What are the attitudes of Europe’s citizens to the crisis affecting the European Union?
A report published at the end of May by Pew Global Attitudes Project makes fascinating reading and is bad news for Europe’s leaders. For them, even the first paragraph will have them reaching for an aspirin – and remember this pre-dates the implosion in Spain and Portugal:
“In Europe, what started out four years ago as a sovereign debt crisis, morphed into a euro currency crisis and led to the fall of several European governments, has now triggered a full-blown crisis of public confidence: in the economy, in the future, in the benefits of European economic integration, in membership in the European Union, in the euro and in the free market system. The public is very worried about joblessness, inflation and public debt, and those fears are fueling much of this uncertainty and negativity.”
The free market system still has majority support in Germany (69%), Britain (61%) and France (58%) although Southern Europe presents a rather different picture. In Italy support for the free market has fallen by 23% between 2007 and 2012, from 73% being satisfied with it to just 50% in the spring. In Spain it’s a 20% fall from 67% to 47% while in Greece there’s no figure for 2007 but in early 2012 just 44% supported the free market.
When asked if they were satisfied with their “national condition” just 30% of Britons said yes in 2007 one of the lowest figures, which says a lot about the Blair-Brown years, and it remained the same this year.
In Southern Europe there has been a dramatic change in those five years. In Spain a slim majority, 51%, were satisfied with the state of their country in 2007 but that collapsed to 10%. Just 16% percent of Italians were satisfied in 2007 and today its 11%. There’s no figure for Greece in 2007 but, unsurprisingly, in 2012 just 2% are satisfied with the state of things.
Back in 2007 69% of Britons thought “economic conditions good”, 65% of Spaniards and a mere 25% of Italians. Fast forward to 2012 and the percentages are 15% in the UK (down 54%), 6% in Spain (down 59%) and 6% in Italy (down 19%). Miniscule numbers of Greeks (2%), Spanish (10%) and Italians (11%) say their country is on the right course.
A majority of the Greeks (81%) and the Spanish (60%) feel they are doing worse off. A sentiment echoed by the French, Italians, British, Czechs and Poles.
Among those who say their economy is in bad shape, the Greeks (87%), Italians (84%), Poles (90%) and Czechs (91%) complain that their own governments are responsible for current economic distress. The French (74%), and Spanish (78%) fault the banks and other major financial institutions. The British and the Germans blame both.
Nearly nine-in-ten Europeans (88%) surveyed say unemployment poses a major threat to their economic well-being. This includes almost all the Spanish (97%) and all the Greeks (97%). In Britain, France, Germany and Spain, people ages 18-29 are especially likely to blame their own government. Interestingly, in Britain, France and Spain the people most judgmental of financial institutions are those 50 years of age and older.
Doubts about European integration have led many Europeans to second guess their own country’s EU membership. By far, Germans (65%) are the most likely to say membership is a good thing for their country. Only about half hold that view in Spain (54%), France (48%), and Poland (48%), and in Greece just 43% still say membership is positive. The British are almost equally divided. Since 2009, positive sentiment about EU membership is down 17 points in the Czech Republic, 15 points in Poland and 13 points in Spain. The most favourably disposed are the Poles (69%) and the Germans (68%). But just 34% of the Czechs, 37% of the Greeks and 45% of the British have a favourable impression of the EU.
EU favourability is down almost everywhere from 2007, before the euro crisis began, having fallen 20 points in the Czech Republic and Spain, 19 points in Italy and 14 points in Poland. When asked if it would be “very difficult for young person to find better job/get wealthier” the figures for those who agreed were 50% in the UK, 62% in Italy, 69% in Spain and 73% in Greece.
There are some other figures showing that people across Europe blame the Greek people for their own predicament and view them as lazy, which is not surprising given the media barrage of stories about work-shy, subsidy junkies living under the Aegean sun. But what comes out of this report are attitudes that show there is a growing opposition to the capitalist system and to the whole neo-liberal project of the EU. That might take the shine off its Nobel Prize.