This eupinions slides was carried out for and presented at the 2022 M100 Sanssouci Colloquium in Potsdam. The data was collected in June 2022, with just under 12.000 online interviews held. It is representative for the EU27 as a whole and for the individual member states of Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, Belgium and the Netherlands.
Political context and purpose of this opinion poll
Since Russia’s attack on Ukraine, ever-louder calls for a “Zeitenwende” have been made. One of the most recent initiatives came in the form of Chanellor Scholz’s Europe speech in Prague this August. In his speech, Chancellor Scholz touched on four key points:
1. EU enlargement
2. Qualified majority voting in the EU Council
3. EU common security and defence policy
4. Defence of shared values and the rule of law
We touch on some of these topics and examine where the citizens of the European Union stand on these. In short, we find the following: EU citizens want to see a more active European Union on the global stage and are generally satisfied with the political system of the EU. At the same time, their short-term expectations towards the EU to fulfil its potential in this regard are rather limited and trust in the “actors” of politics remains low.
EU’s role in world affairs
Recent crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine have highlighted the role of the EU as a global player. And in many regards the EU has stepped up its game and took an active role in reacting to both crises. As a result, 71% of EU citizens believe that the EU already does play an active role in world affairs. At the same time, 8 in 10 European citizens still want to see it take an even more active role in global politics. At 88% and 84%, respectively, Spanish and Polish respondents are most likely to speak out for a more active European Union on the global stage.
What’s needed for a more active EU on the global stage?
When we ask Europeans what they think is necessary for the EU to play a more active role in world affairs, we find that around 9 in 10 believe that economic strength, attractive values and strong allies are key components. A clear majority, though slightly less, believe that military power is relevant, too. It is also with regard to military power that we find the largest variation in responses across individual member states. While just 60% of Italians consider military power an important asset for a more active EU in world affairs, 79% of Poles and 77% of French respondents believe so.
Satisfaction with current system
How about EU citizens’ satisfaction with the current political system in the EU and their country? It turns out that more than half of Europeans are satisfied with the way democracy works in the EU as well as in their home country. Slightly more are satisfied with the functioning of democracy in the EU as opposed to that in their respective home country. It is worth mentioning that, even though these numbers may seem relatively low, they are up from just 45% satisfied in the EU and 46% satisfied in their home countries in 2016. The numbers have consistently been rising ever since we started collecting our eupinions trends. Spanish and Polish citizens are particularly satisfied with EU democracy, whereas Italians are least so. It is also Italians, along with Poles, that are least satisfied with the state of democracy in their own countries, whereas Germans are the ones most satisfied with it.
Satisfaction with current direction
But what to European citizens think about the current direction of the EU and their respective countries? It turns out that the verdict tips. Just 44% are satisfied with the direction of EU and 32% are satisfied with that of their country. While our eupinions trends still demonstrate a positive trend over time, more than half remain unsatisfied to date. Significant variation accross member states applies. While Poles are the ones most satisfied with the direction of the EU, they are the ones, along with Spanish and Italian citizens, least satisfied with the direction of their country. Just around 1 in 4 Spanish, Italian and Polish citizens believe that their respective country is currently heading in the right direction.
A crisis of trust?
Part of the problem are consistently low levels of trust in the “actors” and “observers” of political action. Compared with other professional groups, both politicians and journalists are little trusted. Trust in journalists is especially low in Italy, France and Spain. Politicians are least trusted in Poland, Spain and Italy, where around 25% of respondents claim to have ‘very little’ trust in them. This crisis of trust isn’t new, as our surveys in the past suggest.
Though just a glimpse into our data, a common pattern emerges. European citizens expect the EU to play big in world affairs. To do so, they think it needs to perform on several fronts, ranging from economic strength, strong allies, strong values all the way to military capacity. At the same time, trust in the political system and its potential is high, as expressed by citizens’ satisfaction with the general functioning of democracy in the EU. Having said that, their short-term expectations and trust in political actors is running low. This leaves a gap between high expectations on the one hand and comparatively low levels of confidence into the European Union to actually pull its weight in the short term.
The sample with a size of n=11829 was drawn by Dalia Research between 2022-06-03 and 2022-06-24 across all 27 EU Member States, taking into account current population distributions with regard to age (16-70 years), gender and region/country. In order to obtain census representative results, the data were weighted based upon the most recent Eurostat statistics.
Any references to differences between countries in the report pertain only to the seven countries with sufficiently large sample sizes, namely: Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, The Netherlands, Poland and Spain. Calculated for a sample of this size and considering the design-effect, the margin of error would be 0.9% at a confidence level of 95%.