eupinions echo 19 Nov, 2020

Examining the Results of the Latest Eurobarometer Report - Part 1

In a truly tumultuous year, Europeans still hold the EU in positive regards but are very worried about the European economy.

eupinions echo Examining the Results of the Latest Eurobarometer Report - Part 1

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.

Ever since its inception in 1974, the Eurobarometer has been the primary tool for European institutions like the EU Commission to gauge the various sentiments of European citizens. With a Standard Eurobarometer usually being published twice a year, the reports provide valuable insights into the general European mindset and shed light on how Europeans feel about the specific issues and challenges of today.

Due to the highly irregular nature of 2020, the end of October actually marked the release of the first Standard Eurobarometer this year. In this piece, we want to take the time to go over the results of this report in detail and compare them with our own data. As the report covers a large span of topics in great detail, this piece will be split into two parts. In today's blogpost we will examine the report’s findings on Europeans and political institutions, democracy in the EU, European citizenship, as well as the main concerns Europeans currently have. In next week's blogpost we will complete our analysis by going into the report's data on European key policy areas, the current European economic situation, Europeans' outlook into the future of the EU and finally, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the EU and its citizens.

Europeans show little trust in the European Union but still generally view the EU in a positive light

To evaluate the relationship European citizens have with European political institutions, the Eurobarometer asked about their trust in the European Union and national governments, as well as how they view the EU in general.

While there are 15 EU member states, in which more people trusted the EU than mistrusted it, overall, there were still only 43% of EU citizens who reported trust in the European Union as an institution while 48% said they tended not to trust the EU. Trust in the EU was highest in Ireland at 73% and lowest in Italy at 28%. Interestingly, while trust in the EU has remained more or less unchanged since autumn 2019, trust in national governments has jumped from 34% to 40% in the same time across the EU. This can almost certainly be attributed to the 2020 coronavirus crisis which has seen many people rally behind their local governments in their attempt to fight the pandemic. This also confirms previous findings we reported on that EU citizens are not especially impressed by the EU's crisis management throughout the pandemic.

At the same time, Europeans seem to be at least somewhat more positively inclined when asked to rate their general view on the European Union. Across the 27 Member states a total of 40% of Europeans said they viewed the EU in a positive light, another 40% viewed the EU neutrally while only 19% of EU citizens stated that they viewed the EU in a negative way.

This discrepancy between viewing the EU more positively in a general way, yet more sceptically with regards to its current functioning is not new. In our own, most recent eupinions trends survey, a majority of 58% of EU citizens believed that the EU was currently not moving in the right direction. However, at the same time, 52% of respondents also stated that we need more political and economic integration across Europe and 61% said that they would generally talk positively about the European Union.

Europeans are satisfied with how democracy works in the EU

Next, the Eurobarometer survey asked its respondents to rate their satisfaction with the way democracy works in the EU. In total, 53% of the European Union's population stated that they were generally satisfied with the state of EU democracy. This sentiment was most prominent in the countries of Denmark, Poland and Ireland where 73% of the respective populations stated their satisfaction but least developed in Greece where only 34% of Greeks said as much.

Again, these results closely mirror our own eupinions trends findings from September 2020, in which 57% of EU citizens stated their general satisfaction with the way democracy works in the European Union, a number that has slightly been rising over the last years.

Populations in all but one Member State see themselves as EU citizens

The Eurobarometer survey unveiled interesting answers to the question of whether Europeans saw themselves as citizens of the European Union. In total, 70% of Europeans indicated that they indeed saw themselves as EU citizens and out of the 27 Member States, 26 populations showed a majority holding that view. The one exception to that trend, once again, was Italy, where a slight majority of 51% of the people indicated that they did not see themselves as citizens of the European Union. We have talked before about the general disillusionment of Italians with the EU, with a full quarter of Italians saying that China had been their greatest ally during the initial coronavirus outbreak at the beginning of 2020 while only 4% of the Italian population thought of the EU in that role. Having said that, Italians rank highest in Europe when asked about whether they want more political and economic integration in the EU. 68% of Italians are in favour or deeper EU integration. This suggests is that Italians might be critical of the EU not because there is too much integration, but because there is too little. They feel left behind, as was recently argued by our very own Catherine de Vries in Politico.

The economy tops Europeans' list of concerns but it's not quite as simple

In our final point for today's blogpost, we want to take a look at the Eurobarometer's findings on the main concerns Europeans have in the summer and fall of 2020. While the Eurobarometer does not offer respondents a specific option for the novel coronavirus, it does include the more general concern "health" as an option. Surprisingly, however, health does not make it into the top three concerns of EU citizens. Just 22% indicated the option as one of the most important issues facing the EU at the moment, placing it in fourth spot of main concerns behind immigration (23%), the state of Member State's public finances (23%) and the economic situation in general with 35%.

Does that indicate a lowered concern for the COVID-19 pandemic in Europe? Not really. In fact, there are a couple of caveats to consider here when interpreting the Eurobarometer results. Firstly, there is the omission of a specific coronavirus option to select for respondents when indicating their main concerns for the EU. The newly introduced option of "health" in the survey faces the paradoxical issue of simultaneously being too broad an option (as health concerns can indicate a variety of other issues besides COVID-19) and also too narrow (as health only indicates a fraction of the overall concerns people connect with the coronavirus pandemic). As such, the first and second most mentioned European concerns, the economy and states’ finances, are both very closely linked to the current COVID-19 crisis. Secondly, it is also important to consider that the field work for the Eurobarometer survey took place in the late summer of 2020, during a time at which case numbers for the virus where comparatively low in most EU member states and before the drastic rise in cases experienced during the second corona wave just a couple of months later. The priorities and concerns of the average EU citizens might very well have shifted again since. We see this at least partially confirmed in one of our latest eupinions echo snippets, in which we reported that a majority of French citizens now clearly prioritizes public health over the French economy.

This marks the end of today's blogpost. In next week’s blogpost, we will dive into the second half of EU sentiments detailed in the report so please check back then for more!

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About the surveys: At the behalf of Eurobarometer, Kantar interviewed a total of 26,681 adults from the 27 EU Member States throughout July and August 2020.