LONDON – Five years after the financial crisis first hit Europe, citizens of European Union member states are growing increasingly wary of the body that was supposed to provide them with economic benefits. Public confidence in the E.U. has dropped to staggering new lows, according to an annual survey conducted by the nonpartisan, Washington-based Pew Research Center.
“The European Union is the new sick man of Europe,” according to Pew’s report of the survey results. “The effort over the past half century to create a more united Europe is now the principal casualty of the euro crisis. The European project now stands in disrepute across much of Europe.”
Support for the EU has taken a huge hit over the past year, falling in five of the eight E.U. countries surveyed by Pew. Overall, the E.U.'s favorability rating has fallen to just 45 percent, compared with 60 percent in 2012. The results of the study, for which Pew polled 7,646 people in March, suggest that many E.U. voters may oppose any further transfer of power to European Union institutions.
The report paints a bleak picture of the protracted economic crisis and its dispiriting effect on European public opinion. Nowhere has public confidence in the E.U. eroded more quickly over the past year than in France. In 2013, only 41 percent of the French surveyed said that they had a favorable impression of the European Union compared to 60 percent in 2012. This shift has revealed a stark contrast with neighboring Germany, where 60 percent continue to favor the union. France’s faltering economy and high levels of unemployment has left the country dejected and at odds with Germany.
The poll found that, in addition to losing faith in the idea of unity, Europeans also felt let down by their leaders.
“Compounding their doubts about the Brussels-based European Union, Europeans are losing faith in the capacity of their own national leaders to cope with the economy’s woes,” Pew reported. “In most countries surveyed, fewer people today than a year ago think their national executive is doing a good job dealing with the euro crisis.”
This was particularly the case in France, where 67 percent think that President Francois Hollande is failing to tackle the major economic challenges that the country faces. Citizens in most countries surveyed thought that their respective leaders were performing poorly, though German Chancellor Angela Merkel remains relatively popular at home. This is the case abroad as well: Merkel enjoys support for her handling of the European economic crisis in five of the eight nations surveyed.
One of the few positive notes from the study is public support for the euro currency, which was still quite strong across all member nations polled. In Greece, Spain, Germany, Italy and France, majorities of more than 60 percent remain in favor of using the currency.
In one of the most insightful aspects of the survey, Pew surveyed popular stereotypes by asking participants how they felt about their fellow Europeans. Both Greeks and Germans see themselves as the most trustworthy and compassionate, but the least arrogant. Most telling was the fact that each nation voted for themselves as the most compassionate, whereas they saw Germany as the least compassionate.