Highly Illogical, Captain

Europeans want more Europe, but less Brussels

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Blurred vision on Brussels. Source: AP

The gap between perception and reality continues to plague the European Union’s governing institutions. According to the latest YouGov poll for Handelsblatt Global, the level of trust in the EU’s top institutions is what could be described as destructively low across key European Union members.

In France, Germany and Britain around half of all respondents said they did not trust the European Commission, the body which manages the EU’s day-to-day business. And they had only slightly more confidence in the European Parliament, which brings together 751 directly elected representatives from the 28 member states to make continent-wide legislation. It was only in the Scandinavian countries – Sweden, Denmark and Finland – that levels of trust in the EU’s management was slightly higher.

The majority of the European citizens surveyed in late August also said they would like the EU to return some of their nation’s sovereign powers. The British – 40 percent – were the most enthusiastic about that idea. Only the Germans wanted to give more of their powers to the EU – but even in Europe’s largest economy the majority was thin, with 35 percent liking that idea and 32 percent against.

More EU, please

But the poll of almost 7,000 people in Britain, Germany, France, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway, also reflected some troubling inconsistencies. While northern Europeans don’t trust the EU’s managing bodies, they also want more Europe. Yes, even the British.

When interviewees were asked how they felt about things like a common European foreign policy, free trade and their right to work in EU nations other than their own, they were overwhelmingly positive. Around three-quarters of northern Europeans support the idea of free trade within the EU.

Some subjects were more fraught. A common agricultural policy and the idea of a European army divided opinions, yet around 40 percent were still enthusiastic about the latter. Given current media coverage around some issues, it is perhaps no surprise that the currency union and open borders inside the EU drew as many negatives as positives.

Nonetheless, an overall pattern was clear: Most respondents had only nice things to say about their fellow member states, most supported their own nation’s membership and largely considered themselves more than just British, French or German; they also thought of themselves as Europeans.

More departures from EU expected

All this makes it clear that voters want more of the positives that being part of the EU brings and they still like the concept – but they don’t much fancy the management.

That’s a problem. Because in reality, the one thing is obviously not possible without the other. It’s yet another indication of the need for Brussels to better communicate the mission, and the importance, of what the European Parliament and the European Commission actually do for Europe.

And that task is important because of two other worrying trends in the YouGov poll: The majority of those polled were “fairly” or “very” pessimistic about the EU’s future. And at the same time as they liked being part of the EU, most respondents – with the exception of those from Finland – were also betting on more national departures from the union after Brexit.

Cathrin Schaer is an editor with Handelsblatt Global. To contact the author: schaer.handelsblatt@gmail.com

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