The EU’s internal trade zone is often seen as the jewel in the bloc’s crown. But the EU speaks for its member states ever more forcefully in the field of international trade, a strength that many Europeans appear to recognize, according to a new Eurobarometer survey. In fact, six out of ten of those surveyed said that they benefit personally from the EU’s positions on international trade: primarily in terms of wider product selection and lower prices. And more than seven out of ten said they saw the EU more effective in defending their interests in the field than their own national governments.
The results were certainly well received in DG Trade: a resounding 19% more of respondents gave EU foreign trade policy higher marks than in the first Eurobarometer poll on the subject in 2010.
The poll, conducted in May 2019, by Kanter polling for the European Commission was based on responses from nearly 30,000 people across the EU-28. The survey’s purpose was to gauge awareness, attitudes and perceptions of the EU’s role in international trade.
Perhaps in light of the furious trade war between the US and China, which has also buffeted Europe, the poll shows that Europeans’ confidence in EU foreign trade policies have increased significantly over the last decade. Analysts also note that over the decade foreign trade increased between the EU and its international partners: up from 38.6% of GDP to 46.2% of GDP. Moreover, the EU concluded major trade pacts with Canada and Japan during the same period.
But the results were not so highly positive across the entire bloc. The Nordic countries, as well as Malta and the Netherlands, were significantly more complimentary than those in southern Europe. Italy, Greece and Romania were the most sceptical: only 35% of Italians felt that they benefitted personally in stark contrast to 86% of Swedes. Germany fell somewhere in the middle with 67% saying that they benefitted. Tellingly, the greatest increases over the results of ten years ago came in Poland, Lithuania and Estonia. (Also noteworthy, with Brexit quickly approaching, 66% of those asked in the UK said that EU foreign trade policies benefitted them personally.)
While greater choice and lower prices (of imported goods) were factors one and two in the positive evaluation of EU trade policy, running a strong third was the impression that it was “good for the European economy.” On its heels was the belief that trade policy abroad bumped up the volume of jobs in the EU.
Just as noteworthy, the reasons cited for those not impressed by EU foreign trade policy were mixed: the quality (poor) and price (too high) of imported goods led the critical responses. Others noted unemployment and environmental harm as downsides of international trade.
As for “globalization,” the respondents were also of very mixed minds. About a third praised the investment and export opportunities while about a third criticized globalization for benefitting only big business.