Since 2008, Europe has been in a near permanent state of crisis. Even as the issue of Greek debt bubbles along in the background, and the fighting in Ukraine coagulates into a bitter, frozen conflict along the EU’s border, attention has already shifted to the current surge in refugees fleeing civil war in Syria. With winter coming (and with Hungary recently announcing it is closing its border with fellow EU Member State Croatia), the response from Europe’s leaders has been muddled and confused.
Maybe people have grown used to living in ‘Crisis Europe’? It’s just the way things are done these days. But public trust in Europe is being eroded, and stands lower today than it was during the collapse of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s (arguably the last major crisis faced by Europe before 2008). The percentage of people saying they trusted the European project has plunged from 77% in 1975, to less than half of people (40%) in 2015.
Interested to know more about citizens’ trust (or lack of trust) in the European project? We’ve put together some facts and figures in the infographic below (click for a bigger version):
We had a comment sent in by Maia arguing that the Schengen Agreement is like having “no fence between you and your neighbour’s garden”. The most important thing is trust. At the moment, because of the refugee crisis, that trust is being eroded. Is she right?
To get a response, we took Maia’s comment to Péter Krekó, director of the Political Capital Institute, a political consultancy and research institute based in Budapest. He agreed wholeheartedly, and argued that the current refugee crisis poses the biggest threat ever faced by the European Union to its integrity, even more so than the Euro crisis in terms of undermining cooperation between EU Member States. Here’s what he had to say in full:
To get another perspective, we also spoke to Carne Ross, the founder and director of Independent Diplomat, a non-profit diplomatic advisory group. He partly agreed with Maia, in that he thought trust was important, but he argued that it wasn’t all about trust:
I don’t entirely agree, because it’s not just a question of trust. It’s also about having common rules that you’ve negotiated together… It’s something that has been very, very carefully constructed over many years. [However,] it’s interesting that Schengen came only after the the European Community, and before that the European Coal & Steel Community. Which does suggest that Maia’s right, in that this openness exemplified by Schengen is due to the accumulation of trust over decades.
Finally, we also spoke to Brando Benefei, an Italian Social Democrat MEP, who argued that the EU needed to be able to meaningfully solve the problems of a globalized world (such as the current refugee crisis) if it wanted to regain lost trust:
[…] Over the last few years, politicians have often been unable to solve people’s problems. Politicians were perceived as powerless, and thus useless. We need politics to change people’s lives once more, with more originality and stronger action. I think politics’ lack of ability to really change lives… is one of the main reasons for people losing trust in politics. It’s seen as useless, so it’s seen as a cost.
We also have to deal with the issues of globalization. This means we need political structures that are able to give global answers. So, it’s especially important to build a stronger European Union. I’m a federalist, and I feel that we first need stronger integration to be able to make European politics matter again for people.
Has the refugee crisis damaged citizens’ trust in the EU project? Are people losing trust because the EU is unable to solve the challenges of a globalized world? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!