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Disillusioned Europe

Disillusioned Europe

Whatever happens with UK, euro centralisation unlikely

by Sam Fossum in London

Fri 17 Jun 2016

As Britons prepare to vote on 23 June over the UK’s European Union membership, a Pew Research Centre survey finds euroscepticism growing across Europe. People across the continent are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the EU’s handling of key issues.

Whether Britain chooses to leave or remain, the Pew survey makes clear that further European centralisation would be deeply unpopular. A ‘United States of Europe’ belongs to the realms of unreality.

Europeans firmly believe a ‘Brexit’ would harm the EU. Excluding Britain, a median of 70% of the nations surveyed believe it would be bad for the EU if the UK decided to leave – 16% say it would be a good thing. Given the EU’s current unpopularity, a vote for Brexit might trigger a domino effect that unravels the EU.

The discussion around Britain’s referendum makes clear that the EU is in limbo between the contrasting perspectives of a centralised federation and a more devolved trading union. This lack of unity of purpose is at the heart of the European problem.

Across the 10 EU countries surveyed, a median of 51% have a favourable view of the Union. In six out of the 10 countries more people want power devolved back to national parliaments. Two-thirds of Greeks and British, 68% and 65% respectively, want some power returned to their national governments. Less than a quarter of the public in seven of the countries believe in greater EU centralisation. In Britain only 6% of respondents want more power for Brussels. The highest level of support for a more centralised Europe is 34%, in France.

Sampling 10,491 respondents in 10 EU nations – the UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Italy, Spain, Hungary and Poland – the Pew survey was conducted between 4 April and 12 May 2016. These countries account for 80% of the EU’s population and 82% of its GDP.

In the past five years public support for the EU has fluctuated, falling sharply after tepid economic growth in 2012-13 and briefly rebounding in 2014-15. The 2016 Pew survey shows support for the European project falling once again.

The EU’s staunchest support comes from Poland and Hungary, where 72% and 61% of people respectively support the institution. Elsewhere support is lacklustre, with 27% of the Greeks, 38% of the French and 47% of the Spanish viewing the EU favourably.

Since 2015 EU 'favourability’ has dropped 17% in France, 16% in Spain and 8% in Germany. Down 7% from last year, 44% of the British view the EU favourably. Higher than the rest of the UK, 53% of Scots have a positive opinion of Brussels.

In every country surveyed overwhelming majorities are dissatisfied with how Brussels has handled Europe’s migrant crisis. In Greece, Sweden, Italy and Spain more than three-quarters of the population disapprove. The EU’s strongest support for how it has dealt with the refugee crisis is 31% in the Netherlands.

The economy is another area where people across the EU believe it is performing poorly. Nine out of ten Greeks disapprove of the EU’s job in dealing with European economic challenges. More than two-thirds of Italians, French and Spanish similarly disapprove. In the UK and Sweden more than 50% of people are dissatisfied. Nowhere does a majority believe the EU has handled the economy effectively. Its strongest approval on economic issues is 47% in both Poland and Germany.

Central to the British debate on whether or not to leave the EU is the issue of greater or less European centralisation. Even though David Cameron, the British prime minister, secured assurances that the promise of ‘ever-closer union’ will not apply to the UK, the EU’s future direction remains unknown.

Sam Fossum is Publishing and Social Media Assistant at OMFIF. This article is coupled with today's EU referendum article by Andrew Lilico.

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