eupinions echo 15 Oct, 2020

Europeans view UN in favourable light but are sceptical of its effectiveness

A clear majority speaks out for more international cooperation

eupinions echo Europeans view UN in favourable light but are sceptical of its effectiveness

Every week, surveys from all across the EU tell us what Europeans are thinking, feeling and talking about. In our segment, eupinions echo, we collect these voices and play them back to you. Each week, we highlight one survey of particular interest in a short blogpost and share daily new survey results via our website and our twitter channel.


The past half decade has been shaped politically in large parts by the sudden surge of populist-right movements in many countries across the West. While this political phenomenon can best be observed overseas in the US presidency of Donald Trump and the UK's 2016 decision to leave the European Union, it has also become apparent in many continental European countries, such as with the high voting support for Marine Le Pen's (then) Front Nacional in France or the AfD in Germany. One of the core features of all these populist political movements is their promise of “putting one’s own country first”. And indeed, listening to the news or some parts of the public, it can often be all too easy to mistake this as the prevalent political ideology of our time. This, however, would be a mistake. As a new study by the PEW Research Center now shows, in line with our own newest eupinions trends data, there is still a clear majority across the European population that advocates for more, not less, international cooperation and political integration.


The Pew study, which surveyed people from 8 EU member states as well as the UK, found a widespread willingness to cooperate with other countries. Across the 9 European countries, an average of 61% of respondents agreed that, when dealing with major international issues, their country should "take into account other countries' interests even if it means making compromises". Perhaps surprisingly, this sentiment was actually most prominent among UK respondents, where 69% of people supported this belief, while, at 50%, people in Denmark were least supportive. What explains the high approval of international cooperation in a country that’s currently in the final stages of leaving the world’s largest close cooperation of nation states, the EU.

One possible explanation might be the extreme impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the United Kingdom. The UK has been and continues to be one of the hardest hit nations by the virus and its government struggles to find the right measures to tackle the exponential spread of the virus. And indeed, a total of 67% of Brits are of the opinion that "if their country had cooperated more with other countries, the numbers of coronavirus cases would have been lower in their country". The only other country in which a higher share of the population held that opinion was Belgium with 71%, a country similarly infamous for its high case numbers and handling of the pandemic. This explanation is further supported by data from the other end of the spectrum. Countries that are doing comparatively well in handling the crisis, such as Denmark or Germany, show the least agreement with the statement that cases in their country could have been prevented by more international cooperation (Denmark 20%, Germany 38%). On average, 62% of Europeans support this view.

The Pew study goes on to examine respondents’ sentiment towards the UN and other international organisations as a facilitator of more international cooperation. In general, Europeans tend to hold quite a favourable view of the UN with an average of 63% of European citizens viewing the organization in a positive light. Support for the UN was highest in Denmark, where 80% of people supported the institution and lowest in Belgium where 59% of the population did so.


Asked about which aspects of the UN people appreciated the most, the most frequent answer given in all countries surveyed was the promotion of human rights across the world as well as the promotion of peace. On the flip side, however, respondents were least convinced by the UN's ability to care about the needs of ordinary people and its ability to deal effectively with international crises.

Still, looking at the various fields of activity of the UN, pollsters found significant variation across different EU member states. In Germany, for instance, where climate change has been a constant top international priority for many people, 47% of respondents were not convinced that the UN significantly promoted actions on climate change, while 71% of Spanish respondents did see the UN as an effective player in that regard.  


Overall, Europeans remained evenly split about the overall effectiveness of the UN with an average of 50% of Europeans stating that "the United Nations deals effectively with international problems". Respondents were most positive about the UN's effectiveness in Denmark (65%) and least optimistic in Italy, where just 40% considered the UN effective. This result closely resembles earlier findings we reported on, showing Italians' general wish for more international, EU-wide political integration but a widespread scepticism of the real-world implementation of such cooperation. It also falls in line with our own newest eupinions trend data, collected in September 2020, which shows 68% of Italians in favour of more political and economic integration across Europe and just 24% against such a notion.

Across Europe, our trend data shows 52% of EU citizens speaking out in favour of more political and economic integration. What all these results show us is that, even though there might be some loud voices trying to tell us otherwise, there still is a clear majority of people in favour of working together as an international community. The current COVID-19 crisis has shown us this need once again and more strongly than ever. This remains true for the European level, as much as it does for the wider international level.



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About the surveys: The PEW Research Center interviewed a total of 14,276 respondents from 14 advanced economies between June 10th and August 3rd 2020.