The shock brought on by the return of territorial war to Europe and the destruction, suffering and flow of refugees associated with it, as well as the courage and determination demonstrated by countless Ukrainians, have left their marks on European public opinion. Clearly wanting to express their solidarity with Ukraine, Europeans wish to see politicians take decisive actions in the face of aggression. However, many Europeans also express growing concerns about their future prospects and current financial situation.
This study seeks to shed light on how public opinions and attitudes in Europe have evolved since the beginning of the war in Ukraine by presenting evidence based on a two-wave survey of nearly 12,000 EU citizens conducted between March 11 and 23 and June 3 and 26 of 2022 in an interview format. The following are our key findings in a nutshell:
- A broad majority of EU citizens (80%) think that the European Union should play an important role in world affairs and consider the combination of military power, economic strength, attractive values and strong allies necessary in this regard. The United States is considered by far to be the most trustworthy partner in global politics (77%).
- When asked about measures in support of Ukraine, Europeans generally support delivering weapons to Ukraine (60%), welcoming Ukrainian refugees (81%), and welcoming Ukraine into the European Union (66%).
- Support for EU enlargement more generally has seen the biggest shift compared to pre-war attitudes, with a majority of EU citizens now in favour of welcoming new member states to the European Union (71%).
- Europeans remain in favour of delivering weapons, but express greater caution with regard to this issue. We also see important differences between member states. Interestingly, more Europeans are in favour of the EU delivering weapons (60%) than they are of their home countries doing so (54%).
- When asked about whether the EU should deepen integration by creating, for example, a common European defence and security policy or by becoming more energy independent even if it comes at a cost, Europeans overwhelmingly support such steps (88% and 72%, respectively). Remarkably, however, younger Europeans are less supportive than their older cohorts when it comes to the second issue.
- We find close to no time effects. Even as the war progresses, opinions and attitudes remain remarkably stable. French public opinion shows the most changes, which might be attributed to the country’s extended electoral season.
- This is all the more noteworthy in light of the worsening financial situation of European citizens. Asked about their most pressing personal worries, the rising costs of living crisis very clearly tops the list. Asked whether their personal outlook on the future is positive or negative, 46% EU-wide say it’s negative, compared to just 37% this time last year. Again, French and Italian citizens are most pessimistic with 59 and 55% having a negative outlook.
Russia’s attack on Ukraine has had a powerful impact on longstanding tenets in European and German politics. Whereas Europeans have traditionally focused on their image of the EU as a guarantor of peace in Europe, as a global trading power and wielder of soft power, the focus today is on questions of energy policy and military self-sufficiency. Debates about strategic autonomy are nothing new within expert circles, but the clarity and vehemence with which these debates are now being presented to the public are, as are the decisions currently being made.
EU sanctions against Russia are in no way inferior to those levied by the United States, neither in scope nor in speed. The EU Commission’s first-ever financing of arms deliveries to Ukraine also sends a clear signal. We have seen several pivots across the EU in foreign and security policy. In Germany, Chancellor Scholz has announced an emergency package of €100 billion for military spending, a pledge to invest 2% of Germany’s GDP in defence, and begun delivering arms to Ukraine. Having long eschewed formal NATO membership, Finland and Sweden are currently in the process of joining NATO. The Danish people have voted by referendum to abandon the country’s opt-out policy with regard to a common European defence policy.
This study aims to determine how public opinions and attitudes in Europe have evolved in response to the Russian war of aggression and its political, military and humanitarian consequences during the first four months of the war. This concerns decisions taken in the short term (e.g., defence spending, behaviour as an actor in the acute conflict situation, alliance policy) as well as medium- and long-term questions about Europe’s security architecture (common European security policy, EU enlargement to the East).
This study seeks to shed light on these topics by presenting evidence based on a two-wave-survey conducted in March and June 2022 in which nearly 12,000 EU citizens were interviewed. Specifically, we rely on two sets of data. One set is aimed at capturing the contours of public opinion in the EU27 as a whole, while the other aims to identify national specifics with a more in-depth focus on respondents in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain. Finally, we also subdivide our data across age groups to gain a sense of how opinions within the EU may develop in the years to come.
This study is divided into four parts. First, we examine how Europeans view the role that the EU plays in global affairs and how this differs across European member states and age groups. Second, we explore Europeans’ views on what the EU and their member state should do to deal with the war in Ukraine and the associated fallout, and how this differs across European member states and age groups. Third, we investigate how these different views about the EU’s role as an international actor and its actions concerning the war in Ukraine have developed since the war began. Fourth, we look at how the cost of living crisis is very much back on the agenda of European citizens and ask whether this has at all compromised their willingness to support the Ukrainian people. We then close with some final remarks on what the future may hold for EU citizens’ support for Ukraine.
How Europeans view the EU’s role in the world
In a first step, we examine how many Europeans support the idea of a more active EU on the world stage. While a majority of EU citizens (71%) believe that the EU is already playing an active part in global affairs, even more (80%) agree with the statement that the “European Union should play a more active role in world affairs.” (figure 1). When we look at the support across the seven member states for which we conducted more in-depth analyses in figure 1, it becomes clear that while French respondents are slightly more sceptical about the EU becoming more active on the world stage, 71% nonetheless want the EU to do more. A large majority of Italian, Polish and Spanish respondents are in favour of this (82%, 84% and 88%, respectively), while a somewhat smaller majority of Dutch, Belgian and German respondents (73%, 79% and 80%) agree with this statement.
Figure 2 displays the same type of information broken down by age groups. This allows us to get a sense of how support for the EU taking a more active role in global affairs might develop in years to come. Interestingly, the results suggest that younger age groups are more likely to support this development. A majority of 16- to 25-year-olds (85%) and 26- to 35-year-olds (81%) are in favour of the EU doing more on the world stage. Support for this remains high among the 56- to 70-year-olds (80%), but is 5 percentage points lower than that observed among the youngest age group.
In a next step, we examine Europeans’ views on the EU’s role on the global stage further by exploring views on what the EU needs in order to take on a more prominent role. We asked respondents if they think that the EU needs military power, economic strength, attractive values or strong allies in order to assert itself on the world stage.
Figure 3 provides data for the EU as a whole as well as for certain member states. It shows that a large majority of Europeans believe that all four components are necessary. The consensus of people believing in the need for economic strength, attractive values and strong allies hovers around 90% and is thus very strong. When it comes to military power, Europeans are more reluctant. Some 71% of respondents in the EU27 think that the EU needs to strengthen its military might. When it comes to single member states, differences emerge. Italian respondents are the most sceptical (only 60% in agreement), while Polish respondents are the most supportive of the EU needing more military power in order to play a greater role in world affairs.
Figure 4 provides the same information broken down by age groups. Notably, we see little variation across age groups. There is very strong support for the notion that the European Union needs economic strength, good values and strong allies to be a world power. Fewer respondents agree with the need for military might, but a majority – across all age groups – express support for more military power.
Finally, in order to examine European perceptions of different international allies, we asked respondents about the trustworthiness of China, Russia and the United States as international allies for the EU. Figure 5 shows that a clear majority of Europeans (77%) view the United States as their key ally. Only 10% and 13% of Europeans view China and Russia as trustworthy international allies. The highest support expressed for the United States as an ally can be found in Poland (91%) and the lowest in Italy (71%).
Figure 6 shows views across age groups regarding the trustworthiness of China, Russia and the United States as allies. Perceived trustworthiness of the United States is highest among the 56- to 70-year-olds (82%) and lowest among 26- to 35-year-olds (74%).
What Europeans think the EU and member states should do about the war in Ukraine
In a second step, we examine what Europeans think the EU and member state governments should do about the war in Ukraine. We start with exploring whether respondents think that their country or the EU should support Ukraine by delivering weapons.
Figure 7 shows that weapons deliveries to Ukraine, especially by the national government, are somewhat more controversial than the EU taking a more active role in world affairs. A small majority of Europeans (54%) support the idea of their national government delivering weapons to Ukraine. Support is higher for the EU delivering weapons to Ukraine in the EU27 (60%). Notably, figure 7 also shows considerable variation across the seven EU member states examined more in-depth. For example, while a strong majority in Poland would support the Polish government or the EU delivering weapons to Ukraine (77% and 84%, respectively), only a minority of Italians (39% and 42%, respectively) feel the same.
Figure 8 explores the support for weapons deliveries to Ukraine among age groups. The figure shows that support is slightly more pronounced among the youngest and oldest age groups within the EU27. Some 59% of 16- to 25-year-olds would support their national government delivering weapons to Ukraine, while 66% would support the EU doing so. Among the 56- to 70-year-olds, these figures are at 57% and 62%, respectively.
In a next step, we explore support for accepting Ukrainian refugees in respondents’ home countries. Figure 9 shows that a large majority of Europeans (81%) would support their country in accepting Ukrainian refugees. Support is lowest in France (76%) and Poland (77%) and highest in Germany, Italy and Spain (83%, 84% and 90%, respectively).
Figure 10 shows support for accepting Ukrainian refugees by age group. Support for accepting Ukrainian refugees is very high across the different age groups (close to or above 80%).
Another important aspect of the war in Ukraine is the implications of Europe’s energy dependence on oil and gas from Russia. It is thus relevant to explore the extent to which Europeans think that the EU should become more independent in terms of its energy supply. Figure 11 demonstrates that a large majority of Europeans consider energy independence important, even if this involves increased energy costs. Support for energy independence is highest in Poland and Italy (80% and 76%, respectively), and lowest in the Netherlands and Germany (66% and 69%, respectively).
Figure 12 shows support for energy independence across different age groups. Notably, support for energy independence is highest among the oldest age groups. Some 77% of 56- to 70-year-old Europeans think that the EU should become more independent in terms of its energy supply, while only 63% of the 16- to 25-year-olds think the same.
Shortly after the onset of the war, national government leaders in the EU agreed to grant Ukraine candidate status in order to provide the country a path toward becoming an EU member state in the future. Figure 13 shows the support among Europeans for Ukraine’s possible EU membership. Two-thirds of Europeans express support for Ukraine’s EU membership. Support is lowest in France, Germany, and the Netherlands (60%-61%) and highest in Poland and Spain (84% and 80%, respectively).
Figure 14 shows support for Ukrainian membership in the EU across different age groups, which is highest among younger age groups. A total 74% of 16- to 25-year-olds express support for this while only 63% of the 46- to 55-year-olds do so.
Next to Ukrainian membership in the EU, discussions about a renewed EU enlargement strategy, particularly with regard to Balkan countries, have also gained in momentum. Figure 15 shows the distribution in support for EU enlargement. Some 71% of Europeans appear to be in favour, though this varies from a low of 60% in France to a high of 84% in Spain.
Figure 16 shows support across age groups for EU enlargement. Notably, support for EU enlargement is the highest among younger age groups and lower among older age groups. While 80% of 16- to 25-year-olds support the EU granting access to new member states, only 66% of 46- to 55-year-olds support enlargement.
Finally, our survey also asks whether Europeans think that the EU should develop a stronger common defence policy. Figure 17 provides more insight in this regard. Some 88% of the public in the EU27 believe that the EU should have a stronger common defence policy. Though somewhat lower, support for this remains high in France (83%) and is highest in Spain (93%).
Figure 18 shows support across different age groups for strengthening a common defence policy in the EU. Support for such strengthening is fairly consistent across age groups (over 85%).
Developments in public opinion since the war in Ukraine began
We first asked European citizens about their opinions on the war in Ukraine in March 2022, shortly after the Russian invasion. We fielded this survey a second time in June 2022, when Russia’s war in Ukraine had already been going on for almost four months. Have European opinions changed since March?
Figures 19 to 22 below show the change between the March and June 2022 waves in which we asked European respondents the same questions about the EU’s role in world affairs, about trustworthy partners in international politics, about measures in support of Ukraine and about common European policies. It shows that even as the war has progressed, EU citizens’ opinions have remained relatively stable. Both the June and March waves show high support for the EU taking a more active role in world affairs (figure 19).
A similar picture of stability emerges when we examine people’s views about the trustworthiness of China, Russia and the United States (figure 20).
There are more changes, however, when we examine the difference in people’s opinions about support for Ukraine (figure 21). Even though EU citizens are still overwhelmingly in favour of measures in support of Ukraine, we find slightly decreasing numbers. Where there are changes, they point towards the negative – that is, towards less support. EU-wide, this goes for the acceptance of refugees (-5 percentage points) and support for Ukraine’s EU membership (-3pp), in particular. Some of the biggest changes can be found in France, where support for supplying weapons to Ukraine has decreased (-8pp for French arms assistance; -6pp for EU arms assistance). We also observe a decline in French support for accepting Ukrainian refugees (-8pp). Support for accepting Ukrainian refugees also declined significantly among Dutch (-7pp) and Polish (-6pp) respondents.
Finally, in figure 22 we examine how support for EU enlargement, a European common defence policy and energy independence has changed between March and June 2022.
Once more, we find that even though changes in public opinion between March and June remain relatively minor, where they do change, they point towards less support. EU-wide, numbers remain quite stable, but we see bigger changes in individual member states. The results suggest that, again, French respondents seem to have grown more sceptical of EU enlargement, a common defence policy as well as energy independence in the period between March and June 2022. With regard to EU enlargement, this appears to also be the case for Dutch, Italian and Polish respondents, albeit to a lesser degree. Dutch and Polish respondents have also become more wary of EU energy independence, with 7pp and 6pp, respectively, less support over time (June to March) – a decline even larger than that observed in France. It is worth noting that we observe this decline in support for the EU’s energy independence in June already. Many of the debates about possible gas supply issues and ever rising energy prices have only started after that.
Overall, we find that EU public opinion about the EU’s role in the world has remained remarkably stable between March and June 2022. When it comes to support for Ukraine and specific EU policies, however, we observe a relatively minor yet notable decline in support during the period surveyed, especially among French respondents.
Personal finances and prospects on the decline
This is all the more noteworthy in light of the worsening financial situation of European citizens. With inflation rising to record levels, at the time of writing it stands at just under 9% in the eurozone, Europeans are starting to feel the squeeze. Asked about their most pressing personal worries, the rising costs of living crisis very clearly tops the list. Almost half of European citizens name rising costs of living as their top personal worry (figure 23).
Likewise, the longer-term trend of Europeans’ personal finances continues to deteriorate. Our eupinions trends demonstrate that since June of last year, the number of EU citizens indicating that their personal economic situation has worsened in the last two years has risen from 31% to 43%. Italian and French citizens are the most negative, with half of them saying their personal finances have recently worsened. Same goes for Europeans’ personal outlook more generally. Asked whether their personal outlook on the future is positive or negative, 46% EU-wide say it’s negative, compared to just 37% this time last year. Again, French and Italian citizens are most pessimistic with 59% and 55% having a negative outlook. With inflation likely to rise even further, European citizens’ generosity and unity towards Ukraine may be put to a test. Thus far, however, it doesn’t seem to have compromised their unwavering support for the Ukrainian people.
Please note: We are going to dedicate our next eupinions slides format to the effects of the cost-of-living crisis as well as to the correlation between party political preferences and support for Ukraine in its defence against Russia.
The war in Ukraine is widely seen as a historic event with implications for the world. Individual EU member states and the EU as a whole have revised key policies and acted quickly in response to unfolding developments. Notable in this regard are German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Zeitenwende (“Turn of the Tides”) speech, the EU’s economic sanctions designed to weaken Russia, and the financial aid provided to Ukraine for use in purchasing weapons. Perhaps most significant, however, is the decision on the part of Sweden and Finland to abandon their traditional neutrality on military and security issues and join NATO.
War is often deemed to be an accelerator of history. Pressures run high, decisions are consequential, and budgets large. Governments move fast, expecting citizens to move along. But do they? And, perhaps more importantly, even if a rallying around the flag does occur, will it last? Particularly as the initial shock fades and the new reality settles in? These questions helped frame this study. In a nutshell, the answer is a yes on both fronts. Having shifted quickly at the outbreak of war, four months later, European public opinion has remained rather stable. A broad majority (80%) believe that the EU should play a more active role in world affairs. When asked about measures in support of Ukraine, they continue to back the delivery of weapons (60%), welcoming refugees from Ukraine (81%) and the accession of Ukraine as an EU member state (66%). In terms of international alliances, the United States is considered the most trustworthy partner.
The most significant shift has taken place over issues of EU enlargement. Before the war, there was no majority support for furthering EU enlargement. Today, 71% of European citizens are in favour of accepting new member states to the European Union. Europeans are also very supportive of creating a common defence policy. Greater caution, however, is expressed when it comes to delivering weapons to Ukraine. Interestingly, Europeans are more likely to be in favour of the EU delivering weapons (60%) than they are of their home countries doing so (54%).
With inflation soaring across the European Union, today’s public debate is as much about rising prices as it is about frontline movements. As energy prices are increasing, support for energy independence falters significantly in the member states of Belgium, France, Poland and the Netherlands, while EU-wide it has dropped by 2 percentage points between March and June 2022. Overall, however, measures to support Ukraine in its defence against the war waged by Russia remain popular.
There are differences among the member states. Italians are most wary about delivering weapons to Ukraine. In fact, Italy is the only member state where a majority of citizens oppose the delivery of weapons. French people, in turn, are traditionally more reluctant when it comes to EU enlargement. In the current situation, however, a majority supports Ukraine’s ambition to become an EU member. Notably, when comparing the response behaviour over time, most changes appear to have occurred in French public opinion, which could be linked to the country’s very long recent election period. Between March and June 2022, French citizens have had two national elections with two voting rounds each.
The next elections and a looming energy crisis may very well make for a hot political fall in the EU. So far, EU countries have managed to stand in solidarity with Ukraine. The shock brought on by the return of territorial war in Europe and the destruction, suffering, flow of refugees associated with it, but also the courage and determination demonstrated by countless Ukrainians, have left their marks on European public opinion. Our data shows a desire among European citizens to support the people of Ukraine.
At the same time, however, concerns about one’s future and finances are growing. With prices and fears of further economic disruption on the rise, Europeans’ desire to help will likely be tested. This particularly goes for the possible rationing of gas supplies, a prospect that European citizens haven’t had to face since the end of World War II. Thus far, however, their willingness to support the people of Ukraine has passed this test with flying colours. Touching upon the shared memory and personal histories of societies, matters of war and peace will likely provoke varying responses across member states. Leaders should not simply rely on the consistently high numbers of support for Ukraine. Instead, they should continuously make the case for solidarity with Ukraine in an effort to convey how it protects our livelihood and our European future.
This report presents an overview of a study conducted by Dalia Research for the Bertelsmann Foundation between 2022-06-03 and 2022-06-24 on public opinion across 27 EU Member States. The sample of n=11829 was drawn 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. The target weighting variables were age, gender, level of education (as defined by ISCED (2011) levels 0-2, 3-4, and 5-8), and degree of urbanisation (rural and urban). An iterative algorithm was used to identify the optimal combination of weighting variables based on sample composition within each country. An estimation of the overall design effect based on the distribution of weights was calculated at 1.22 at the global level. 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%.