Attitudes to Europe on the eve of the 2019 European Elections

New Ipsos global study shows nearly half of people in 10 European countries think things across the EU are on the wrong track – but less pessimistic than in 2017. 44% say they are not very interested in the upcoming European Parliament elections. Worldwide, half think the European project as a whole has made Europe stronger.

The author(s)

  • Gideon Skinner Public Affairs, UK
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Half of Europeans across 10 countries believe things across the European Union are on the wrong track, according to a new Ipsos poll. The new online poll conducted amongst adults aged under 75 in 28 countries worldwide, including Belgium, France, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Spain, Hungary, Poland, Serbia and Sweden in Europe, shows 48% say things across the European Union are off on the wrong track, although this is an improvement from 57% two years ago. This compares with just over a quarter (28%) saying things are heading in the right direction (up 7 points) and another quarter (25%) who say they’re unsure.  The most pessimistic countries are Italy (57% wrong track), France (54%), and Britain (52%), while Poland (40%) and Spain (41%) are less negative.  Nevertheless, with the exception of Germany each country has become less pessimistic than in 2017.    

The European Union today

Furthermore, the survey also shows that nearly half of Europeans (45% on average across the ten countries) believe that the rules of the EU are rigged to advantage the rich and powerful, with aspiring member state Serbia (65%) most likely to believe this followed by Belgium and Italy (both 50%) – those in Poland and Sweden are least likely to think this (both 38%). Half (52%) also believe that the leaders of the EU don’t care about people like them with Serbia (58%), Belgium (57%) and France (56%) most likely to believe this and Germany (48%) and Poland (47%) least likely.

The survey also shows:

  • Less than half of Europeans say they know much about the advantages of EU membership (42%) – although even fewer feel they know much about its disadvantages.  Britons are the most likely to feel well informed about both the advantages and disadvantages of EU membership – the French and Spanish the least. 
  • Europeans are less negative than they were in 2017 as to whether the European Union made the effects of the economic crisis better or worse. Now just one in four say the EU made the crisis worse in their country (26%, compared with 36% in 2017); 27% think the EU mitigated the impact of the crisis. Hungarians are most likely to think the EU helped reduce the effects of the economic crisis (49%), while Italians are most likely to say it made things worse (47%).

The European Parliament Elections

With the European Parliamentary elections on the horizon, the new Ipsos poll reveals half (50%) of the public in the nine EU countries say they are interested in the upcoming elections (44% say they’re not). Italy, Poland and Hungary are the countries with the most interest (65%, 63%, and 56% respectively) while the French, Belgians and the British are among the least interested (44%, 41%, and 36% respectively). On the elections the survey also finds:

  • Europeans are split on whether they think anti-European movement parties will win the elections, with roughly a quarter (23%) saying they will win and another quarter (24%) saying they won’t – the number saying they will win jumps to 42% in Italy.
  • One in three (35%) agree that in the European elections it’s too risky to elect new political parties with radical ideas for change (21% disagree) with Belgium (41%) and Germany (39%) finding it most risky.
  • Support for traditional parties however is also low with just 16% saying voters should stick with political parties who have been in power before (35% disagree).  Hungary (49%), Italy (39%), Belgium (39%) and France (38%) are most negative towards established parties.   
  • Overall just half (51%) of Europeans correctly know that members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are directly elected by the citizens of each member state they represent.  Hungarians (65%) and Polish citizens (63%) are most likely to know this while Germans (43%) and Belgians (41%) are least likely.

Overall, there is little enthusiasm for the way democracy works in the EU, and often even less for the way it works in people’s own countries.  Across the ten European nations, on average people are largely split on their satisfaction levels with the way democracy works in the EU with three in ten (29%) saying they’re satisfied and 31% saying they’re dissatisfied (40% say they don’t know). Those in Poland (46%) are the most satisfied with EU democracy, while those in Italy (25%), Britain (25%) and France (19%) are the least. Despite low levels of satisfaction with democracy in the EU, levels of satisfaction within the public’s respective countries is often lower. A quarter (26%) say they’re satisfied with how democracy works in their country while 44% say they are dissatisfied. Sweden (41%) and Germany (36%) are the most satisfied with how democracy works in their country with Serbia (17%) and Hungary (16%) the least satisfied. 

Has the European project been a success?

The new Ipsos survey also asked participants to take a long view about the success of the European project since 1957.  Across all 28 countries worldwide, people think the European project has had more successes than failures (by 29% to 15%), through since 2017 there has been a rise in those thinking the successes and failures balance out (from 26% to 32%).  Poland (43%) and Hungary (40%) are the most positive nations within the EU, with Belgium (19%), Italy (18%) and France (17%) being the least.

Taking everything into account, half worldwide (51%) think the European project has made Europe stronger today than it would have been without it and 14% think that it’s made Europe weaker.  Within the EU, those in Poland (62%) and Sweden (58%) are most likely to say the EU has made Europe stronger while those in Italy (37%) and France (31%) are least likely to say this.  Countries in the EU on average though tend to be a bit more critical than those in the rest of the world (by 19% to 11%); in particular India, South Africa and countries in Latin America are more positive about the impact of the European project.

Other perceptions on the EU’s success found in the survey include:

  • Europeans are also positive on balance about the impact of the European project on their own countries, although not quite to the same extent.  Two in five (41%) within Europe thinks that the project has made their own countries stronger than they otherwise would be. Poland (62%) and Hungary (45%) are the most convinced while fewer believe this in Italy (28%), France (25%) and aspiring member state of Serbia (24%).
  • Europeans recognise the benefits the European project has made to ease of travel and trade between EU member states. Nearly three quarters (73%) say the EU has made a positive contribution with ease of travel across Europe, while two-thirds (66%) say it’s made a positive impact on trade between European nations and 60% say the same regarding the range of goods and services available. A majority (59%) of Europeans also agree on the positive contribution the project has made to the peaceful relationships between the European nations.
  • Europeans however are less convinced about the contribution the project has made towards improving standards of living and levels of immigration.  Two in five (41%) think it has improved the standards of living in their country, with a big variation between countries such as Poland and Spain on the one hand (67% and 52% respectively), versus Italy and Spain on the other (just 26% and 22%).  Europeans are most critical about the impact of the European project on levels of immigration they are comfortable with – four in ten (38%) say it has had a negative impact, higher in France (43%), Italy (44%), Sweden (44%) and Belgium (46%).

Looking to the future

Europeans think the EU’s most important priorities over the coming years should be:

  1. reducing poverty and social inequality (46% and down 5 points from 2017)
  2. fighting organised crime and terrorism (37% and down 7 points)
  3. protecting the environment (37% and up 11 points)
  4. creating economic growth and jobs (36% and down 8 points)
  5. reducing illegal immigration from outside the EU (36% and down 5 points).
In total 19, 531 adults aged 18-74 in the US, Israel, Canada, China, Malaysia, South Africa and Turkey, and ages 16-74 in all other countries, were interviewed. Approximately 1000+ individuals participated on a country by country basis via the Ipsos Online Panel, with the exception of Argentina, Belgium, Chile, Hungary, India, Israel, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden and Turkey, where each have a sample approximately 500+. Interviews were conducted between March 22nd – April 5th 2019. 15 of the 27 countries surveyed online generate nationally representative samples in their countries (Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Poland, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, and United States). Brazil, China, Chile, India, Israel, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Turkey produce a national sample that is more urban & educated, and with higher incomes than their fellow citizens.  We refer to these respondents as “Upper Deck Consumer Citizens”.  They are not nationally representative of their country.

The author(s)

  • Gideon Skinner Public Affairs, UK