
Sweden has the highest level of concern for climate and environment. 22% of Swedish respondents put climate change in their top two, and 17% the environment.
EU membership hot potato in Cyprus, UK
Respondents were also asked whether their country “can better face the future outside the EU”.
Cypriots and Britons have the highest percentage of people agreeing with this statement. In Cyprus, over half of the people either “totally agreed” or “tended to agree” (51%). In the case of the UK, that figure remained below 50% of the total population, at 47%.
Cyprus has suffered from a severe crisis, early last year, when the country asked for help from the European Commission, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the so-called Troika. The terms stipulated by the Troika caused a public outcry amongst the Cypriot society.
In the case of the UK, the issue of an in/out referendum has been on the table for several years. A referendum was repeatedly promised by the UK’s ruling Conservative Party of prime minister David Cameron, after re-negotiations on what European cooperation should look like in the future.
The issue is a hot topic in the EU election campaign, with UKIP polling at 31.9% of the votes. UKIP campaigns on the promise to get the UK out of the European Union, known as a ‘Brexit’. The new poll shows that, if a referendum were organised today, the outcome would be tight.
Last month, the centre-right frontrunner for the position of EU Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, promised he would renegotiate Britain’s membership if he made it to the EU executive. “No reasonable politician could neglect we have to find solutions for the political concerns in the UK,” Juncker said, adding: “We have to do this to keep UK in.”
Eurobarometer surveys regularly gauge trust amongst European citizens and poll questions related to European identity or optimism about the EU's future. Since the economic crisis hit several EU countries, the levels of trust have dropped significantly.
The drop in trust is said to have benefitted eurosceptic parties, who are blossoming in many European countries. Analysts have argued that the next Parliament could have a much higher number of eurosceptic or populist MEPs, even if they have a smaller chance of forming a coherent bloc.