Support for the European project is declining sharply across the European Union, and has nose-dived in France, according to the results of opinion poll surveys suggesting that an economic crisis has become an existential crisis for the EU.
The report, by the US-based Pew Research Center, describes the EU as the new “sick man of Europe”, invoking a label attached to a range of politically and economically ailing states over the past 150 years.
It found that positive views of the EU are at record lows, at 41%, and that support for deeper integration has fallen fast, to below a third. Young people are substantially less likely to view the EU favourably than the population as a whole, except in Greece and Germany.
The survey does offer a few hopeful signs. In the eurozone, a strong majority of voters – roughly two-thirds – support continued use of the euro, with a rise in the past year in Italy and Spain. Austerity also enjoys popular support, with only Greeks and Poles preferring greater government spending over cuts. In addition, the EU's largest country – Germany – is positive in most responses on economic, political and EU-related questions.
The poll was conducted in March in eight EU member states, including the six most populous countries: Germany, France, the UK, Italy, Spain and Poland. The other two were Greece and the Czech Republic.
Greeks, Italians and Spaniards consistently emerge as the most disenchanted and pessimistic. Pollsters also found that Britons are split on continued membership of the Union, with 46% on each side of the question.
However, the Pew researchers dwell at particular length on the malaise in France, describing attitudes there as being “in free fall”.
Long-standing French doubts about European economic integration “have morphed into strong convictions”, with 77% believing that closer business ties with the rest of Europe have harmed the French economy.
Attitudes about domestic leaders have soured, and the French are “by far” the gloomiest about their long-term economic prospects. The poll does, though, identify an opportunity for French leaders, finding that 81% of the French want government spending cuts, by far the largest percentage among the countries polled.
Pew concludes that, in their attitudes, the French are now more like their southern neighbours than their fellow Europeans to the north. Traditionally, it says, the French have been a hybrid of the two. The French and the Germans now “look as if they live on different continents, not within a single European market,” the report states.