What went wrong? Why are citizens falling out of love with the EU? The rise of Eurosceptic parties across the EU suggests something has gone seriously wrong. Is it the failure to tackle unemployment and manage the economic crisis? Is it Europe’s chaotic response to the ongoing migrant crisis? Or all of the above, plus more?
On Debating Europe, we had a comment sent in from Mikko arguing that the main reason Eurosceptic parties are doing well is because normal citizens aren’t really aware of the EU. He believes the problem is not “mistrust or hatred”, but rather ambivalence and a lack of interest. Is Mikko right?
To get a response, we spoke to Cristina Marconi, an Italian freelance journalist who has covered EU politics for national newspapers such as Il Messaggero and Il Mattino. As a journalist, why did she think Europe was losing popular support?
I think Europe is becoming growingly unpopular with the public because, over the past few years in particular, everything has been very much focused on bad news. Quite often the media tends to report bad news as the only news, so I think the issues of the economic crisis and of migration have completely upstaged all the good things that are being done all the time at the European level.
So, we don’t hear about everyday things such as consumer protection legislation. I have a small baby, and I know how safe European products are, but the spotlight has pretty much been only on negative things.
At the same time, we have social media, which means there is more information than ever about Europe, and it is sparking a debate which is unprecedented. In some sense, it’s as if people are discovering Europe for the first time. And the first impression can be very negative… But I think public opinion hasn’t reached its final conclusion yet. I think, in the long term, it will be positive.
To get another perspective, we also spoke to Jeffry Frieden, Professor of Government at Harvard University in the United States. He’s been looking at the question of public support for European integration as part of his academic research. What conclusions has he drawn?
[…] It might surprise you to know that support for European integration and for monetary integration (that is, for the Euro) remains extremely high. We have very detailed survey data from all of the Member States in the European Union and – with the exception of the UK – European integration remains extremely popular, in the 60-70% range, varying from country to country.
[However], that is about the concept of European integration, and the concept of monetary integration in the euro, it’s not about the implementation. Because, at the same time as there is very, very broad support for European integration and the Euro, there has been, over the past 5 to 7 years, a very alarming and very dramatic loss of trust both in national governments and in the political institutions of the European Union.
So, if you ask people: “Do you support the Euro” or “Do you support European integration?”, they say “Yes” in overwhelming numbers. But if you ask them: “Do you trust your government to do the right thing?” or “Do you trust the institutions of the European Union?”, they say overwhelmingly “No”.
Back ten years ago, trust in national governments and the EU institutions was 60%, 65%, 70% – in the higher range. Now it’s 10-15% of the population who have any faith. The disaster, and the danger, is not a loss of support for Europe… The disaster is in the loss of faith and confidence in governments and in the institutions of European integration. That’s where the problem lies…
How has Europe become so unpopular? Why are citizens falling out of love with the EU? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!