Europe breathed a sigh of relief when Dutch voters, turning out in heavy numbers in mid-March, rejected the far-right candidacy of firebrand Geert Wilders.
The results were a blow to Mr. Wilders’ 11-year-old anti-immigrant, anti-EU party, and possibly a warning for populist candidates such as the right-wing Alternative for Germany party and Marine Le Pen in France about their chances in elections this year.
While Germany’s elections will take place on September 24, Europe will now initially be looking to France where citizens choose a new president in two rounds of voting in April and May. Ms. Le Pen, the leader of the far-right Front National, wants France to leave the E.U. as well as the euro single-currency zone.
Will Frexit now follow Brexit? According to a new quarterly survey by the online polling firm YouGov conducted for Handelsblatt Global, there is reason to be optimistic.
The poll found that in France, 51 percent favor remaining a member of the European Union as opposed to 31 percent who would vote to leave if there was a referendum on the country’s membership. These figures are up significantly from the 45-35 split in YouGov’s poll three months earlier.
Germans backed the EU by an even wider margin of 63-21 percent. Denmark, Sweden and Finland all want to stay in the bloc by wide margins as well, while Norway – which is not an EU member and twice voted against joining the bloc – remains sharply opposed. A narrow margin in Britain – 44-42 percent – still prefer their country to leave the bloc, according to the poll.
Stephan Shakespeare, the head of YouGov, told Handelsblatt Global that things were moving in a positive direction for the EU. “The doom and gloom has subsided a bit and there seems to be a little confidence coming back to the EU project,” Mr. Shakespeare explained.
There’s definitely a sense of relief in Europe, he added. “The fact that all the numbers are going in the right direction suggest that the negative effect of the Brexit vote has subsided.”
That doesn’t mean that voters believe Europe is on the right track. A clear majority in every surveyed country remains pessimistic about the future of the EU and consider it likely other countries will also be leaving the bloc in the next 10 years – even though these numbers too have slightly shifted in favor of the EU in comparison to last quarter.
An EU Convergence Index developed by YouGov for Handelsblatt Global rose from 40 to 41 across the seven countries – in other words, still pessimistic on the whole. The index, based on a series of questions surrounding support for EU membership, European identity and deeper integration, saw its sharpest jumps in Germany (up to 54 from 50) and France (up from 43 to 45).
The mood in trans-Atlantic relations by contrast has soured mightily just 73 days into Donald Trump’s presidency. Europe remains distinctly skeptical of the new US administration.
“The verdict is very negative,” Mr. Shakespeare said. A majority of respondents in all seven European countries, ranging from 61 percent in Great Britain to 76 percent in Denmark, said they believe Mr. Trump will make the world a “more dangerous” place.
Many who were previously undecided on the question if Mr. Trump will make the world a safer or more scary place have now moved to a more negative attitude, Mr. Shakespeare pointed out.
The Trump administration has done little to sooth Europeans’ fears of a wider conflict. In a “Cold War Barometer” created for Handelsblatt Global, YouGov found that people in Europe’s three leading economies believe a major conflict between global powers is more likely than it is not.
Asked to rate on a sliding scale between 0 and 10 whether the world is at peace or on the brink of a “major war,” the survey found Britain, France and Germany pessimistic with an average rating of 6. Scandinavian countries were slightly more optimistic, with an average rating closer to 5.
Is this an indication of real nervousness about the current stability of the world? In comparison to the poll numbers from last quarter, sentiments in Europe haven’t actually changed that much. But as Mr. Shakespeare pointed out: “I already thought the numbers were high last time. People still don’t feel very secure.”
The fears of global conflict still partly stem from the spread of terrorism. Asked if they expect a terror attack in their countries over the next 12 months, a clear majority in Britain (68 percent), Germany (61 percent) and France (78 percent) all said an attack was “very” or “fairly” likely.
The poll numbers clearly show how support for the United States is continually shrinking in Europe. This is particularly noticeable in Germany and France where overall support has swung towards a negative view of the world’s largest economy.
In France, 42 percent of people now have a “very” or “fairly” favorable view of the United States as opposed to 51 percent who have an overall unfavorable view, marking the most significant change from the 53-36 split leaning towards a positive attitude in the last survey.
In Germany, only 40 percent still had a favorable view but 49 percent had an unfavorable view. This also marks a distinct shift from last quarter’s numbers when 48 percent had a favorable as opposed to 40 percent with a negative view.
Meanwhile, Germany’s popularity in Europe remains largely unchanged compared to last quarter’s poll with clear majorities in all surveyed countries expressing favorable views.
Looking to Europe’s neighbor in the east, the role of China in world affairs is still viewed negatively by major western countries.
A majority in nearly all surveyed countries expressed an unfavorable view towards China, which has taken less of a military role in Europe over the past year but has used its economic clout to acquire a number or companies in Europe. Finland remains the only mild exception on China, with 49 percent seeing the country favorably.
The YouGov survey was carried out online. The poll surveyed 1,000 people in eight countries – Germany, France, Britain, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway and China – and adjusted the results for demographic and political leanings. The group was chosen from 185,000 people who agreed to take part in periodic online interviews for YouGov. The interviews were carried out between February 17 and March 3.
Daniel Tost is an editor with Handelsblatt Global. To contact the author: tost@